Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 28, 2014)
With this package, we find Season Two of the HBO program The Newsroom. As occurred with Season One, this concentrates on the people and events within a fictional TV news studio. The Blu-ray set spreads all of Season Two’s nine episodes across two discs. The plot synopses come straight from the Blu-ray menus.
First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers: “Will (Jeff Daniels) and the News Night staff are questioned by their lawyer about a story they’ve aired that’s become a network crisis. An on-air remark from Will has him pulled from 9/11 anniversary coverage. Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) volunteers to cover for an embed reporter on the Romney campaign, and Neal (Dev Patel) investigates the beginnings of Occupy Wall Street.”
Season One of The Newsroom took on events of 2010-2011, and Season Two goes for 2011-2012; as seen here, it starts in August 2011 and will finish in November 2012. The manner in which it touches on fairly recent events gives it a little perspective; there’s not much distance but we find enough to ensure that the opinions aren’t wholly reactionary.
Though they’re not exactly told in a neutral manner, as the series tends to wear its opinions on its sleeve. It also likes to speechify a whole bunch and to throw out dialogue that no human would ever actually speak.
One’s enjoyment of Newsroom will depend on your tolerance for those trends. I fluctuate, as I can enjoy the show’s artificial dialogue but also find it to be off-putting, and the same goes for its attitudes toward politics/news.
“Lawyers” accentuates the series’ strengths and weaknesses, though the episode mostly stays on the right side of that ledger. It flounders when it deals with Occupy, as it seems more invested in echoing that movement’s goals than anything else, but it provides better insight when it deals with other areas. These add to an erratic but mostly solid launch to the season.
The Genoa Tip: “A tip on a story that will ultimately cripple the network starts to become more real. MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) and Sloan (Olivia Munn) continue to push Will on drones as Don (Thomas Sadoski) urges Will to advocate for Troy Davis. Maggie (Alison Pill) is un-friended by her roommate but gets the assignment she’s been begging for. Neal gets arrested on Wall Street.”
For me, Newsroom works best when it avoids moralizing and/or the personal lives of its characters and concentrates on the news operation. “Tip” mixes those various issues in a fairly satisfying manner, though it tends more toward the soap opera side than I might like. Still, it percolates in a mostly good manner and sets up various subjects well.
Willie Pete: “Will continues his mission to civilize by telling Nina Howard the truth. A new witness to the Genoa story emerges on Twitter, and in New Hampshire, Jim’s efforts to have his questions answered continue to fall on deaf ears.”
Expect another semi-mixed bag from “Pete”. It launches on a rough note via one of its patented moral tirades, but it rebounds after that – mostly. I don’t think there’ll ever be a truly consistent episode of Newsroom, as it usually finds a way to shoot itself in the foot, but “Pete” still manages to develop various threads in a compelling manner – once it gets past that opening and some other politically heavy-handed bits.
Unintended Consequences: “Maggie tries to convince Rebecca (Marcia Gay Harden) she’s fine following her shattering trip to Africa with Gary (Chris Chalk). An Occupy Wall Street protester with a Black Op lead refuses to cooperate with Neal and Jerry (Hamish Linklater) after an on-air interview with Will goes poorly. Jim lands Hallie (Grace Gummer) a one-on-one interview but gets heat from Mac as a result.”
Though the show may come with the title “Unintended Consequences”, the episode follows fairly predictable paths. That’s especially in true in the case of Jim’s story, but it occurs elsewhere as well. These issues don’t make “Consequences” a bad show, but it seems a little lackluster.
News Night with Will McAvoy: “Will is distracted during his telecast by a phone call and an unflattering Twitter post. Charlie gets a visit from a longtime friend from the Office of Naval Intelligence, who has knowledge of Operation Genoa. Sloan phases from humiliation to rage following a revenge posting. The newsroom traverses the slippery slope separating fact from fiction.”
With this show, the series jumps forward quite a few months, which makes it jarring, as the program doesn’t handle the shift in the smoothest manner. This means that the show doesn’t flow quite as well as I might like; it develops some issues but feels a bit out of left field.
One Step Too Many: “Mac and Charlie score a key witness – a retired Marine general – in their attempt to corroborate Dantana’s Operation Genoa story. Will follows Nina’s lead to soften his image by making an impromptu appearance on a morning talk show. Jim gets unexpected company during his reunion with Hallie, who’s in town to cover a Romney rally.”
The Genoa narrative gets a good push here, as do a variety of character areas. Of course, some of the usual editorializing comes along for the ride; it’s hard to find an episode of Newsroom that doesn’t follow that path. Even with those moments, “Step” moves along the season well.
Red Team III: “Through depositions with the newsroom staff, Rebecca pieces together the events that led to ACN’s fateful decision to go forward with Dantana’s special report on Operation Genoa – as well as the post-air revelations that undermined its credibility. The repercussions threaten to ruin News Night while eclipsing breaking ness during another 9/11 anniversary.”
After seeing Genoa as a continuing backdrop all season, that thread leaps to the fore in the involving “Team”. The program digs into the issues in a satisfying manner and brings us up to date well. The show leaves me eager to see what happens to finish off the season – the only negative comes from the possibility that the excellent Marcia Gay Harden will no longer appear once the legal case gets resolved.
Election Night, Part I: “In the wake of Leona’s (Jane Fonda” refusal to accept the resignations of three top CAN talents, News Night goes forward with its 2012 election night coverage, with Will in the unlikely role of Director of Morale. Sloan is perturbed that her book was auctioned off with a forged signature, while Mac tasks Neal to fix a faulty Wikipedia page. Mindful that Charlie wants a screw-up free eventing, Jim weighs the cons of retracting a call he made too soon. The team deliberates whether to hold off on a story that might impact a tight Senate race.”
When I encounter two-part episodes, I save my comments for the finale.
Election Night, Part II: “As Election Night 2012 winds down, Will and Charlie await a decision from Reese (Chris Messina) that may impact their future at CAN, and that of the entire senior staff. Sloan learns the identity of the anonymous winning bidder for her book; Don discusses a countersuit against Dantana with Rebecca; Neal turns to Hallie for help giving Mac a parting gift; Jim tries to make peace with Lisa, encouraging Maggie to do the same; Will has a revelation while Charlie is sharing his.”
The season ends on a positive note with the exciting two-part episode. It gives us some good revelations and concludes the year’s narrative arc in a satisfying manner.
Though my review of Season One was mostly positive, I admit I came into Season Two with some trepidation, as I remembered the series’ preachiness more than anything else. S2 comes with some of that but seems better balanced and less strident. While it still flounders at times, S2 demonstrates a more mature, involving and enjoyable Newsroom.