The Newsroom: 2.01 - The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All The Lawyers
Back for a second season: The Newsroom, mere hours after I finished watching the first one for yesterday's DVD review! That first season was criticised in various places for preachy messages and spotty character arcs - can they redeem it all in a single golden episode?
Well, Sorkin has admitted to redoing chunks of the first three episodes, leaving us with nine second-year efforts instead of ten, so something's certainly been afoot. Has it left us with a much better show? Let's take a look. Spoilers, obviously.
LISTEN TO OUR MIGHTY NEWS-WORDSFirst up, wow, they re-did the intro. The visuals are stylish, interesting new version of the music and, most telling of all, they've dropped the CARRYING ON A GREAT TRADITION OF NEWSMEN ethos that the old sequence shouted out. That whole bit always looked nice, but if Sorkin were listening to the critiques of The Newsroom, he'd know that reducing the mighty, preachy, pretentious weight of the show is probably a good idea. So I can see the logic here.
And throughout, there's comparatively little lecturing. A few small spurts, in which Jane Fonda's Leona sets us straight about piracy ("the pyjama people"?) and Neal tells Occupy Wall Street exactly where they're messing up (with the benefit of two years hindsight), but nothing on the scale of last year's regular shout-at-the-camera sessions from Mac and Will about exactly what was wrong with America/the media/the world/all of those at once.
Not only that, but our heroes are fallible! In fact, the whole episode is devoted to them picking themselves up after screw-ups: in the future-set sequences (which still occur in our past), Will is dealing with the fall-out of a big mistake they haven't made yet called Genoa, whereas in the past, he's being flogged for his "American Taliban" soundbite in last year's finale. To be fair, it's not that our heroes didn't face adversity last year, otherwise it would've been catastrophically shit, rather than merely flawed - but the big difference is that the opposition are being allowed to have a point, or at least the beginnings of one. Will seems genuinely troubled, even loyal boss Charlie has slightly wavered in supporting him.
Will still has lots of noble hero shots, and Mac finally gets some more scenes of being a hypercompetent producer, but News Night are skirting around the twin traps of being infallible in their principles and always getting the stories right thanks to Sorkin's hindsight tricks. This is progress.
How Many Sides On This Love Triangle Now?It's not all plain sailing, of course. The often-painful Don/Jim/Maggie love triangle rumbles on, as a supposedly competent character (Jim) makes a ridiculous decision because he feels a bit awkward about a girl. The scene where other characters talk at length about how stupid Jim's departure is doesn't help. Of course, towards the end, Don breaks up with Maggie in a final-seeming way, and a whole viewership holds its breath. Is this really the end? Has Sorkin taken the reviews so seriously that he's actually knocked that plotline on the head in the first episode?
Could still go either way, of course. Jim and Maggie have plenty of time to make up stupid reasons not to get together - I'm guessing her upcoming Ugandan trauma will be among them. Nonetheless, just a move out of the holding pattern they clung to throughout season one is progress.
Basically, the undercurrent of foreboding makes The Newsroom seem a bit more meaningful and interesting, ironically, than when it was being ponderous and pretentious. There are still some overblown moments, and Sorkin can't resist a few small lectures and an OBVIOUSLY WRONG pro-drone guest star to hammer his own opinions home, but this is among the two or three best episodes The Newsroom have done, I think. If they can keep this up for the whole series, it will be an above-average run and, at the very least, something Sorkin fans can enjoy without feeling too guilty.