by Luke Crisalli
If one watched an episode of this seasons HBO drama, “The Newsroom” and got confused as to whether or not they were watching an actual episode of an evening news program, you couldn’t fault them. That’s due in part to the fact that this season’s main storyline involves a military operation and the use of sarin.
It is a storyline, quite literally, “ripped from the headlines,” a term used often on the legendary NBC procedural, “Law & Order”, which featured Sam Waterston as unflappable district attorney Jack McCoy. This time around however, Waterston plays the somewhat flappable news director Charlie Skinner, boss to Jeff Daniels problem plagued, yet publicly stoic lead anchor Will McAvoy.
Casting solid, respected names, as those, were what initially drew audiences into “The Newsroom” in season one. What kept me, and will continue to keep me, watching is the solid storytelling that Aaron Sorkin puts on screen on Sunday night.
Daniels acerbic McAvoy is everything a television journalist was and needs to be again. He effortlessly blends Edward R. Murrow with Jon Stewart in the wit and retort department. In light of a massive scandal where the future of not just his but his entire staff’s careers are put in jeopardy, Daniels who has the utmost faith and confidence in his crew (and is also hilariously taking a break from the reality of the situation) dryly appoints himself, “Chief of Morale,” much to the chagrin of an overstressed staff.
Oliva Munn, who in the sense of full disclosure, I was not a fan of, completely turned my opinion of her around. Her portrayal of business anchor Sloan Sabbith is not just a full on exercise in sassy behavior, it is a clinic, and is made only better when paired with her executive producer/sidekick Don Keefer, played by Thomas Sadoski. He just might be one of the unsung heroes of the cast. Sadoski went from, at the start of season one, a jerk to the, at the culmination of season two, almost but not quite underdog you want to root for.
Season 2, which just ended, is the ultimate example of the, “Butterfly flapping its wings” theory, in which if one specific moment hadn’t happened, a larger series of subsequent events would or wouldn’t have happened. The larger event in this case revolves around a story in which the U.S. government is alleged to have used Sarin nerve gas on a group of civilians during classified mission called, “Operation Genoa.”
We gradually learn, however, that not everything was as it seemed with the story. As the story begins to unravel, seen through sometimes confusingly timed flashbacks, the viewers are given a front row seat to, what in most cases would be, the downfall of any news organization.
Yet, in the midst of this massive storyline, the rest of more than a years news stories take place, everything from the 2011 Washington D.C. earthquake right up to the 2012 election. You see, while the characters on the show are fictional, all but the “Genoa” story have actually happened, and that’s where the brilliance of the show lies. Despite essentially having it easily laid out for him, Sorkin still makes the stories more compelling than they originally were.
This brilliant idea is initially handled very well, yet as the storyline climaxes, it begins to crack, and by the finale, while it is still a major factor in the eventual outcome, it feels as though its quickly being shoved aside to focus on the characters personal lives…which I find ironic seeing as how this could play a major factor in them. New storylines were introduced late in the going and swiftly resolved before they could really get running. Despite the overall well done season, the ending felt a bit rushed.
Like most HBO shows, it has developed a following, and also like HBO shows, it has a short season. This has viewers salivating for more, which is why, despite the shortcomings of the finale, this writer was happy to hear that it had recently been picked up for a third season. Third seasons can be “make or break” for many shows, even on HBO, so it should be interesting to see what Sorkin can bring to the anchor desk.