The Newsroom, buy information pills Aaron’s Sorkin’s intellectually-driven HBO drama about a fictional news organization that strives for principles above ratings, has finally hit its stride in its third season. It’s unfortunate that this season— which premieres tonight— is set to be the show’s final one but if the show must end, it’s starting its swan song from a great place.
During the first two seasons of the program, the show was rightly faulted for its preachy tone and the awkward dialogue that undermined many of the show’s core relationships. The main relationship on the show– and the impetus for many of the show’s plots– has always been the one between Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), the smug Republican anchor of a nightly news broadcast and MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer), the show’s executive producer, who— rightly or wrongly— never lets go of a news story that she believes is important to our national debate.
When The Newsroom focused on the news being discussed on McAvoy’s program, it proved to be deliberate, thoughtful and adept. When it focused on office romance though, it proved to be stubborn, silly and ill-conceived. It’s to Sorkin’s credit that the third season focuses more on the former than the latter. Will and MacKenzie are now engaged and neither of them are (thankfully) prone to romantic outbursts so the program is free to mull over the news and actually focus on critiquing the modern news industry.
Throughout its tenure, the fictional program at the heart of this drama has covered real news stories. The third season is no different, opening up with an episode— spanning several days— where the news team is focused on the Boston Marathon bombing. As with so many other real incidents, the reporting of that event was rife with mistakes. From an inaccurate news report about one of the bombers being arrested to the fury-inducing mistake that the media made in indicting two innocent men of the crimes, The Newsroom often focuses its spotlight on the fact that breaking news sells, even if the “facts” aren’t always correct.
The show may be smug at times but it’s hard to argue with its intentions. “We don’t do good TV. We do the news,” Will notes (borrowing the line from McKenzie) in the season premiere. The oft-repeated line shows the intentions of both characters to present the news in a straight-forward and accurate way. Thankfully, The Newsroom isn’t as naïve as it is idealistic. This duo does the news well but suffers in an industry where speed and sensationalism are too often embraced. They suffer for their noble intentions. In fact, the ratings of their newscasts have put the network firmly in fourth place.
Despite that, the intriguing debates this show offers are undeniably important and realistic. When one of the show’s reporters accidentally commits espionage (yes, his intentions were reasonable even if his decisions were not), the consequences he faces seem ripped-from-the-headlines. Even though the Newsroom writers oftentimes side with the employees of the news program, they thankfully leave room for debate,presenting many of the debates in a way that gives credence to all of the involved parties.
The Newsroom may never reach the intellectual heights of some of Sorkin’s best productions (The Social Network, The West Wing) but it offers a calm and clarifying voice about what we really should want— or more accurately, what we really need— from news organizations. The office romances, which are more abundant now than ever, slow things down but when this show finds its real target, it hits it time and again.