The Newsroom returns with more of the same

Last updated 12:09 23/07/2013

The second season of The Newsroom got started on Sunday night (SoHo, 8.30pm). According to reports, the episode order was dropped from 10 to nine episodes after creator Aaron Sorkin wasted the equivalent of a single episode's budget reshooting scenes from the first three installments.

20130723I'm bringing this up because The Newsroom, after the first episode, does not appear to have changed (Alison Pill's hair and that bombastic theme tune excepted) or improved at all. And I find myself wondering what Sorkin chopped out of the original versions of the three episodes. I find myself wondering what scenes or storylines made their way into the final cuts. I find myself wondering if I would've liked the alternates more than I like these final versions.

(Warning: spoilers from Sunday's premiere of The Newsroom follow.)

For the record, I actually enjoy The Newsroom - a typically Sorkin show that follows the off-camera workings of a hit cable news show, and the lives of the staff who work on it. I don't know if I like it, but I don't find it a particularly difficult hour to sit through. The cast are likeable enough, starting with effortlessly-charming lead Jeff Daniels. Sorkin's penchant for writing dialogue and constructing a scene is intact. The Newsroom entertains most of the time.

Yet, I can't help seeing flaws. Even as I'm enjoying the show, I'm picking holes in almost everything.

It started with the opening of the show. One complaint last year was the smugness of the show opening, the elegant orchestration of Thomas Newman's theme set to images from throughout the history of television journalism. Yet, Season 2 has ignored the fact that the theme song was fine, and thrown out both the sound and imagery. The new theme sounds like Skrillex did a remix of the original - it's all jabby piano and muddled key changes. I hate it.

I also hate in media res* openings followed immediately by flashbacks. It might seem like a clever way to quickly put high stakes in place when a show like The Mentalist does it ("oh no, somebody is pointing a gun at Jane, how did this happen?!") but it's just annoying on a show like The Newsroom - not to mention that the in media res opening is already a flashback because everything on The Newsroom is being told in hindsight.

Oh, yeah, there's also that annoying narrative tactic where everything the show deals with is pulled from the headlines and told in hindsight and/or flashback; nothing on this show is ever happening contemporaneously. The first episode wades into the debate on drones, while Neal (Dev Patel) dips his toes into the early days of the Occupy Wall Street (I can't wait for the show to tell us how everyone else reported badly on that), while flashing forward to a conference room at some arbitrary point in the future. And just to be sure we know how important the scenes are, the date flashes up occasionally.

Then there's the terrible love quadrangle between Jim (John Gallagher Jr), Maggie (Pill), Sloan (Olivia Munn) and Don (Thomas Sadoski) that really just serves to prove how bad Sorkin is at writing romance. We could spend all day picking holes in that beast. Mostly I just feel sad that it's a complete waste of the talents of all involved.

As I say, though, there is still plenty to like. Daniels is about as good a lead as you could hope for on a show like this (though I'm not sure he deserves an Emmy nomination), while co-stars Sam Waterston and Emily Mortimer stand-out on a cast that, let's be honest, is actually pretty strong across the board. And despite the fact that many episode conclusions come across as sanctimonious (and that's an understatement), the build-up of each episode can be very entertaining and, dare I say it, occasionally enlightening.

If it sticks to the politics, and allows its characters to be flawed, The Newsroom can be a smart show.

However, those moments are definitely too few and too far between. This is a wildly inconsistent show, wavering between smart and silly multiple times per episode, even if it is an easy show to sit through. And as far as Season 2 goes, I suspect that if you didn't like it last year, there isn't much to change your mind this year. The Newsroom is what it is at this point.

What do you think of The Newsroom right now? Are you enjoying Season 2 so far?

(*) In media res means "in the middle of things" and, in television, usually refers to episodes that begin in the middle of the action.

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