REVIEW: The Newsroom The Complete Second Season
We’re now in the first sweeps period of the current television season and its fair to say that while several new series are entertaining, few are measuring up to our increased expectations. As a result, it’s refreshing to see that in one week, one of the smartest shows is returning albeit for a truncated final season.
Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom debuted on HBO in June 2012 and was immediately declared better than Studio 60 but still no West Wing. It has remained, though, a riveting series that reminds us that serious journalism remains an elusive ideal on television. The series is set in the immediate past, using real world events so the audience can focus on how the noble, flawed characters react and cover the stories.
The second season, out tomorrow (Election Day appropriately enough) in a three-disc box set from HBO Home Entertainment, has a major arc showing how the team ran a story after doing their due diligence only to have it blow up in their face. Using flash forewards and flashbacks, we see how things unfolded to the point where ANC’s lawyer (Marcie Gay Harden) interviews the key players to figure out how things really happened and what to do. In the meantime, several of the core characters also have their own trials and tribulations, enriching each episode.
We pick up the season later in 2012 as the nation readies itself for Election Day and we see producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.), unable to get over his fractured relationship with Maggie (Alison Pill), assign himself aboard Mitt Romeny’s press bus, giving us a fresh look at the tedium of campaign coverage and the risks one takes when asking the hard questions the road-weary veterans refuse to ask. Along the way, a budding friendship with rival reporter Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer) begins.
Maggie, meanwhile, pitches a story in Africa and travels to a Ugandan orphanage where horrific things happen, emotionally and psychologically scaring her. Already broken up with Don (Thomas Sadoski) because of her enduring affection for Jim, she’s on the verge of a major breakdown.
The big story, though, is Operation Genoa, brought to MacKenzie Hale’s (Emily Mortimer) attention by Jim’s fill-in, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater). As they investigate it, we see Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) insist the Red Team vet the story time and again before everyone is comfortable with going live with the story of US Marines using Sarin gas in Afghanistan.
The most frustrated member of the staff may be Neal (Dev Patel) who is trying to get Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) to take the Occupy Wall Street movement seriously.
The season unfolds across nine densely packed episodes covering August through November but at its heart is the romance between Will and Mac, so their engagement is a satisfying high point as the season draws to a close. It’s more strongly written while remaining optimistic about the noble profession of journalism, imbuing the entire ANC staff from owner Leona (Jane Fonda) down to the lowliest intern (Riley Voelkel) with high-minded ideals. If only more dramas aimed so high.
The discs are crisp and fine to watch with good sound. We get four audio commentaries that are largely disappointing as creator Aaron Sorkin, producer Alan Poul and some of the cast meander about everything under the sun rather than enlighten the audience with the whys and wherefores of the season. The most interesting revelation is that during production, Sorkin realized he had written himself into a corner and revised upwards of 60% of the first three episodes and HBO allowed them to reshoot. Among the handful of deleted scenes is one from the first version of the season opener, spotlighting Oliva Munn’s Sloan, who emerges as the strongest character of the season. Each episode comes with the previously broadcast Inside the Episode, with Sorkin providing some good insights.