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The Newsroom Returns For Season Two

Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom has returned for season two, and I have seen the first two episodes.  If you loved season one, I think you will love season two. And if you hated season one, I think you will hate season two.  Because not much has changed.

For me, I find myself caught in the middle.  There is quite a lot to appreciate about The Newsroom.  The production values of the show are tremendous — the series looks absolutely gorgeous — and each episode is replete with phenomenal Aaron Sorkin banter and bon mot that is so unique and so unlike any other dialogue you will find on TV.

At yet the show also remains frustrating, in that — shocking for an Aaron Sorkin TV show — I find myself staggeringly unattached to, and almost actively disinterested in, any of the main characters on screen.  After his wonderful dialogue, I have found one of Mr. Sorkin’s greatest skills to be the way he is able to combine the main topic of his show (politics, sports, television production, etc.) with screwball comedy and romantic story lines, in which many of his main characters find themselves caught longing to be with the person they are not with.  This has been a key aspect of audience engagement with Mr. Sorkin’s shows, I think, as we have rooted for Casey (Peter Krause) and Dana (Felicity Huffman) to get together, and for Josh & Donna and Charlie & Zoey and Sam Seaborn & Mallory and Toby & Andrea and C.J. & Danny and even for Matt (Matthew Perry) and Harriet (Sarah Paulson).

But I don’t particularly like or root for any of the characters on The Newsroom.  Well, that’s a little harsh.  I do quite enjoy the character of Will McAvoy.  I think Jeff Daniels is dynamite as the show’s lead.  He is able to make Will endearing even though the character often behaves like a prick (or, as MacKenzie colorfully describes him in episode two of season two, “a douchebag”).  But I am not all that taken with the low-boil romantic tension between Will and MacKenzie, and I am painfully bored by the Jim and Maggie (Allison Pill) storyline.

In the first episode of season two, when we see the two of them stealing longing looks at one another while seated at their desks across their crowded workspace, my wife turned to me and said “It’s just like The Office!”  Except that Jim Harper is no Jim Halpert.  And Maggie Jordan is definitely no Pam Beesly.  One of my favorite moments in episode two of season two was when Maggie’s former best friend Lisa absolutely eviscerates Maggie for her terrible behavior.  It’s a satisfying moment, but also one that underscores how unlikable the Maggie character has become.  Her behavior in season one was meant to be sitcom-cute, but The Newsroom isn’t a sitcom.  In real life, Maggie’s cartoonish behavior would be indefensible, and to me that’s how it plays on the show.  The Maggie-Jim romance feels like it’s meant to be the heart of The Newsroom, but I find it to be an anchor dragging down on the series.

I am intrigued by framing device used at the beginning of the season two premiere, in which we see Will and others being questioned by the company lawyer (played well by Marcia Gay Harden) because of a big misstep the news broadcast has apparently made at some point in the future of season two.  Yes, it’s a shameless rip-off of the structure of the Aaron Sorkin-written The Social Network, but it works.  It’s good to see that the show’s heroes are not perfect and that they can make mistakes.  (I felt a flaw of season one was that, with the benefit of the 20-20 hindsight offered to Mr. Sorkin, writing about news events from several years prior, the shows heroes often seemed unrealistically prescient about news stories, getting things right before any of the networks and reporters who were actually on the scene did.  So it is nice to see them having apparently gotten a big story wrong.  Though that is undercut somewhat by a) that news story being something that appears to have been made up for the show rather than an actual event –on that score, for example, Neal seems savvy to Occupy Wall Street way before anyone else — and b)that the fault behind this bogus story appears, for now, to lie not with any of the show’s regular characters but with the new producer brought in to replace Jim temporarily.  Oh well!)

Sam Waterston is still magnificent as elderly mentor-figure Isaac Jaffe um I mean Charlie Skinner, and Olivia Munn continues to impress as Sloan Sabbath (that is a great name for a character).  I liked seeing Leona (Jane Fonda) and Reese Lansing (Chris Messina) again as the mother-son company owners, and I was glad to see the re-appearance of the intern hired by Will at the end of last season.  It would be interesting to see this girl — so pivotal to Will in the premiere episode of season one — develop into a real character.  I hope that happens.

I have been critical of certain aspects of The Newsroom, and I feel I have come off as being more negative on the show than I really am.  Aaron Sprkin continues to represent a unique voice on TV and one that I cannot get enough of.  I will take even mediocre Sorkin over much almost anything else on TV.  It’s just that having seen superior Sorkin on TV before (the two seasons of Sport Night and the first four seasons of The West Wing) it is a bit of a bummer to see him fail to once again reach those heights.  But I am definitely on board, and happy to see where Mr. Sorkin takes us with the remainder of season two.

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