This post discusses plot developments in The Newsroom's Season Two premiere on July 14.
There was reason to be optimistic about Season Two of HBO's behind-the-news drama The Newsroom. The show earned decent viewership ratings in its first season; critical responses ranged from deeply offended to amused if mildly underwhelmed, but speculation circulated that creator Aaron Sorkin had revamped his writing strategy after the season was over.
So even if the particular rumor that Sorkin had fired his whole writing staff turned out to be false, Atlantic staffers Chris Heller and Ashley Fetters had high hopes that perhaps a more thoughtful reboot of HBO's "pretentious, condescending" Sunday-night series was on the way.
But then the season actually began.
The Newsroom's season premiere opens with an investigation, circa 2012, into the ACN News Night team's activities in the fall of 2011. Rewind to the days of Occupy Wall Street and Rebecca Black's "Friday," and the newsroom is mired in as-per-usual chaos: Crusty anchorman Will McAvoy gets kicked off of the network's 10-year September 11 coverage for calling the Tea Party the "American Taliban" on air, finance reporter Sloan Sabbith can't seem to get anybody to listen to her about how drone strikes are a pretty big deal, and producers Jim and Maggie still, disastrously, haven't gotten together—a tragedy that sends a sulky Jim out on the road to cover the Romney campaign.
Below, our discussion of the second-season premiere—the welcome adjustments, the many continuing frustrations, and the agonizing question of how long you should keep watching a show with great potential that nevertheless just keeps disappointing you.
Ashley: Are you sighing a little bit right now? I'm sighing a little bit right now. I wanted this to be better than it was.
Chris: I'm right there with you. Was it really this tedious last season? Re-adjusting to the conceit felt a lot more difficult this time around. I mean, it mentioned the D.C. earthquake multiple times!
Ashley: Yeah. I kind of felt like I was getting hit over the head with "HEY GUYS. IT IS FALL 2011. REMEMBER OCCUPY WALL STREET? IT IS 2011!" But then I remembered: Oh yeah, that's always been the shtick in Newsroom world—the sanctimonious rehash of stuff that feels like it happened five minutes ago.
Chris: This show is like an annoying cousin you don't see that often. You forget, specifically, how simultaneously irritating and dull it can be.
Ashley: Totally. But I guess what I'm still trying to decide is whether what we just saw was any indication that Season Two will truly be any different from Season One. Maybe Aaron Sorkin didn't fire the whole writing team, like the rumors were saying way back when, but he did bring in some new consultants...? And after Season One suffered all that critical backlash (the women are crazy, etc.), I wondered whether the writers would be making adjustments in response.
Chris: I didn't have much faith in the behind-the-scenes changes. The joke about Sorkin is that his co-writers are effectively assistants. The scripts are his, not anybody else's.
Ashley: See, I was actually (maybe foolishly) kinda optimistic. But, go on.
Chris: The first episode seems to be reacting, at least a little bit, to some of the backlash. Sloan stood out in a way she hadn't last season.
Ashley: Sloan suddenly felt like more of a real, understandable person to me in this episode—less like an irrational, explosive jumble of unexplained feelings and more like somebody who's really good at her job but just awkward in sensitive situations. Like being around Don, who she's starting to be interested in.
Chris: Mac showed a hint of finally becoming more of a character than some caricature of whatever harried woman did wrong by Aaron Sorkin 25 years ago. And Maggie, uh, didn't cry? I don't know. It didn't feel like the characters improved much. (And as for Jim, he got even worse.) What do you think?
Ashley: Maggie. At this point, she's still the most offensively clueless character of all, but I'm suddenly very intrigued by where her trajectory is going. That flash-forward tease in the beginning where she walked in with short red hair? Like, that worked for me. I want to know what happened there.
Chris: But do you have any faith—at all—that Sorkin will handle that trauma well?
Ashley: I mean... I'm optimistic. At the very least, I do think it was smart—and not accidental—that in the season premiere, it's made clear that the character who seems to get ragged on the most by critics and viewers has undergone a radical change. And I'll definitely keep watching to see "what happened to Maggie" get explained. I see what you're doing there, Sorkin, and it's working. I'll stick with this for a second.