There’s Hope for The Newsroom

Cautious optimism for season two of Aaron Sorkin’s critically skewered ode to newsies.

I write this with more than a little trepidation, but there may be hope for The Newsroom.

Aaron Sorkin’s scorched HBO drama about a cable news network launched its second season last night, and it sucked less than did Season 1. Though most of the characters continue to be insufferable, pontificating bores, the plotlines show some promise.

The season opens with ANC star anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) attempting to explain to the network’s $1,500-an-hour litigator, played by guest star Marcia Gay Harden, how he and his team screwed the pooch with their report about American troops using poison gas in Afghanistan.

ANC had to retract the story, and the government sued. As the episode unfolds, mostly in flashbacks to 2011, we learn about the confluence of bizarre events that led to the potentially career-ending errors. It’s an interesting dramatic device, so far, with plenty of time to unfold.

I’ve had a mad crush on Oscar-winner Harden for years, so the more she’s on screen, the better. More important, however, is that Sorkin’s increased focus on serious plot means — hopefully — we’ll be subjected to less of the insipid workplace triangle involving Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill), Don Keefer (Thomas Sadowski) and Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.)

These three dopes are so clueless and immature, sometimes it feels like I’m watching an episode of Glee. It defies belief that any of the trio would be capable of sustaining a relationship longer than a semester. In a way, they deserve each other.

Maybe not Jim. Desperate for a change of scenery, he volunteers to cover the early Romney campaign in New Hampshire, where he meets a stunning fellow reporter played by Grace Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep. This kid’s got chops.  It could get interesting.

As for the season-long ‘will they or won’t they?’ verbal foreplay between McAvoy and his ex/executive producer, MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), I just don’t care anymore. Like all the Newsroom characters, they don’t talk to each other so much as exchange monologues.

Which brings me to my primary beef with Sorkin. I know of no human being, never mind a whole cast, who talks only at supersonic speed, and always in  distinct paragraphs. Don’t those actions contradict each other? Regardless, it’s exhausting to watch.

Call me crazy, but I maintain that Newsroom characters would say a lot more if they spoke a lot less. And we might even begin to like them.

Take Dev Patel’s Neal Sampat, for example, who runs the website for McAvoy’s show. His obsession last season was proving the existence of Big Foot, which he pitched constantly at story meetings. All his scenes were a colossal waste of time. Sometimes I muted them.

This season, Sorkin has Neal chasing the nascent Occupy Wall Street movement, which gives the character, and the show, somewhere to go. Neal’s lost his crazed look, too. I can turn off the mute now.

Even The Newsroom’s new opening has more snap and crackle than did last season’s plodding homage to Murrow, Cronkite and other news legends of the last century. Instead, images of laptops, clocks, smartphones, video monitors and spilled coffee cross the screen. You know, like a real newsroom.

After a dreadful first season, Sorkin had nowhere to go but up. Let’s hope he gets there. Anything with ‘news’ in the title deserves as much.