September 16, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The Newsroom”

It is, to be honest, somewhat difficult to focus on the clatter of THE NEWSROOM on the same night that Breaking Bad aired one of the most devastating episodes in its history–which made it one of the most devastating hours in this TV era.  “Ozymandias,” as the episode was called, was the second consecutive episode of Breaking Bad that most shows would have been happy to claim as their series finale, and yet there are still two more episodes on the way to emotionally incinerate us some more.

The business of the night, however, was the season finale of The Newsroom, which contained even more than the series’s normal proportion of empty noise.  The Newsroom, by and large, was much better in its second season than its first, but this two-part season finale (written, of course, by series creator Aaron Sorkin, and directed by Alan Poul) marked something of a return to the show’s bad old days.  Instead of dealing with journalism, as much of the season engrossingly did, we were back to the tiresome romantic lives of the show’s characters, which largely meant Sorkin was exploring his repertoire of rom-com endings.

Chief among them was the saga of Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer).  An endless scene midway through rehashed the whole story of why they’d broken up in the first place, and Will had a revelation about Mac’s long-ago betrayal (“except for what she did wrong, she did everything right!”) and dug out the engagement ring we’d seen buried in his desk last season.  Thankfully this storyline will finally be over in Season 3, as they’re now engaged.

The other big rom-com moment was just as hackneyed, but at least handled more quickly and with a higher cuteness factor, as Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) realized that her “Sidney Falco” who had bid up and bought her autographed book in a charity auction (which actually she didn’t autograph, but please don’t make me retell that epic story) was Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski), who completed his arc of character redemption from being Maggie’s (Alison Pill) bad boyfriend last season to prove himself worthy of Sloan. This one climaxed with the ever-popular cliche of the embarrassingly public first kiss.  That leaves just one more presumptive couple yet unformed, since Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr) still isn’t with Maggie, although by the episode’s end they were back to having heart-to-heart talks, and it’s hard to believe his current attachment to Romney embed reporter Hallie (Grace Gummer) will be much of an obstacle.

Apart from all the Cupid’s arrows floating through the studio air, much time was wasted on such nonsense as Mac’s wanting her Wikipedia page altered (she went to Cambridge, not Oxford), and  Jim assuring Hallie’s roommate, whom Sorkin wrote as a ditz last season, that she was really incredibly bright (and meaning it). What appeared to be the major subjects of the episode petered off in anticlimaxes (along with any attempt to milk suspense from election night results), as nobody ended up resigning from ACN, and even if they had, network President Reese Lansing (Chris Messina), another reformed boob, had decided not to accept the resignations.  Attorney Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden) and network owner Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) were reduced to trading drunken and stoned quips, like two addled fans longing for the next Sex and the City movie.

It wasn’t a great ending for the season. And yet, while Sorkin’s very particular Sorkin-ness will always keep The Newsroom uneven, there was quite a bit to enjoy in Season 2.  The Operation Genoa story, once Sorkin dug into it and set out just how a group of brilliant journalists with the best intentions (well, all but one of them) could so utterly screw a major story up, was marvelously written and structured.  Overall, there was far less epeechifying than Season 1 had forced us to endure, and while the strained romances came back at the end, they were generally under control during this season.

Despite the oddly series-finale endgame feel of the episode, The Newsroom is presumably coming back next season (although HBO is apparently having difficulty working out Sorkin’s schedule for Season 3), and it deserves to.  The cast is uniformly terrific, with Olivia Munn as this season’s stand-out, rising past all the other women on the show to somehow maintain her dignity and intelligence despite Sorkin’s insistence on female goofiness (his men may be pompous, but Sorkin persists in painting his intelligent women characters as unstable idiots).  Sorkin is capable of writing hours of television on fire with repartee and sharp discussion of important issues.  And the ratings (nowhere near the hit duo of Game of Thrones and True Blood, but consistent and solid in the 0.8-0.9 range) and buzz factor squarely fit the HBO profile.  The series markedly improved this season; if Sorkin can rein in his worst indulgences even more tightly next year, the show will only get better.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."