Where we left off:
To steal a line from MacKenzie McHale, “it’s easy to be cynical.”
Those words come from the final episode of what nearly became the only season of Aaron Sorkin’s often-maligned series. HBO gave Sorkin a vote of confidence by overriding a widespread panning of the series and renewing The Newsroom for a second tour of duty.
Season one had plenty of flaws, especially in the brutal first few episodes. The show tried to outsmart its viewers with its rocky relationships and overzealous reporting initiatives and most egregiously failed to give us a reason to emotional attach ourselves to Will, a character that is more likable than most people make him out to be.
But let’s not make this an Aaron Sorkin bash zone. I agree with HBO that The Newsroom showed enough promise to make a return to primetime and it mainly coincides with my appreciation for the final episode of season one.
When we last tuned into The Newsroom, MacKenzie’s ex-boyfriend Bryan and his “hatchet job” of a feature he penned for New York magazine led to the depression that put Aaron Sorkin’s greater fool, Will McAvoy, in the hospital with a broken ego.
Will reads off excerpts of an article loaded with goodies like “his premise is irrelevant and pompous.” But what hurt Will the most was his assertion that Bryan was right. He lost his touch. And then with a lead on a voter-fraud story, Will returned with vengeance, ready to take down any Republicans in his path. It was the strongest episode of the season because Sorkin was able to slow things down, even if it meant having to spell out everything. And I mean everything from the head scratcher of Sloan revealing she’s had a crush on Don, to Maggie failing to recognize her phone had been tapped, to Sloan explaining to Will that the greater fool isn’t a dig but actually a compliment.
So Mac is right. She’s always right. It’s too easy to dwell on the bad and even easier to overlook what Sorkin did right. McAvoy’s team started to gel in the final few episodes and now with another lease on life, The Newsroom returns with its season opener, “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers.”
The first lesson in any Journalism 101 class is as clear as it gets: write the news, don’t be the news. It appears that Will and the ACN team slept in that morning. From the season two trailer, we figured there would be some central conflict that threatens the very show that is trying to be the idealistic, uncompromising model of what cable news should and could be. We still don’t know what exactly landed the team in all kinds this trouble, but as season two opens, Will is answering not only for his mistakes but also those of his team.
We know it revolves around a story first mentioned by Jerry, a newcomer in the newsroom, who is told by a guest that he has access to a story that “makes careers and ends presidencies.” Later on, Mac bills this mystery story as the most viewed program in the history of cable news as “the biggest thing any of us have ever touched.”
For now, the show continues to grapple with the issue of doing what’s right vs. doing what people want to hear. It comes head on when Reese is blacklisted in Washington because of Will’s infamous “American Taliban” reference to the Tea Party. It seems that the in-house fighting has been pushed aside in favor of serving the larger narrative of the media being the cast as the villain.
Oh, Jim. He can’t stand to look over his desk and see that somehow Maggie and Don have it all figured out. So he leaves in pursuit of a clear mind, only to find that the repercussions of Will’s “American Taliban” comments have reached the promise land of Concord, New Hampshire. The guy will someday catch a break. We believe in you Jim. We believe!
Outside the newsroom, we start to really feel that Maggie and Don’s relationship is stronger than we were led to believe. After all, it withstood Jim’s romanticism and Sloan’s bombshell comment to Don – a last-ditch effort to squeeze an unnecessary twist into an already loaded final episode. As well as Sorkin did to make Don look like the bad guy, Maggie ended up being the one who had something to hide.
Thankfully nothing on YouTube is hidden for long and a cell phone camera helped end a relationship that lasted about five episodes too long. I’m calling it right now. Jim will return on a golden steed to reclaim his woman and it shall be glorious.
The trial of Will and Maggie is Sorkin’s cog to the entire season. It gives us something that could get juicy as more backstory is revealed. If Sorkin can play up these backstories to develop a deeper understanding of his characters, he has a chance to turn The Newsroom around. He’s on the right track by playing up the media as the villain and starting to introduce his characters as an unfortunate extension of that. If he can’t, then the echoes calling for The Newsroom to get the ax will only grow louder.