The first season of "The Newsroom" received a mixed and justly maddened reaction from the media for its bald sermonizing and its dizzy female characters, and despite Sorkin and HBO's suggestions, maddening themselves, that these criticisms were born out of spite, misguidedness or a sense of being threatened, at least some of the response was heard and taken to heart. The second season of "The Newsroom" begins in an overall softer, less self-aggrandizing and, yes, improved vein, from the new opening sequence, which trades in the "great newscasters through time" montage for one of sensory snapshots of New York (the Brooklyn Bridge, the N train) and the ACN offices (typing on a keyboard, passing notes across a conference table).
The interviews provide a frame story for the nine-episode season, which unfolds in flashbacks, slowly unveiling how the Genoa story came to be alongside looks at the "News Night" team's approach to real life events like Occupy Wall Street, drone strikes and the Romney campaign. There's noticeably more fallibility involved, a very welcome contrast to the first season's hindsight-powered certainty -- MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) makes fun of Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) when he latches onto OWS only to see initial turnout be scattered and small, and Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) tries to enlist a resistant Will in a campaign to save Troy Davis from execution, an effort that obviously doesn't work out.
The "News Night" crew might still know and be eager to declare how things should be, but the world isn't always ready to play along or bow to their strident speeches, and there are at least acknowledgments this season around of the price that can come with planting your feet and refusing to change with the times. (The note that one non-ACN reporter is making $500 a week is also a needed nod toward the economic realities of the industry.) All in all, the show's approach toward TV journalism is easier to take this season if still colored by that Sorkinesque bluster, and the evolving of the Genoa story in the four episodes given to the press allows it to actually delve into the details of piecing together a story we don't already know the conclusion of -- to show process instead of correcting what's already done.
The personal dramas are still the weak point of the "The Newsroom," especially Will's endless heartbroken punishment of Mac and the Jim-Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) tension. Sorkin is deeply fond of, and has an undeniably fantastic touch for, workplace dynamics, but his need to maintain these collegial almost-romances in communication-free purgatory is infuriating, and makes characters who are meant to be competent, talented professionals look weirdly petulant and childish.
"The Newsroom" hasn't turned around all of its tonal problems, but it's certainly a more coherent and comfortable show in its second season, and the characters seem less like scattered mouthpieces for their creator's deep thoughts on the state of TV journalism and more like individuals. It's prone to heavyhandedness, but it just wouldn't be an Aaron Sorkin show if it wasn't -- and it's still at its best when it's less starry-eyed in the face of its protagonist's wonderfulness and more engaged in the work that he and his team are trying to get done, something that's more to the front and center in these new episodes.