The second season of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama series “The Newsroom” promises to be every bit as entertaining as its first — if not more so, due to a unifying structural choice that takes fuller advantage of novelistic narrative freedom of post-“Sopranos” cable drama.
Although subplots abound, and the pleasure of the show still tends to hinge on on individual cool scenes of terrific actors biting into Sorkin’s hyper-verbal bickering dialog, the season has begun as if intends to tells a single long story that is, in part, a complicated mystery about a big story that goes disastrously wrong for the protagonist team at Atlantis Cable News (ACN).
The premiere episode begins in August 2011, almost immediately after the the events of the Season One finale. Real-world stories touched upon include the presidential campaign and Occupy Wall Street, both of presented not as the “A” story of the season but as strong subplots.
From the looks of things the entire season will be framed as a series of flashbacks, as the newsmen and -women of ACN are deposed by their high-powered defense attorney, played by Marcia Gay Harden. (The deposition as framing device ploy served Sorkin well in his screenplay for “The Social Network.”) The details of the team’s legal emergency are being parceled out a few tidbits at a time, and if the strategy is deftly handled the on-going investigation will give the whole season the compulsiveness of a suspense thriller.
The dizzying height of the stakes are spelled out clearly by Harden’s steely Rebecca Halliday: If ACN doesn’t prevail in court “no-one responsible for Genoa will ever work again.”
We get the gist even before the first set of opening credits, though at such a motor-mouth Aaron Sorkin pace that you may need to rewind a couple of times. Genoa, we learn, was an exclusive story about a US black op that was “bigger than Watergate,” according to Emily Mortimer’s Executive Producer MacKenzie McHale, and that earned the network huge ratings.
Unfortunately, embarrassingly, the story then had to be retracted, allegedly at the behest of the Defense Department, though anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) vehemently denies this.
The mystery, then, is both what occurred during Operation Genoa and the exact nature of the news team’s failure in reporting of it, which means digging into the process that puled them into it. (There are indications in later episodes that political bias may be one culprit: The team believes the story they report because it confirms their newsy liberal prejudices about the military.)
We look forward to piecing together the truth from accounts of several variously unreliable witnesses, a journalistic procedural rather than a police procedural. Or perhaps we will be drawn to the sad realization that in the fog of war the truth can rarely be determined beyond beyond a reasonable doubt.
That conclusion would certainly gibe well with the darker, more desperate tone of the depiction of the newsroom staffers, and especially of the snarled, at times almost idiotic complexity of their relationships — on non-relationships, really, since we now have three couples (Will and Mac, Jim and Maggie, Don and Sloan) that are presented as agonizingly dysfunctional, almost entirely because all the people involved are weirdly blocked and can’t bring themselves to say what they really mean. Of course if they did that most of their dilemmas would evaporate. (“Oh, you love him and not me? Well, that’s lucky because I love her and not you.”)
Sorkin seems oddly old fashioned in his depiction of thirty-something (or younger) characters who can’t bring themselves to blurt out their feelings, in an era and for a generation that sees taboos against acting immediately on impulse in and sorting things out afterward as eye-rollingly passe.
The three most interesting subplots, so far, focus on the determination of Neil Sampatb (Dev Patel) to convince his dismissive superiors of the importance of the burgeoning Occupy Wall Street movement a traumatix pedition of Alison Pill’s Maggie Jordon to an African war zone, and the flight of producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.) to a frustrating sojourn in New England, attempting to cover the Romney campaign, which is determined not to be covered in any substantive way.
The best stuff is about the work, in other words, rather than contrived obstacles to true love. Back in good old “West Wing” days, Sorkin had surer touch finding the right balance.