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July 22, 2013

‘The Newsroom’ Season 2: You don’t really love me, you just keep me hangin’ on

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Maggie and Don: 2gether 4ever high5's

“Hate-watching” is a recurring theme in The Newsroom conversations, but I think the more accurate label comes from Tim Goodman’s review in Hollywood Reporter when he said “Don’t kid yourself — you were 'disappointment watching.'” The creator, the concept, the cast, all was ripe with hopeful promise. Then Season 1 happened and we were left not with anger, nor a resignation to spend our viewing time more productively elsewhere, but a certain sadness. The mighty hath fallen, and we alone to wander, wondering how, why, when.

Sir Sorkin heard our cries and already we’re seeing a couple of marked improvements. At least the team shows signs of being tethered to their own universe, one with rules, one with lawsuits, as opposed to free falling unscathed through an impossible, hind-sighted version of ours. Will is finally accepting the consequences and responsibilities of his mouth. (“I’m not who I used to be right now.”)

Charlie (Sam Waterston) pulls Will off the September 11 tenth anniversary coverage, citing Will’s recent labeling of the Tea Party as the American Taliban, and the sensitive timing with the even more sensitive issue. “You’ll get the flu around the 9th or 10th.” The silent moments following resemble a funeral march, starring Will as the pallbearer, the priest and the deceased. We learn later that Will’s first night as an anchor was September 11, 2001, adding some needed weight to their conversation and his somber reaction. And after we’re shown his opening footage from that night, a scene delivering arguably the series’ most emotionally heavy moments to date, the scars of last season begin to feel pardonable. 

Likely still licking his wounds from last season’s ego-blow in The New Yorker, and now with the boot from the tenth anniversary coverage, Will is starting to show welcome changes to his previously indestructible demeanor. Whether the pendulum will swing too far the other direction remains to be seen, doubtful as it is. (Still, Will 1.0 of last season wouldn’t be affected in the slightest upon finding www.whywehatewillmcavoy.com. Though we’re only able to catch a glimpse of the site, it looks about as foreboding as a Westboro Baptist Church message board.)

[Related: ‘Newsroom’ Season 2: Will it gain the ‘trust of the public’?]

But while we’re on the subject, time has passed come for Mackenzie MacHale to take some responsibility of her own. Season 2 deserves recognition for its sizable tape job, but the Mackenzie dilemma is getting more unbearable by the minute. Forget the fluff stuff – her flittering about, the ditzy desperations, the dumping of her Jameson Rocks on Will’s shirt without even a suggestion of ramification. Season 2 has her committing offenses that do more than file her under Sorkin’s Dim-Witted Woman with High-Profile Career folder.

Also, is there one person in America who believes Mackenzie MacHale’s drink of choice is Jameson on rocks?

In last week’s season premiere, Neal (Dev Patel) approaches Mack about chasing the Occupy Wall Street lead and is told to find more concrete, reliable sources, a completely rational, responsible answer given the information available at the time. But after a few short moments, she submits to her maternal and less reliable instincts and gives him the go-ahead to attend the group’s next drum circle. Why? Because Neal made a sad face. She had no choice! But last night’s stunt will prove less forgivable, as seen by Maggie’s traumatic new hair do. Maggie chases Mack down at the gym to beg for a chance to prove herself a vital News Night player. She will accomplish this by reporting from Africa. Specifically Kampala, Uganda, which she believes is the next American military base in the War on Terror. Again, Mackenzie is rightfully hesitant.

But Maggie can name the president, and she even promises to take her vitamins. Plus she reeeeaalllly wants to go. Clearly these are adequate grounds for permission to travel to a third world country, across the world, to the War on Terror’s next military base. Besides, everyone deserves to be picked first for dodge ball at some point. So off she goes to book her flight, with Mack’s blessing. We don’t know what happened to Maggie, the season is running as a long series of flashbacks, but we know it didn’t end well.  

I would forgive every violation The Newsroom has committed thus far if Mackenzie is fired.

Now on to Page 6. Don’s discovery of the YouTube video documenting Maggie’s intoxicated profession about her feelings for Jim was the most unfulfilling breakup scene known to exactly nobody, save for those who hide from their failing relationship behind office patty-cake. Last week’s faux-mantic high fives? Relax. No one does that, not even in Sorkin’s Love Sandbox, USA. Population: everyone. But all’s empty that ends empty, as was their relationship and on-screen chemistry. Seems like we’re in store for a much-needed break from the original triangle (special guest appearances by Sloan Sabbith), with Jim safely tucked away on the Romney campaign bus and Maggie headed for Africa. We will still need to deal with Will and Mackenzie, but even their dynamic seems more tolerable, even if it is simply from less time together on camera. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Despite its structural improvements, the show has a long apology road ahead as evidenced by its paltry two Emmy nods this year. One belongs to Jeff Daniels for Best Actor in a Drama Series, the other to Jane Fonda for her role as AMG owner Leona Lansing. Watch Sunday nights at 10 p.m. on HBO to track the journey. 

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