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Monday, August 12, 2013

The Newsroom Season 2 Mid-Season Report Card

Covering more than one television series can be tough.  You write reviews for every single episode (sometimes skipping a week every now and then), but, in the end, it's a lot of writing during those 4-6 months.  That task becomes a lot more difficult when you are reviewing two television series which air on the same night.  Such is the case with my reviewing both True Blood and The Newsroom.  Both come on HBO, and both air on Sunday nights.  While I prefer The Newsroom in terms of which is a better show, I am not going to deny that interest in True Blood is much higher.  With that in mind, I decided the best thing to do would be to review the premiere and finale of Season 2 of The Newsroom only.  For the remaining episodes for this season, I decided I would do two report cards of sorts, detailing the other episodes in brief, giving my thoughts on them and a grade.  It is not as extensive as I would like, but I think it is the best idea.  Below you will find short reviews for the first half of Season 2 of The Newsroom.  If you find what you read here intriguing, this can be a good way to decide whether or not you should jump on to the bandwagon.  Enjoy!

Season 2 Mid-Season Report Card

Episode 1 - First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers
I have already reviewed episode one of this season, and you can find my more detailed thoughts here.

Episode 2 - The Genoa Tip
This episode of The Newsroom is a noticeable improvement over what was already a solid premiere episode.  In many ways, this episode represents everything there is to love about this show, but done in a much more subtle way, without a major news story breaking.  Most of the stories developed throughout this episode are continued from the premiere, but a few of them are new: notably, Don's desire for Will to cover the upcoming wrongful execution of Troy Davis and Maggie's sudden need to go to Africa with Gary to cover a story.  Where Sorkin and this great cast of actors really demonstrate the strength in this show is the development of so many of these characters in just one hour.  Don is at his most sympathetic for this episode, with his urging Will to cover the Troy Davis story feeding right into development for Will.  When the Troy Davis story does not go Don's way, we can actually feel for this character, which may be the first time that has happened in this show's history.  Easily the most fascinating developments made this week are to Will's identity and his struggle with supporting a justice system's inner-workings, but having to come to terms with the fact that sometimes people are not treated justly by those courts.  We get a nice flashback to Will's coverage of 9/11 as well, only further demonstrating this man's love for his job.  The personal drama of this episode is still a bit clunky, but is done better here by having everyone react to Maggie's drama instead of dividing time among everyone's drama.  A great episode with engaging story, fantastic development, and a hint of larger things to come.  
Grade: A+

Episode 3 - Willie Pete
After two solid weeks of episodes which matched some of the better work of this series, The Newsroom falters just a bit with "Willie Pete".  This is an episode which is much more fueled by personal drama, with the news stories taking a bit more of a back seat than usual.  We see Will struggle with his old foe Nina Howard, yet that conflict turns in a direction that is completely unexpected and feels, frankly, a bit unnatural.  Much of this episode deals with characters proving why what they are doing is important, and, while it is not that that is a terrible story idea, it makes the episode feel like all too familiar territory.  In fact, much of the emotional impact moments of this episode feel like situations we saw time and again throughout Season One.  The scenes with Jim struggling to bring News Night's style of questioning to the Romney campaign is admirable, and is coupled with a few well acted/written scenes, but it all cannot help but feel like a re-hash of things we have seen before.  Even the trope of people at this newsroom being inept at technology is once again forced upon us.  This is still a series with a lot of talent in front of and behind the camera as well as a show with a ton of potential, but this episode is a good example of why it is also a series which needs new emotional and narrative beats, otherwise it could be in danger of becoming a one trick pony.
Grade: B

Episode 4 - Unintended Consequences
In some ways, this episode seeks to examine some of the opposite things about these characters from what we saw last week.  Will, Charlie, and McKenzie take a bit of a back seat in this episode, although their more cursory roles do not imply they do not have something to contribute.  It is a bit odd to pinpoint what this episode is trying to do thematically as it seems to be a bit all over the place.  On one side of things we have Occupy Wall Street getting some time on News Night as Neil's OWS source Shelly interviews with Will McAvoy.  This makes for an interesting turn on the Newsroom formula in that we get to see a viewer's eye of Will and, in some scenes, Sloan as smug, self-centered people who are more concerned with ratings and fame.  It is an interesting twist on what this show normally does, but it is an angle which becomes too uncomfortable for Sorkin as he seems unwilling to spend too much time with it.  Alison Pill's Maggie is really the stand out character in this episode as we get to see what happened in Africa to cause her to cut off all her hair and dye it red in the flash forwards.  This story evolves beyond just covering the news, and becomes a real developing tale for a character that desperately needed more to do aside from date people and look flustered.  What follows is a series of tragic events that not only help to develop Maggie as a character, but really show off Pill's acting skills.  The final 10 minutes of this episode are absolutely superb and far out shine anything else done in the preceding 50.
Grade: A-

Episode 5 - News Night with Will McAvoy
For a show called The Newsroom, this episode does what may be a series first in that it actually takes place throughout just one episode of News Night.  Will gets a distressing call about his dad, Sloan deals with a controversy, Maggie continues to deal with stress from Africa, and Charlie receives shocking news related to Genoa.  Quite a bit of story, both personal and otherwise, is crammed into this hour of television and not all of it works.  For starters, it takes about ten minutes to really get settled in with this episode as, for the first time all season, we jump ahead several months.  It is now March 2012 in the series, and  a lot has happened with these characters that we must be caught up with.  Once these things are sorted out, things flow quite smoothly, but it makes for a very jarring opening as the episode hits the ground running.  The biggest issue with this episode by far is the treatment of Sloan Sabbith, whose borderline sexist storyline this week really goes to show what little ideas Sorkin has for this character.  This is a shame as Olivia Munn has been one of this series' big surprises.  Everything involved with News Night itself is great, and Jeff Bridges gives a fantastic performance as usual.  Many may know what it's like to have to trudge through with your job while family tragedy is happening elsewhere, and Jeff Daniels goes through these emotions quite well, with a final few minutes that hit hard.  McKenzie is involved in a plot thread with a Rutgers student in the wake of the Tyler Clementi tragedy that makes a nice, simple point.  In its experimentation in story this week, this episode gets a lot of points, but the sheer number of plots interwoven means some of them feel just a tad weaker than others.
Grade: B+

Well, there you have it.  This is how the first half of Season Two of The Newsroom has been thus far.  Look for another report card coming later in the season, with a full review for the season finale.  What about you, have you been watching The Newsroom  this season?  Do you agree with what has been said here?  Sound off in the comments below!  
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