July 15, 2013




Aaron Sorkin may have professed not to agree with most of the criticisms aimed at THE NEWSROOM during its initial season, but a look at its Season 2 premiere makes it pretty clear that he was listening.  From the new and altogether less stentorian opening credit sequence (no more parade of “great TV news past” clips) to the noticeable reduction in self-righteous pontificating, this is a Newsroom eager to wipe at least a portion of its slate clean.  And since an improved Aaron Sorkin series is good for HBO, television and humanity in general, that’s something to be cautiously celebrated.

A framing device set at some unspecified time in the future offers some hints of coming attractions–among other things, something terrible will happen to Maggie (Allison Pill) in Africa, and she’ll cut off most of her hair–while establishing that an ACN story about a government black op codenamed “Genoa” will lead to a seriously threatening lawsuit, in connection with which attorney Marcia Gay Harden is preparing ACN staff members for their depositions.  The action then returns to just a few days after we last left our heroes, in August 2011.  Will (Jeff Daniels) is suffering the after-effects of having referred to the Tea Party as an “American Taliban” on the air and so is his network, much to the frustration of owner Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) and her son, network president Reese Lansing (Chris Messina); the Romney for President campaign is (barely) underway in New Hampshire; and Tripoli and US drone strikes are in the news.  The episode leaps into what The Newsroom does best:  presenting the high-pressure, high-wire extravaganza of a nightly live news show put together by experts, as the computer graphics cut out and a voice-over turns out to be legally flawed, all dealt with smoothly by executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer).

The season premiere, written–naturally–by Sorkin (from a story he wrote with Executive Story Editor Ian Reichbach) and directed by Alan Poul, is snappily paced, with plenty of Sorkin’s rat-a-tat repartee, including some fun colloquies for News President Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) and up-and-coming correspondent Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn), and for Will and Mac, and a call-back to Will’s affection for/obsession with Broadway musicals.  There’s a merciful lack of philosophizing about the dreadfulness of all TV news except ACN’s–when Leona and Reese complain to Will about the trouble he’s caused for the network, he doesn’t give them a five-minute lecture on the principles of sound journalism–and displays of technological ignorance are kept to a minimum.

That’s not to say the show’s flaws have all disappeared.  Because The Newsroom looks back at the recent past, ACN is always able to be smarter than any real news network, reflected here by Neal’s (Dev Patel) brainstorm, a month before anything actually happened, that the Occupy Wall Street movement is going to be a big story.  And of course the series falters when it steps into the personal lives of its characters, this episode featuring a ripely ridiculous reason for Maggie and Don (Thomas Sadoski) to break up, because her rant last season on the Sex and the City bus somehow ended up on YouTube.  On the other hand, at least they did break up, hopefully ending one of the dumber storylines–not that Maggie and good-guy Jim (John Gallagher, Jr) will get together immediately, since in typical Newsroom fashion he’d embedded himself with the Romney campaign just hours before the break-up.  The romantic lives of Will and Mac remain on low simmer, and presumably Don and Sloan, as suggested last season, will go forward.

But a little less heavy-handedness will go a long way toward making The Newsroom a far better show, and the premiere suggests that things are moving in the right direction.  As always, the cast is absolutely tremendous at being smart and funny and smart again, and along with Harden, Hamish Linklater has joined the first-rate guest star brigade as the producer brought in to sub for Jim while he’s in New Hampshire.

The Newsroom did an OK job following True Blood last summer in terms of ratings, losing the bulk of its lead-in but still holding on to an 0.8-1.0 (better than Veep did following both Game of Thrones and True Blood), and if it can hold at that level, HBO will be perfectly happy, because even a moderately successful Aaron Sorkin show fulfills the network’s hunger for buzz.  If the series can improve and attract more viewers as well, the network’s news will be so much the 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."