The second season of The Newsroom premieres this Sunday on HBO, and for those who maybe didn’t tune in but kept an eye on critic reviews of and fan responses to Aaron Sorkin’s latest brain/ego child know the HBO drama’s freshman year was met with mixed feelings, to say the least. While Dan Rather himself sung its praises by noting a heroic yet accurate interpretation of the moral vs. money crossroads most networks encounter on a daily basis, Andy Greenwald, a staff writer for Grantland.com, went so far as to say “… in terms of pure fantasy, neither (True Blood nor Game of Thrones) holds a candle to The Newsroom." Considering these shows are home to vampires, centaurs, dragons and 13-ft furry zombies, this is a tall statement.
At first and even second glance, the show feels cool, feels fresh — each episode riddled with snappy banter, *painfully witty* zingers and, huzzah! Major world events to boot! Remember the BP oil spill? The Gabrielle Giffords assassination attempt? Death of Osama?! Sure you do, and those memories bring an instant gratification born from watching the little-news-team-that-could live through and report on these very real, very recent events of national and international importance. Paired with Hip-2-Death dialogue, we’re served Sorkin’s specialty dish of shiny, intellectual camaraderie sprinkled with old-school American patriotism. Where Sorkin missed the mark is in character depth and believability.
The first season finale pulled out all the stops. Wise choice, because it was past bedtime for the two or three halfway intriguing storylines. Our patience was rewarded with a bloody apartment,
a drug overdose self-medication mishandling, a sting operation and further self-sabotaging from inconvenient admirers. After hapless Jim (John Gallagher) had been drooling hopelessly over Maggie (Alison Pill) because, damn girl, them quirks of yours just won’t quit, they finally kiss after a full season’s courtship tango strapped with two left feet. But, as fate would have it, the significant others of these significant lovers had other plans.
Do-gooder Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) is Will McAvoy’s (Jeff Daniels) lovable ex-lover who indulges in bouts of playground outbursts when faced with producing content that doesn’t, as Will describes in a rare display of self-awareness, “tell the audience to eat their vegetables.” We learn very early in the series that soon after her relationship with Will ended, she and Jim manned the war trenches of Afghanistan and Iraq for two years. She is also referenced multiple times as the best executive producer in New York. The disconnect calls for a much louder suspension of disbelief than some are used to, myself included. I don’t believe the woman who thinks scorned puppy is the only facial expression available is regarded as a journalistic war hero.
Though a fantastical and arguably impossible character, the least offensive personality of the bunch is The Real McAvoy himself. Next to Jim. Heart you, Jim. Yes, we are asked to accept that Will McAvoy, a man who rose to celebrity status as a TV anchor, formerly known for his tacit, calculated impenetrability, is now leading a crusade against the Tea Party after Mackenzie is hired as his executive producer. He is also a registered republican, so that’s fun.
None of this is to say the show doesn’t redeem itself from any angle. It’s well-shot, fun to watch and the dialogue offers a guilty pleasure of superiority. The message is not one to dismiss, either. I just wonder if the quality of the message is suffering from the quality of the medium.
So, where does that leave us and what can we expect for season 2? Probably more of the same. Will and Mac still playing cat and mouse, Jim and Maggie continuing to hammer nails into their love coffin, and Sam Waterston drowning in scotch until he’s given a respectable script.
Watch the season 2 preview here: