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A Second Look at "The Newsroom"

By Alan Pergament

The breaking news Monday of Pete Gallivan returning to Channel 2 after four months in public relations bumped my review of the first four episodes of HBO’s "The Newsroom" off the top of the blog on that day.

So I think it is time to refresh the top a little with some new information with the help of Jeff Daniels, who plays the lead anchor, Will McAvoy, of the fictional news network in the Sunday series.

I caught Daniels on Piers Morgan's CNN program Tuesday night and learned that series creator Aaron Sorkin was so disappointed in the first two episodes that he asked for and received from HBO the unusual opportunity to rewrite and reshoot them.

Daniels' presentation and demeanor discussing the series and his late friend James Gandolfini were so impressive that one viewer suggested via a social network that he co-host Morgan's show every night.

Morgan wasn't about to go for that, but he did toss out the idea that Daniels could sub for him on a night he was off.

After two seasons, Daniels not only could play an anchor on TV, he looks and sounds like he could actually be an anchor on TV.

When I watched the episodes, I wondered if the framing device used during the season -- a lawsuit based on journalistic mistakes -- is based on a real-life event.

This week, I learned from USA Today that the story is loosely based on a retracted 1998 CNN report about the United States military using nerve gas against Americans in Southeast Asia.

The "Newsroom" season also will address the Trayvon Martin case, which is being played out today when the jury in the George Zimmerman murder and manslaughter trial is expected to get the case.

Indeed, discussion of the Zimmerman case postponed and shortened Daniels's CNN appearance. I have been surprised by one element of the case -- the cable appearances of one of Zimmerman’s attorneys during the trial. You might think he would be a little too busy for that or the judge wouldn’t allow it.

I used to cover criminal trials and learned long ago that it is foolish to predict what juries will do. But from the TV coverage and analysis, I have to agree with those who have said this is a textbook example of reasonable doubt. If it were a "Law & Order" episode, Zimmerman would get off and the
prosecutor played by Sam Waterston -- now of “The Newsroom” -- would be suitably disgusted in the final shot of the show.     

So without further ado, here is my Monday review for those who missed it because of the Gallivan story.

If you’re as big a fan of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series "The Newsroom" as I am, I recommend you watch the finale of last season over again before the Sunday premiere of season two for two reasons.

First, the finale was the season’s best episode. It tied up many of the details involving the "News Night" staff led by anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and his former girlfriend and current executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), who wanted to change the way TV news was presented and reported.

Secondly, if you don’t re-watch the finale you will probably do what I did while watching the first four episodes of this season over the July 4th holiday – try and recall everything that occurred in the 2012 finale that explained the positive meaning of being "a greater fool" and included Will dangerously referring to the Tea Party as "the American Taliban."

I needed my "Newsroom" fix over the long holiday weekend for a couple of reasons.

There wasn't a movie worth spending $9 or $10 to see, with the national reviews of "The Long Ranger" so devastatingly bad that we’ve all be warned to wait until it hits the $2 theaters. And considering "Ranger" lost at the box office to the "Despicable Me" sequel and already is considered a flop, it shouldn’t be long before it hits the $2 theaters.

 

Jeff daniels
Jeff Daniels

 

The second reason I needed my "Newsroom" fix was because I've grown a little weary of all the cable shows featuring somewhat despicable anti-heroes and longed for a fantasy series with good people who are passionate about their work and each other and make me feel good about American principles that can be tough to live up to, as well as my profession.

 

Sorkin had a tough act to follow after last season, which started with McAvoy having personal and professional crises and revolved around real-life news stories interspersed with newsroom romances that illustrate even extremely smart people never get past high school.

He has used the same formula early in season two, which is told in flashback form as a somewhat more conservative McAvoy and his staff try to overcome an apparent grievous journalistic mistake while continuing to try and correct mistakes in their personal lives.

A subtext of the season is how much technology and social media influence our lives and damage privacy.

Many fans of "Newsroom" have learned to love or at least like McAvoy's staff, which includes senior producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.), associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadowski), technology expert Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) and financial news analyst Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn). The cast also includes Will’s protective boss, Charles Skinner (Sam Waterston) and Charlie’s boss and the head of the company that owns the cable news network, ACN, Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda).

If you're forgotten season one, Jim adores Maggie, who adores him but lives with Don, who Sloan admires. 

The new season includes a quartet of new cast members. Marica Gay Harden plays a $1,500 an hour lawyer who is defending ACN staffers. Hamish Linklater plays a passionate producer with an agenda. Grace Gummer, who is one of Meryl Streep’s daughters, plays a reporter on the Romney campaign. Constance Zimmer plays a tough Romney campaign press spokesperson who treats reporters iike dirt if they won’t just take the campaign’s talking points.

I never like to give away too many details, but it is safe to say that a couple of staffers get out of town to report stories they are passionate about and avoid facing what has happened in their personal lives.

Jim heads to New Hampshire to cover the Romney campaign to learn about the horrors of pack journalism and politics, while Maggie heads to Africa to learn about unspeakable horrors that would change anyone.

A temporary replacement for Jim, Jerry Dantana (Linklater), arrives with a passionate agenda that apparently leads to chaos and worse – a lawsuit – after he gets a tip that could "make careers and end presidencies."

As usual, Sorkin’'s scripts include musical theater references, pop music references, incredibly smart and humorous dialogue that at times can be too quick to follow, and swipes at what the Tea Party has done to McAvoy’s Republican Party.

The season covers the news that occurred from August, 2011 to November, 2012, with the primaries and presidential election, Occupy Wall Street, Benghazi, the execution of Troy Davis, anti-terrorism, and the Trayvon Martin case currently on display via cable news’ coverage of the George Zimmerman trial all addressed.

It looks like a promising season, even if it starts a little slowly Sunday with a lot of talk about drones in the episode. I do have one bad thing to report. The season only has nine episodes. I don’t know why, but why not blame it on the American Taliban?

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Drama | Film | Television | TV news
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