After hitting it big on film with screenplays for Moneyball and The Social Network, West Wing writer/producer Aaron Sorkin returned to television last season with a show on HBO called The Newsroom. With all the trademark Sorkin bits and pieces (amazing cast involved in pediconferences, pontification, references to musical comedy, insults directed at bloggers or internet users, smart, snappy, rapid-fire dialogue, brilliant men who know everything, mostly stupid women who make a mess of their lives... The Huffington Post's Maureen Ryan has a whole bingo card full of 'em), The Newsroom took on the world of TV news, including an anchor, producers, reporters, interns and the brass at a mythical network called Atlantis Cable News, or ACN. Its episodes go back in time, to show us how ACN covers stories we already know about, like the night Osama Bin Laden was killed, or the Gulf of Mexico oil spill from British Petroleum.
Jeff Daniels leads the cast as Will McAvoy, ACN anchor and rock star, who screwed up when he refused to say (during a filmed moment) that America is the greatest country in the world or to fall in line with knee-jerk patriotism/jingoistic games. The show got mediocre reviews and mediocre ratings, although it was good enough for HBO to bring back. And back it is.
This season, McAvoy is once again in trouble, but it has to do with a story his crew went after, a story about secret US military actions abroad and something called Operation Genoa. Not Geneva, Genoa. That's important. The season premiere, called "First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers," taken from a Shakespeare quote I happen to love, opens when new cast member Marcia Gay Harden, who starred opposite Daniels on Broadway in God of Carnage, comes aboard as -- you guessed it -- a lawyer hired to pull ACN's fat out of the fire over the way they handled -- or mishandled -- this incendiary Genoa story. Daniels and Harden are perfect examples of the kind of fabulous actors Sorkin casts, projecting intelligence and tossing around zippy verbiage like nobody's business. Others of note in the cast last season included Sam Waterston, John Gallagher, Jr., Allison Pill and Thomas Sadowski, all of whom have impressive stage resumes, with Jane Fonda as the CEO of the network's parent company and Hope Davis, another God of Carnage veteran, as a tabloid reporter. Aside from Harden, Grace Gummer, who happens to be Meryl Streep's daughter and a fine actress on her own, and another film and stage actor, Hamish Linklater, have been added for Season 2.
So the good news is that ratings are up slightly and reviews are a bit improved, as well, at least according to HuffPo. Other positives: I love Marcia Gay Harden and her character actually has a brain, the Genoa thing is fairly interesting and it doesn't involve McAvoy being too much of a dick, we got to see Jane Fonda and Sam Waterston right off the top, Dev Patel ha a story of his own, and the romantic hijinks weren't too cloying, with Sadowski's Don Keefer and Pill's Maggie Jordan splitting during this episode, while Gallagher's Jim, who is carrying a torch for Maggie, took an assignment out of town following Mitt Romney's presidential campaign so he could get away from the Maggie-and-Don schmoopfest.
On the negative side: The jumps in time were both confusing and dull as presented, interrupting the flow of the story and meaning I zoned out a few times and had to watch the show twice to figure out what was happening, Allison Pill's new hairdo is disturbing and we don't know if Jim even knows Maggie and Don broke up or about the YouTube video that broke them up, and Olivia Munn's supposedly bright Sloan Sabbith is still incredibly annoying, but not as annoying as poor Emily Mortimer's McKenzie McHale, who has been seriously wimpy, clumsy and unappealing since the get-go. It's the whole woman thing. Their characters are paper-thin, with quirks that come off messy and sad instead of adorable, which is what I think Sorkin intended.
Oh well. I like the pace of the dialogue and the skill of the performers enough to keep tuning in, at least for now. Let's hope Marcia Gay Harden's character elevates the whole thing, okay?