I'm thrilled with what we were treated to last night, friends.
My fellow journalists often have a bone to pick with this show; sometimes, I do, too. The Newsroom is an idealistic fantasy, set three clicks to the left of the world in which we live; I'm pretty sure The West Wing would get some of the same criticism levied its way, as well, were it airing in first run today instead of over a decade ago. What I like about this world of Sorkin's is that these aren't people who speak and think like we do, but how we want to think we do. When he's firing on all cylinders, he presents an ensemble of incredibly capable, deeply flawed and perpetually interesting individuals who joust with words in ways few writers can match.
And with the second season premiere, we get Aaron Sorkin at the top of his game and height of his powers. He's listened to the barbs thrown at season one, and handed us a different product--the characters are stronger, there's a new storytelling mechanism in play, and all bets are off.
I'm pumped. Let's begin.
THE SHORT VERSION:We start and end in fall 2012, with a legal team (led by Marcia Gay Harden!) grilling Will on a series of events. We learn over the course of these interviews (with Will, Maggie, and Mac) that at some point in the last year, News Night investigated "Operatiom Genoa," involving a US war crime and nerve gas overseas. Something went massively wrong with this (to the best of my knowledge) fictional story; hence the somber tone and legal grilling.
We then jump back 14 months to learn his "American Taliban" comment was the first in a series of dominoes that created a massive mess--including, but not limited to, Reese being ousted from a key meeting in Washington, DC.
Oh, also in the present--Maggie has a truly terrible haircut that would make Lena Dunham squeal with joy, and it's due to something terrible that happened in Uganda. Oh, no.
Anyway, Will's comments get him pulled off of ACN's tenth anniversary coverage of 9/11, due to perceived insensitivity. Sloan takes his place. He acts like he's fine with it, but Mac calls him that night to check in, and he's high and listening to Van Morrison, and we learn they both know one another's sleep habits, down to Mac's night light.
Jim decides to run away after kissing Maggie, and takes a fill-in position covering Romney's campaign from the bus--but Don's seen the YouTube video of Maggie's freakout, and breaks up with her, in a coolly adult and level-headed manner. Meanwhile, Mac calls up Jerry, a colleague from DC, to fill in for Jim. Jerry uses his own talking heads for a segment with Will, and it doesn't go well--one of the military experts doesn't play nice. Jerry's told to use Jim's guys from here on out, but that expert, desperate for more tv time, offers Jerry some juicy info--"the kind that makes careers and ends presidencies." Yeah, that'll come back.
Sloan acknowledges her pass at Don, and they both try to laugh it off, but we know they're supposed to just go at it. Let's hope that happens sooner rather than later. Oh, and Neil begins to infiltrate the very beginnings of Occupy Wall Street, and we get a whole lot of The Who's "You Better You Bet" as a sendup of America's relationship with Will and Will's relationship with Mac.
Five Things I Loved About This Episode:
1. THE WOMEN. Sorkin has taken his lumps for how his female characters respond--or don't respond--to pressure across his series. And here, we see, for maybe the first time since C.J. from The West Wing, a few Sorkin women who are competent, capable, and in control. Mac's moment of assertiveness when everything goes to Hell in the control room is awesome; equally so is her conversation with Will at the bar near the end, and her deposition in the episode's closing scene. Leona's dressing-down of Charlie and Will in response to last season's "American Taliban" closing comments are pointed and fierce; yes, we're meant to cheer when Will takes the Tea Party to the cleaners, but she reminds us that every brave action has a consequence. Jane Fonda in this show is like Marlon Brando in the first Superman film: barely present, but she makes every second of screen time count. And we get a nice button on Maggie's Carrie Bradshaw-inspired freakout from last year, and big hints that, in the 14 months covered in this season, we'll see her grow and change in ways that might be a little harrowing.
Which brings us to...
2. SLOAN AND CHARLIE. I love this pairing. We saw a little of how the two of them interact last year, in his dressing-down of her following her coverage of the nuclear meltdown in Japan. But showing a sort of mentorship between the two, and how they're both kindred spirits, is really cool--I like how Charlie pointed out they're both "nerds." And I like how she holds her own against him. Olivia Munn has really grown into this role.
3. MOVING PAST THE TEPID ROMANTIC SUBPLOTS. We got tired of the Jim-Maggie-Don-Sloan thing of last season, didn't we? Well, all sorts of movement there, with Jim off to the Romney campaign, Don dumping Maggie--in a way that's amicable and sweet and believable, I might add--and Sloan coming forward and fessing up, once again, to Don. This isn't a soap opera; we want these people to circle each other and get together and hook up, sure--but we have to love these characters for reasons beyond who they're sleeping with and who we want them to sleep with. Side note: the Will and Mac chemistry is better than it's ever been, with this same tension kept in mind. Someone give Emily Mortimer a raise, yeah?
4. THE NEW FLASHFORWARD/RASHOMON STRUCTURE: The nature of the deposition framing sequence, and the idea that the cast is going to be interrogated throughout, is fascinating; I love that we start in fall 2012 and then leap back to summer 2011, with a promise of filling in the gaps. We know that these characters are going to end up hardened, different and perhaps stronger and tighter-knit at the end of this ordeal--and giving us that tease, and the promise of multiple perspectives, is an enticing new twist to this season.
5. WILL SINGING REBECCA BLACK'S "FRIDAY." If I could make it my ringtone, I would. Bonus points for the awesome scene with Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" against Will's pot smoking and Neil infiltrating Occupy Wall Street. Oh, and the use of The Who's "You Better You Bet" in this episode was perfect, and sort of sad. Yeah, that's Will and Mac, through and through.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE:
Not much. The new credits are sort of uninspired and forgettable.
You know what? This is The Newsroom 2.0. We have bolder characters, stronger choices, and an ongoing plot and narrative devices that are captivating without being patronizing.
I'm sold on this new season. Well done, Mr. Sorkin and team. I can't wait for next week.