SPOILER ALERT: IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN THE SHOW AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW SOME OF THE PLOT, THEN SKIP PARAGRAPH 2 BELOW.
There are not that many script writers in America more talented than Aaron Sorkin, who made his name with the blockbuster ‘The West Wing’ show which amazingly ran for seven consecutive seasons on a major network television without getting stale or old, or losing most of its audience. Even ‘Lost’ only survived for six seasons. But after scripting a flop called ‘Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip’, it was apparently only HBO which was really prepared to take a flyer on the new Sorkin project, developed since 2009, entitled ‘The Newsroom’. Sadly, as of Dec. 14th of 2014 this series, which is truly excellent has called it a day after only six episodes in the third season. But this blog post is about the second season which was first rate, and is well worth the investment in the DVD box set, worth it if you are interested in understanding the role and the ethics of ‘the Fourth Estate’ in increasingly less democratic America. Sorkin said in June 2012 that The Newsroom “is meant to be an idealistic, romantic, swashbuckling, sometimes comedic but very optimistic, upward-looking look at a group of people who are often looked at cynically. The same as with The West Wing, where ordinarily in popular culture our leaders are portrayed either as Machiavellian or dumb; I wanted to do something different and show a highly competent group of people.” The series has been nominated for Emmys and Golden Globes as well, which are the only two major awards a TV show is really eligible for anyway. Frankly, the show is so much better than the ordinary drivel and just plain garbage that now passes for prime time viewing, that it had little competition during its run between 2012-2014. O.K., maybe a weak vote for ‘Madam Secretary’ could be given, though the scripts are not as good, and the dialogue and debate much less witty and forceful than that which characterizes Sorkin’s writing.
The second season has a clear larger narrative arc. It focuses on the decision making process whether to air a reported atrocity that took place in Pakistan, involving American troops using Saron gas, which of course we said we would never use. The operation in question was called Genoa, and much of the plot and subplots revolves around trying to get absolute confirmation that we actually committed such a heinous act. And then discovering…… it never happened. Witnesses, even multiple witnesses, even eyewitnesses, do sometimes lie. And so we also see in the second season the fallout when a network reports such an inflammatory story, and then has to retract it, retreating with its tail between its legs.
The acting once again is superb! Here’s the Wiki rundown on the dramatis personae….
Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy: the anchor and managing editor of News Night. His world is turned upside down when his ex-girlfriend MacKenzie re-enters his life.
Emily Mortimer as MacKenzie McHale: News Night ’s new executive producer and Will’s ex-girlfriend, returning from 26 months as an embedded journalist overseas.
John Gallagher, Jr. as Jim Harper: senior producer who followed Mackenzie to News Night. At his new job, he develops feelings for Maggie.
Alison Pill as Maggie Jordan: an eager, young associate producer of News Night. She has complicated personal relationships with Don and Jim. Formerly Will’s personal assistant.
Thomas Sadoski as Don Keefer: News Night ’s former executive producer who leaves for the new program on the network, Right Now with Elliot Hirsch.
Dev Patel as Neal Sampat: writer of Will’s blog and news scanner of the internet who covered the London Underground bombings with a camera phone.
Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith: a double PhD economist with an economic news segment on Will’s show. Sloan is attractive but socially awkward, creating uncomfortable situations for herself and others.
Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner: Atlantis Cable News (ACN) president and retired US Marine.
One of the things Sorkin thrives on is creating compelling dialogue for an ensemble cast which loves to banter back and forth. Sometimes you even have to do a rewind some of the comebacks are so rapier sharp and quick. While I would rate the second season slightly behind the first in plot and sizzle, it was still excellent, and provided a first rate behind the scenes look at the TV news media. Especially interesting is watching how a decision is made to air a story, and how much stress to put on it. Unlike some series, this one is dealing for the most part with real things that happened in or to America in the period being chronicled. So for instance the 8th and 9th episodes (the last two) of season 2 focus on the 2012 national election, and it really is must watch TV. I would say these two episodes, and the first of the first season are the best thus far in terms of brilliant writing and surprising developments.
It is worth asking the question— What are we hoping for from television shows? Do we want something merely entertaining, or something which is also enlightening, educational, even in some moments uplifting. The major theme that the West Wing and The Newsroom share, is their touting of true democracy and its values– honesty, fairness, freedom and justice for all, and so on. There are times when these sorts of shows make you proud to be an American, and willing to say ‘that is what America is really all about, or ought to be all about’ and there are times when these shows pull back the curtain and make you ashamed to be an American. Either way, it is compelling and makes you think about what our country should be like. I commend this series to you as television that is thought-provoking, rather than brain-numbing. Imagine that.