Sorry to disappoint you, folks, but I don't have a beef with The Newsroom.
As some of you may already know, I'm a fan of the show, and I don't share the popular opinion that it's little more than a platform for a smug, chauvinistic showrunner to patronize his audience. Aaron Sorkin's polarizing HBO drama is a much deeper and more entertaining series than the hate watchers would have you believe. And while The Newsroom does center on one hell of an arrogant, often shortsighted SOB (Jeff Daniels' Will McAvoy), the show is smart and self-reflective enough not to completely share and celebrate that SOB's narrow point of view.
Anyone who was really paying attention last season knows that The Newsroom is more interested in analyzing and deconstructing the minds and hearts of egotists like McAvoy than in applauding their arrogance. Sunday's season 2 premiere, "First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers," reminded us that the show’s stubborn lead character, no matter how cool a pose he strikes, usually ends up paying a high price for his impulsive, self-righteous behavior.
Season 2 is framed by a series of depositions, much like Sorkin’s script for The Social Network. The conceit is that McAvoy and his News Night staff reported a story about the U.S. government covering up an illegal nerve gas attack. The story brought in huge ratings for News Night, but it turned out to be false. News Night was forced to retract the story, and the producers are now facing big legal trouble. The always-great Marcia Gay Harden plays the defense attorney leading the depositions and trying to sort out the events that lead the crew to report the false story.
According to this premiere, the trouble can be traced back to one heartbroken producer’s attempt to escape his pain, which admittedly is a little silly. Jim’s (John Gallagher Jr.) decision to leave the office, and get away from the girl who rejected him (Alison Pill’s Maggie), forced Mac (Emily Mortimer) to hire a temporary producer from the D.C. bureau named Jerry (Hamish Linklater), who brought the phony story to the table. As Mac says in the episode, if Jim hadn’t left, she wouldn’t have hired Jerry, and Jerry (or Terry or Harry) would never have brought the bogus story into the newsroom. But it’s clear that Jim’s absence isn’t the only reason everyone is pinned against a wall this season.
It was Will who was put on trial in the premiere’s opening moments. As we flash backed fourteen months into the show’s past, the entire network was reeling from Will’s decision to dub the Tea Party “the American Taliban” on the air. Will’s arc was compelling here, as he sought to restore the solid relationship he once had with his viewers after alienating them with the incendiary comment.
Will got all the best lines in every scene, and he easily bested everyone who challenged him to a game of verbal chess here, but that didn’t change the fact that he was punished and dejected throughout the entire episode. His decision to appoint himself judge of all culture while in the anchor position backfired, again, and he was reduced to a desperate, articulate mess.
Will’s desperate state influenced his decision to allow a military panelist to drone on about the importance of drone strikes on the air, a move Will hoped would help do some damage control for the “American Taliban” controversy. Will's decision led to a quick series of events that ended with Jerry chastising the military panelist and the panelist, desperate to be invited back on the air to spread his agenda, feeding the bogus story to Jerry.
Lesson learned: Will McAvoy’s inflated sense of self-righteousness, plus his need to be adored and acclaimed by his viewers, causes him to make horrible decisions that have huge consequences for everyone around him. His arrogance isn’t celebrated here; it’s disparaged. I’m pretty sure we’ll see Will visit TV’s greatest therapist, David Krumholtz, again before all is said and done this season.
The Newsroom still feels like it’s biting off more than it can chew, especially with Neal’s Occupy Wall Street storyline, which already feels stale and tired. But the show returned feeling sharper, more confident and more realistic than last season. I’m excited to see how this season’s lead story shakes out, and I’m even finding myself invested in some of the romantic storylines. It’s clear that the strained tension between Jim and Maggie has impacted their lives to an extreme degree, and it’s fun watching Sloan (Olivia Munn) fail at flirting with Don (Thomas Sadoski). And Drunk Sam Waterston is still magic. But that's just one pompous, chauvinistic blogger's quick opinion. Many people, including my fellow Antenna Free TV critic Amy Amatangelo, feel very differently about the show. What's your opinion?