Aaron Sorkin’s return to television with the HBO drama series The Newsroom was intended to be a triumphant return to form. Its basic premise—following the lives of the people that work at a cable news network—seemed to provide a vehicle through which to opine on the major political issues of the day, not dissimilar from Sorkin’s The West Wing. But instead of the romantic idealism of Sorkin’s previous series, The Newsroom was a more grounded, and thus a slightly more cynical or aggressive series. It proved to be mighty divisive and didn’t garner nearly the same amount of acclaim as The West Wing or Sports Night, but I mostly liked the first season even if the show did have a few major issues.
In its second season, The Newsroom went through some significant tweaking both to its structure and its characters, and while there are still some problems to be found, I’d argue it’s an improvement over the first season and remains a worthwhile (and entertaining) series. Read my full The Newsroom Season 2 Blu-ray review after the jump.
For the show’s second season, Aaron Sorkin made a couple of big changes to the series. For one, the title sequence has been redone, possibly due to the fact that the references to Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite the first season’s credits led some to think the show was comparing the ACN news team to these giants of the journalism community. The second season’s credits focus more on regular people going about their jobs in the busy city. Thomas Newman’s theme is also toned down from its sweeping Season 1 incarnation, opting for a softer yet more immediate version in Season 2.
And the other big change for the second season has to do with its structure. The first season of The Newsroom had a “story of the week” hook in which each episode revolved around a major world event and how the news team reacted and reported on said event. Sometimes it made things interesting, while other times it felt like Sorkin was having the ACN news crew cover the event a little too perfectly (hindsight being 20/20 and all). In Season 2, there are still major media events that are touched on (Benghazi, David Petraeus’ resignation), but the focus is really on the characters and, in the show’s biggest improvement, an overall story arc.
The first season of Newsroom was missing some connective tissue from week to week, especially since there were sometimes big time jumps in between episodes. For Season 2, Sorkin created a story arc that is first glimpsed in the season premiere and then plays out throughout the season. While Genoa begins in fascinating fashion, it peters out a bit at the end complete with a cop out conclusion that essentially lets everyone off the hook (so much for stakes). But it works more than it doesn’t, and it gives our main characters some meat to chew on throughout the season.
Sorkin also touches on the 2012 Presidential Election in the second season, and the only problem is that there isn’t enough campaign stuff with Jim (John Gallagher Jr.). It’s a really interesting storyline and gives Sorkin the chance to cover a Presidential Election on the road, in a more intimate fashion than he did on West Wing, but somewhat frustratingly it feels like he only skims the surface here on Newsroom—which is understandable given that he has an entire ensemble to attend to.
The big storyline that absolutely doesn’t work in the second season is Maggie’s “Africa trip”. Sorkin’s heart is in the right place, but this is an incredibly difficult story to pull off without it evoking White Guilt, which it unfortunately does.
All in all, The Newsroom’s second season is an admirable step up from the first, and I have to imagine Sorkin was dealing with a bit of shell shock with regards to the reaction to the show. Some criticisms were valid, but they were spewed with a level of vitriol that I never felt the series deserved. Moreover, the performances from Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn, Sam Waterston, Thomas Sadoski, Allison Pill, Chris Messina, and especially Jane Fonda are aces, and they continue to shine in the second season alongside fantastic recurring guest appearances by Marcia Gay Harden, Hamish Linklater, and Constance Zimmer.
The Blu-ray for The Newsroom’s second season is disappointingly short on featurettes beyond the “Inside the Episode” spots that HBO released online after each airing, but it does include audio commentaries on four episodes:
- Audio Commentaries – Executive producer/director Alan Poul, director Anthony Hemingway, Aaron Sorkin, Jeff Daniels, Sam Waterston, Emily Mortimer, Thomas Sadoski, Hamish Linklater, Olivia Munn, and Constance Zimmer appear in various combinations on four episodes, “First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers”, “News Night with Will McAvoy”, Red Team III”, and “Election Night, Part II”.
- The commentaries are actually a lot of fun, with Sorkin going off on tangents involving theater and nitpicks for particular aspects of the episodes. Additionally, in the commentary on the first episode, Sorkin elaborates on how they reshot/rewrote 60-70% of the first two episodes, going into detail about the differences between the two versions.
- Deleted Scenes – There are two deleted scenes included on the Blu-ray, one from the original version of the first episode in which Munn, Daniels, and Waterston humorously partake in a fantasy football draft, and another from the season finale involving Daniels and David Harbour
The Newsroom isn’t for everyone, and while there are still some missteps to be found in the show’s second season, it’s altogether made worthwhile for Sorkin’s cracker jack dialogue and the electric performances from his very talented ensemble cast. And hey, Season 3 looks to be even better!