The Newsroom, at first glance, seems like a show about the news, but if you look closely you’ll se that the news might be the least important thing it has to offer. Sure, the news is involved, it would be a very poor choice in title otherwise, but what Arron Sorkin’s newest hybrid of drama, politics, and comedy has to offer in spades are stories about the people who deliver the news. The Presidential election, the Trayvon Martin shooting, the Occupy Wall Street movement — these news items received nation media attention, but here they serve as a mere vehicle to tell us about the dynamic relationships between a cast of characters the likes of which I have rarely seen, and out of which I have a hard time picking an unlikable member. In season two of The Newsroom we got some interesting new twists as well as some new story telling formulas, and in the end, while I usually end these introductory paragraphs with an ambiguous question, I have to say this time you’re going to know up front — it all works brilliantly.
We should probably go ahead and acknowledge that I am both a Democrat and a very liberal individual. Because of this I have a hard time relating to the issues that many have with The Newsroom’s ongoing commentary on the Republican party and its actions. There are a few times though when even I winced at the heavy-handedness with which Sorkin drops the hammer on the right leaning Republicans. It only happens a handful of times, and its gone as quickly as it came, but it’s there, and to someone who agrees with the shows viewpoint 99.9% of the time, it’s quite noticeable. It’s probably the closest thing I have to a complaint when it comes to the show outside of being upset that it’s not running all year instead of just nine short weeks.
And that really begs the question, especially if your politics don’t line up with the show, as to why I am such a fan, and more importantly, why you should join me. The answer is a simple one — the characters, and the cast that brings them to life. I don’t know if a more well-developed, well written group of characters has ever been assembled in one show. They are constantly evolving, adapting, and surprising you with not only how they act but who they react to others. It’s masterfully written, and if you aren’t careful it will leave your head spinning with its blazingly quick dialogue and speedy jumps between drama and comedy. Now that the season is over I want to look back on some of the best stories and relationship season two had to offer. Besides what I have above, you can also read our First Impressions and Checking In reviews of season two that are completely spoiler free. But from here on out this review will contain FULL SPOILERS!!! BEWARE!!!
Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is one of the most charismatic characters on television today. He’s witty, tough, firm in every belief he holds, and can use language as a lethal weapon. But where he falters, time and time again, is in his relationship with ex-girlfriend turned executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer). In season one we established that they had ended things unfavorably due to Mc’s infidelity and it was an ongoing point of contention, but n season two the relationship becomes even more volatile as the Genoa, which I’ll explore in more detail later, unfolds. We’re able to see Will in several moments, especially toward the end of the season, where he’s at a loss for words, apologizing, or shedding his hard and tough exterior to show how much he has really been hurt by Mac. These are all very unlike Will in the majority of the show and it is a great showcase of the depth and complexity of the character the Daniel’s does a top-notch job or portraying. And when the entire battle culminates in Will’s realization of that needs to be done, and the subsequent proposal delivered only as Will McAvoy can, it’s a high point the show has yet to top.
We also get more complexity with Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) as he moves out of his love triangle with Maggie (Alison Pill) and Lisa (Kelen Coleman) and right into another with Maggie and newcomer Hallie Shea (Grace Gummer). Hallie and Jim meet in the beginning of season two as Jim embarks what I assume is like a spirit animal quest for liberal media reporters — the Romney presidential campaign tour. Some of Jim’s best moments happen on the bus as he tries and keep his fellow reporters and the Romney press team both from killing him. The triangle this time is much less of a presence now though as the relationship between Jim and Maggie is much more muted and Maggie works to deal with a lot of her own demons.
The last, but certainly not least significant relationship I want to touch on is the one between Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski). First off, these two characters are probably the most stand out of the entire cast this year. The have, for me at least, the largest collection of memorable moments from the season, whether apart of together. Sloan continues to be the smart and savvy financial mogul who as a few social health issues and Don still maintains his unapologetic honesty that more often than not comes off as being a tad harsh. Where the magic happens though is when you begin to see that the two characters complement one another almost perfectly, keeping the other in check and making for some incredible moments. Sorkin also does a great job of planting the seeds for this relationship throughout the season, so that all of a sudden everything has been set in motion, and you are able to look back at earlier episodes and realize you should have seen this coming all along. An audible cheer escaped my lips when the two finally bit the bullet and Sloan follows up here book signing with a kiss that shocks the entire control room. It was just simply great television.
Some of the best stories of the season weren’t about relationships in the traditional sense though. Maggie tackles her own issues head on in the start of what is a new twist for The Newsroom, fictional news. Maggie and Gary (Chris Chalk) make a trip to Africa, and upon arriving Maggie meets a little boy who is fascinated with her, and her long blonde hair. As is the case in the real world as well as that of Sorkin’s fictional one, Africa can be a dangerous place, and an attack on the school where Maggie and Gary are staying is attacked, and the boy killed. The effects of this impact Maggie on a monumental level, as she takes up a bad drinking habit and guts and dies her own hair. It would seem that we’ve not seen the true depth of Maggie’s trauma, and its something I expect we’ll see even more a part of the (hopeful) season three.
And then we come to the story that drives almost the entire season — Genoa. Newcomer Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) comes into to fill in for Jim while he rides the Romney bus, and is tipped off early to a story about the US military using sarin gas on civilians in a rescue mission in Genoa. Mac and Charlie (Sam Waterston) are brought in on the story, as well as one of my favorite characters, Neal (Dev Patel) as they begin to investigate the story. All the proper steps are seemingly followed, but after the villainous (no, I do not feel like that’s an overstatement) Dantana doctors up a video to make the news seem irrefutable, and when the story is eventually revealed to be complete fiction, the backlash leaves no one unaffected. The depositions with attorneys are a regular fixture in season two, and the culminate in a question everyone struggles with from time to time — now that we’ve messed up, how do we best make it right?
The Newsroom’s sophomore season is one for the books to be sure. The characters gain a completely new level of depth and relationships between them take wonderful and sometimes surprising twists. It contains two of the three best episodes in the series (the third being the series premiere) with “Willie Pete” and “Election Night Part I”. And the star of the show, Sorkin’s ability to write dialogue so rich and so full of information, both on the surface and in a million different subtexts, that it takes a show that would otherwise be about the news being reported, and makes it all about the people who do the reporting. The show is one of the best out there and some go HBO’s finest work.