I make no apologies for my love of Aaron Sorkin’s ‘The Newsroom’, although I have come to learn that there are just as many people out there who abhor this program as there are those who think it’s the best thing on TV. Now that Season 2 has gotten underway with the episode ‘First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All The Lawyers’, I doubt that opinions will change all that much. This is still very much the fast-talking, leaning-Left-more-than-Right series that it was in Season 1 However, this first episode of the new season begins to establish something we hadn’t seen before on ‘The Newsroom’ – an ongoing plot revolving around a news story that’s completely fictional.
The episode opens in a conference room in the ACN offices, where Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is being questioned by a team of lawyers led by Marcia Gay Harden. She asks Will questions about “Genoa,” which we will discover later in the show has something to do with a black ops scenario that may bring down the Presidency. What we know from the get-go is that whatever “Genoa” is, the news team at ACN seems to have gotten it wrong, and gone on the air with a bogus news story. The actual story and its consequences appear to be the focus of the story arc for the entirety of Season 2.
The episode then unfolds via flashback (as many ‘Newsroom’ episodes do) and picks up not long after the events of the Season 1 finale. ACN has become somewhat of a political pariah thanks to Will’s on–air comments about the Tea Party being the “American Taliban.” Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) tells Will that can’t host his own program on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 (the events of this episode are set in August of 2011), due to the backlash the network has received.
Meanwhile, things are still very uneasy between Maggie and Jim (Alison Pill and John Gallagher, Jr.), to the point that when ACN needs a replacement for a reporter covering the Mitt Romney campaign, Jim asks to be sent just so that he can get away from the office for a few weeks. Once he catches up with the Romney tour, however, he isn’t allowed a seat on the bus, as it seems that Mitt wasn’t too fond of McAvoy’s “American Taliban” comment either.
During a meeting of the News Night staff, MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) goes around the table asking if anyone has leads for new stories. Neal (Dev Patel) chimes in, and immediately everyone gets a look in their eye wondering if he might bring up Bigfoot again. But this time, he’s onto the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he believes might be the American version of the “Arab Spring.” MacKenzie encourages Neal to attend the first meeting of the group, where he encounters Shelly Wexler (Aya Cash). Shelly is a bit standoffish when she learns that Neal is a reporter, but eventually spends time talking about the cause. Neal encourages her to streamline the group’s focus into one or two single issues.
With Jim out of town covering the Romney campaign, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) is brought in as a temporary replacement producer. A contact that Jerry invites to the show to debate America’s use of drones tips him off to the Genoa situation, with his only caveat being that Jerry must use him as his point of contact for all the information that he passes along. Since we in the audience already know that Genoa is a bogus story, the implication here is that Jerry (and ACN) may be getting set up for a big fall.
Maggie awakens in the middle of the night to find her boyfriend Don packing his things. She asks him what’s going on, and he shows her a video that has made its way to YouTube, which recorded the meltdown she had at the end of Season 1 where she confessed her love for Jim in front of a bus on a ‘Sex and the City’ tour. (Jim happened to be aboard the bus.) Maggie tries to explain, but Don insists that it’s not necessary as he has only been with her out of loyalty and not love. As fictional TV breakups go, theirs is a pretty amicable one.
One of the big criticisms about Season 1 was that the ACN team always seemed to be on the right side of every story, making decisions based on facts that, in reality, no newsroom would have had at the time of those events. This season, it looks like Sorkin plans to have his characters on the other end of the spectrum, making a huge mistake that could cost some of them their careers. Whether this season’s storyline is a reaction to the criticisms of Season 1 or something Sorkin planned all along is up for debate, but it’s nice to see the tonal shift.
Even with the new fictional storyline serving as the focus for Season 2, ‘The Newsroom’ knows what kind of show it is and hasn’t diverted significantly from the formula used in Season 1 (though we do get new opening credits!). That pretty much means that if you love the show, you’ll still love it; and if you hated the show, well… you probably weren’t tuning in anyway.