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HBO's 'Newsroom': Aaron Sorkin Brings It Home
August 21, 2013  | By David Bianculli  | 5 comments

If you stopped, or never started, watching Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, pick it up now. Sunday’s upcoming episode on HBO is as crisp and clever as vintage The West Wing…

A year ago, the inaugural season of The Newsroom polarized critics and viewers, many of whom were highly critical of what they perceived as overt lecturing by Sorkin and a juvenile rendering of romantic relationships among characters working at the show’s fictional ACN cable news network.

This year, whether by design or coincidence, Sorkin reacted by reducing the emphasis given to mushy lovelorn subplots, and doubling down on the drama by devoting the entire season to a single story – a story which, after investigating for months, ACN televised, and got wrong.

That story, reporting the use of the chemical weapon sarin by the U.S. military during a dangerous and time-sensitive extraction mission, has been the subject of The Newsroom all of the current Season 2. It’s been told partly in flashbacks, and partly in the near present, as a legal team hired by ACN – led by Rebecca Halliday, played by a fiercely focused Marcia Gay Harden (right) – probes the news crew’s staffers in preparation for a coming lawsuit.

That mission, Operation Genoa, has become clearer in this month’s episodes, as have the network’s problems in reporting it. Last Sunday’s episode revealed, finally, that a newly hired producer (played by Hamish Linklater, seen in a much goofier role as the brother in The New Adventures of Old Christine) had fudged and edited the raw footage to make an interview subject (a retired Marine general played by Stephen Root, another sitcom veteran, in this case from Newsradio) appear to say something he hadn’t.

This Sunday’s episode (10 p.m. ET), finally and fabulously, is all business, with none of the romantic or polemic excesses  – and it’s highly charged and excitingly performed, building to a climax that ranks among his very best. And when Sorkin is at his very best, few do it better.

Sunday’s show is the payoff for everything The Newsroom has constructed to date. Usually, what’s idealized about the TV journalists and producers on this show is what they do on air, in their nightly cable newscast. But here, it’s what they do off-air – the due diligence in checking, triple-checking, a story before putting it on the air, and even then getting it wrong.

At long last, we find out exactly how, and why, they messed up. Sunday’s episode is Sorkin’s slam-dunk – and just when you think it can’t get any better, Jane Fonda, as network owner Leona Lansing, comes in for the last five minutes to stick the landing. In one rousing scene, Fonda has earned a spot at next year’s Emmy nominations.

What she, as Leona, demands of Jeff Daniels’ ACN anchor Will McAvoy and Sam Waterston’s news executive Charlie Skinner, The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin already has accomplished with this week’s installment.

To catch up, HBO subscribers can watch previous episodes on HBO Go, or catch this week’s scheduled repeat telecasts. The most recent episode of The Newsroom is repeated on HBO tonight (Wednesday) at 9 ET, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, and Saturday at 10:15 p.m. ET. And on Thursday, HBO Signature repeats the three most recent episodes, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.

However you get up to speed, this Sunday’s episode, “Red Team III,” will reward the effort.

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i grew up on HBO dramas, had my own share of miscued relationships, and recently chain-watched the West Wing. my B.A.'s are in Psychology and Public Relations so i speak from within those fields when i say that i see television as the modern mythology.

the average person looks weekly to those gracefully back-lit characters for today's socially-acceptable outward manifestations of the inward qualities they recognize in themselves/others.

TWW showed me how responsible and inherently torn such humans in those positions must be, yet always depicted new lessons and (if i may) potential guidelines/standards of behavior for those in the real world to look upon.

It seems to me that the Newsroom is relying too heavily on unresolved prepubescent dating issues (i.e. S02E07 32min) and overbearing background music to tell a story.

i wouldn't be so angry if i didn't see the potential, en masse, that Sorkin and HBO could contribute to the social consciousness as a whole
... am i wrong?
Aug 29, 2013   |  Reply
Loved the episode and learned a thing or two about sports and shot clocks. Jane Fonda was beautiful and great as always. In the end I still trust ACN as much as I trust CNN, Fox and MSNBC.
Aug 26, 2013   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Dear Sarah: There are times when I wish ACN were an actual newscast. The comparison of the historical "Do-Nothing Congress" with today's, complete with bar graph? Brilliant.
Aug 27, 2013
jeff rubin
Thank you, David, for being the voice of reason.
I have been a fan (fanatic) of Mr. Sorkin's work since being exposed to 'Sports Night'.
It is so refreshing to read a piece that is not nitpicking every little bit of inconsistency...( I'm looking at you, Sipenwall) and enjoy Aaron's unmatched writing.
Kudos to all the fine performances and kudos to you, David.
Aug 22, 2013   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Dear Jeff: Thanks. The quirks are still there -- but to me, it's like complaining about a Howard Hawks films because the characters speak too quickly. In this universe, it's just the way it is... Same with Sorkin.
Aug 27, 2013
Thank you for the critique of The Newsroom. I'm a fan of idealistic dramas so I've enjoyed the previous season.
(I was also a huge fan of The West Wing.) But, I wasn't convinced this season was going to be as good. Now that I know it's even better I have some fun catching up to do!

Even if it has a very liberal bent The Newsroom still educates viewers. On a similar note, I was surprised and glad to see an earlier episode from this season of Longmire that had to do with fracking.

Thanks too for assisting with how to see previous episodes, it's not always easy to find past shows.
Aug 21, 2013   |  Reply
David Bianculli
Dear Angela -- Please post again after you've caught up and seen this Sunday's new show. Let me know that I'm not out on a limb on this one...
Aug 21, 2013
Finally, the payoff comes! It find it telling that it's the fictionalized incident that allows for real drama instead of the 20/20 prescience our heroes typically have when confronted with what, to us, is 2-year history. I hope Newsroom continues to create news stories rather than come off kind of smarmy dealing with the ones we already know.

Looking forward to Sunday night!
Aug 21, 2013   |  Reply
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