There’s a small pocket of critics and viewers that have supported Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom since the beginning, who have soldiered on in the face of mounting backlash against the show and Sorkin, and who have been willing to overlook the many flaws in the first season of The Newsroom because we trusted that Sorkin would right the ship. We loved West Wing. We adored Sports Night. We liked Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, even if we wouldn’t admit it, and when people took Sorkin to the woodshed, we felt defensive. Critics saw smugness; we saw an occasionally insecure writer trying to hide behind his intellect. Critics saw a man who was exploiting his own relationships for storylines; we saw a guy writing what he knows. Critics saw recycled plot points; we saw a writer too timid after the failure of his last show to try something too different from what has succeeded in the past. Critics saw underwritten female characters; we saw a man who — like many of us — doesn’t completely understand women, but who is too stubborn to admit it. Critics saw a show that was earnest, heavy on sentiment, and that over-relied on romantic-comedy tropes.
So did we. It’s why we love The Newsroom.
Breaking Bad and Mad Men are probably the two best television series on the air right now. Most of the best series explore dark themes with dark characters. The Newsroom is a needed reprieve from that, just like Friday Night Lights used to be, and just like Parenthood is now. It’s good people trying to make good decisions; it’s good people aspiring to be better people; and it’s good people who want to fall in love. These shows are breathers from the death, darkness, and cynicism of most everything else that is good on TV.
The Newsroom is a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of a cable news show that aspires to be better than what cable news has become. It is a show that wants to re-tell stories that are 18 months old the way that Aaron Sorkin thinks they should have been told the first time around. But above all, it is a show about people who want to be good at their jobs, who want to support those around them, and who want to fall in love. You might have had to dig a little deep during the first season to find that, but it was there. In the second season, Sorkin finally stopped hiding completely behind his politics, his moral outrage, and his mission to civilize, and he put his f**king heart firmly on his goddamn sleeve and he let audiences smash it or embrace it.
Most of us who are still watching The Newsroom probably embraced it. Not because we’ve been “riding Aaron Sorkin’s jock since day one,” as some of our illustrious commenters will suggest. But because we are saps. Because we are unabashed suckers for huge romantic gestures. And because when Sloan kissed Don, we got a little misty-eyed, and we may have yelped a little, goddamnit.
Last night’s season finale, “Election Part 2,” was the perfect ending for the show that The Newsroom wants to be. Nothing that happened in that episode was a surprise. Of course, Don bought Sloan’s book. Of course, Will kept the ring. Of course, Charlie wouldn’t resign. Of course, Jim and Maggie would share a moment. Of course, the election Jim prematurely called would go his way, and of course, Reese would take the higher road and refuse to accept the resignations (the only surprise to me was in the way Charlie threw it back in Reese’s face).
That’s the nature of romantic comedies: They give us what we want. They may erect contrivances, and they may tease us by withholding it, and they may manipulate us into thinking we’re not going to get what we want, but in the end, they always deliver the goods. The storylines are their to drive the characters, and not the other way around. Some critics and viewers may want surprise, and others may have wanted Will and Charlie and Mac to resign, but there were a lot of bleary-eyed saps who came away from the second-season finale completely, unapologetically satisfied, no matter how foolish that makes us.