There is no question that Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom has an unabashedly liberal bent. And if you’re a Tea Partier, you won’t likely like it very much. Although the fictional ACN Newsnight team suffers several indignities for its trashing of the Tea Party, it’s probably not enough schadenfruede to satisfy.
In its first season, which aired last summer, the series skipped through the first term of the Obama presidency, landing on some of the top stories of those days while developing a cohesive cast of characters — a group of colleagues, all flawed, but all quite human. The show had its weaknesses, but with Daniels anchoring the series (as well as the fictional Newsnight cable news broadcast), it was strong and enjoyable summer of quick writing, good acting, and choir preaching about the ills of a dumbed-down American idiocracy, a stalemated Congress, and a press corps too quick to present everything (even fact and truth) as a debate of differing opinions.
This season, The Newsroom uses a slightly altered formula. At least in the first four episodes, the series narrative is largely contiguous, set during the 2012 primary season, and using a framing device to look at that time in flashback as an investigative story implodes.
We see the news team grilled by network lawyers preparing them for what appears to be a sh*t-storm to come. Through these interviews and practice deposition sessions, we are taken back to the spring and summer of 2012 during which a series of events has led Newsnight to this difficult place.
It all starts with a fall off a hotel balcony by the Newsnight Romney campaign embed, who has to bow out of the campaign. Sr. Producer Jim Harper (James Gallagher, Jr.), still pining for Maggie (Allison Pill) and hurting after the events of last season’s finale (and embarrassed that it has now wound up on YouTube) chooses to send himself to cover the campaign to avoid being witness to Maggie’s romance with Don (Tom Sadoski). Let’s just say, it is not pretty to cover a Republican campaign if your network has just called the Tea Party “The American Taliban.”
Jim is replaced in the newsroom by Gary Cooper (Chris Chalk), a senior producer imported from the Washington, D.C. bureau. He is overly zealous and extremely ambitious, with his own agenda. And it is his pushing of a story, related to U.S. foreign policy, drones and the use of chemical and biological weapons, that lands Newsnight in its eventual very treacherous waters.
I like the use of the framing device and the story told in flashback. Although the narrative takes a bit to really get going, it does. And by the end of episode four, I was chomping at the bit to learn what happens next. Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait like everyone else.
In the meantime, Will is trying to walk himself back from his RINO (Republican in Name Only) tag, trying to appear “moderate” and much more the Republican he claims to be. Will’s problem is that as a Nelson Rockefeller or (to be more modern, Colin Powell) type Republican, he is by contrast to the current Republican party a flaming liberal.
On the romance front (because besides the politics and news, there is plenty of time for soap) Will and Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer) are still circling each other, and Don (Tom Sadoski) and Sloane (Olivia Munn) seem to be inching towards something. Neal (Dev Sampat) has discovered the nascent Occupy Wall Street, but no one is taking him seriously — yet.
The second season has received mixed reviews. Of course, The Newsroom is liberal comfort food (a triple fudge sundae). But the writing remains tight, quick and smart. The acting is generally excellent, with Daniels fitting beautifully into a perfect role. The story of a newsroom caught in an out-of-control tailspin is compelling.
The second season of The Newsroom debuts on HBO tonight at 10 p.m. ET.