wed 22/05/2019

The Newsroom, Series Two, Sky Atlantic | reviews, news & interviews

The Newsroom, Series Two, Sky Atlantic

The Newsroom, Series Two, Sky Atlantic

Return to Atlantis Cable News, and writer Aaron Sorkin is back on form

Jeff Daniels as ACN's anchor Will McAvoy faces up to past mistakes

When The Newsroom’s first season started in 2012 the unthinkable seemed to have happened: Aaron Sorkin, creator of The West Wing and Oscar-winning writer of The Social Network, had lost his mojo. Not even his previous, erratic show, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, cancelled after its first season, had moments as excruciating as this. 

Set within a fictional cable news channel and centred on a ratings-hungry anchor man, Will McAvoy, who has rediscovered his fire for campaigning journalism, The Newsroom sought to combine the idealism and calling-to-account of Sorkin’s best work. But whereas his White House staff and light entertainers had been feasible creations, these so-called broadcasters were an unintentional shambles – ranging from callow to self-obsessed to hysterical, and impossible to imagine as news gatherers; both they and their creator were fixated on the drippiest of romances, which too often and utterly ludicrously threatened to take centre stage over the news.

At the same time, Sorkin lets us know that he’s not sacrificing his grandstanding

With Studio 60 and season one of The Newsroom we became aware of the fine line Sorkin’s writing had always trod between the brilliant and the kitsch. When his trademark walk-and-talk dialogues and sermonising monologues are on song, we can forgive the fact that even his Washington interns seem to have absorbed the US constitution, Webster’s Dictionary and the Encyclopaedia Britannica while still in their cribs, and every second character is obsessed with Gilbert and Sullivan; when not, the hobby horses and preachiness can become tiresome.

But all of that is judging the man by his own high standards, and sometimes this rare breed of American TV show creators deserves a little slack. Many bemoan the fact that NBC cancelled Studio 60; thankfully, HBO is a different animal. In the second half of The Newsroom’s first season there was a discernible improvement: Sorkin has been given the benefit of the doubt, and the signs in the new season opener are that he hasn't squandered the opportunity.

The credit sequence reveals a little welcome modesty, dropping the parallels between McAvoy and those broadcasting greats Walter Cronkite and Edward R Morrow. At the same time, Sorkin lets us know that he’s not sacrificing his grandstanding: with typical overkill, the episode’s title is First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers.

It opens with McAvoy (Jeff Daniels, main picture) sitting opposite a team of the channel, ACN’s own legal team, led by the formidable Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden, pictured right). Will and his team are in deep water over a story involving a covert military action known as Genoa and their accusation that the US government committed war crimes. The story achieved a record-breaking audience, before being proven to be false.

Having ascertained that Will and co are in the doghouse, we’re taken back 14 months, to the final moment of last season and McAvoy’s on-air description of the Tea Party as the “American Taliban”. The episode plays with the fall-out from that little bomb, introduces other new characters and puts the pieces in play that will lead to the Genoa investigation. It also, unfortunately, continues with the love triangle involving producers Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr) and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) and the exasperating office novice Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), the three of whom ought to be deposited in the nearest playground.

On the plus side, it looks as though the histrionics of the show’s chief producer Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) have been reined in, while the wonderful old pro Sam Waterston and cerebral sexpot Olivia Munn are going to be given a little more of the limelight.

As always, The Newsroom’s bread and butter is aligned to actual news events, which is one of the solid aspects of the show. It’s now August 2011, and Colonel Gaddafi has lost Tripoli and gone into hiding, Mitt Romney is contesting the Republican presidential nomination and Neal Sampat (Dev Patel, pictured below left), the news team’s website designer, has discovered some online chat involving a group calling themselves Occupy Wall Street.

But the episode ends as it began, this time with Mackenzie being grilled by the lawyers over Genoa. This is Sorkin’s big gamble, for not only will Genoa provide the through line for the whole season, but we already know that the story is bogus. It’s a bold move, indicative of the sense that the writer is more comfortable with his milieu and characters. The wondrously cheeky use of The Who’s "You Better You Bet" over the closing credits is the icing on the cake. I’m hooked. The Newsroom starts here.

Its bread and butter is aligned to actual news events, which is one of the solid aspects of the show

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

That's good to know. Studio 60... was such a crushing disappointment after half a year spent working my way through The West Wing (possibly the best telly series ever, even after Sorkin left and right through to the end). The worst kind of self-reverential American TV. This sounds worth a try.

Meanwhile I loved Studio 60 to distraction and gave up on The Newsroom halfway through the first series!

I nearly didn't watch this season as Emily Mortimer's voice and acting was driving me mad in Season 1. As per your review she seems to have calmed down slightly though only time will tell.

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