I Make Nerds Look Good: What We Learned From ‘The Newsroom’ Season Two Premiere

HBO’s The Newsroom returned last evening, and in the premiere at least, there was a world of difference between the second season and the first, if only in terms of tone. It was less smug, it was less in your face, and it was less heavy handed (save for one Occupy Wall Street fact dump), although in all three cases, that could be because the Newsroom team is on the wrong side of a bad legal situation that is framing the season, and they’re in no position to be smug.

That situation is a multi-million dollar wrongful termination lawsuit, and while we don’t know the specifics yet, we can surmise from the premiere that it involves a factually wrong and/or completely fabricated story that Jerry Santana (Hamish Linklater) brought to Newsroom while he was filling in for Jim Harper, who had decided to jump on a Romney campaign bus for a couple of weeks to lick his wounds after he was rejected romantically by Maggie.

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Speaking of Maggie, she was also dumped by Don (Thomas Sadoski), after Don a little too conveniently found a YouTube video from the Sex and the City tour bus last season where Maggie confessed her feelings to Jim (Sorkin is still a bit on the clumsy side when it comes to the romantic comedy piece of Newsroom, although to be fair, as great as Alison Pill and John Gallagher Jr. are, they’re missing whatever it is that Bradley Whitford and Janel Maloney had that made similar dialogue work in The West Wing).

Also, what the hell happened to Maggie in Uganda? That’s the premiere’s most pressing question.

Meanwhile, Don’s break up with Maggie not only frees Maggie to pursue Jim (who is now on a bus), it also frees Don to pursue Sloan (Olivia Munn), who continued her good work on the show in the premiere, especially in her exchanges with Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston).

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In fact, Don and Sloan at this point are the most compelling romantic couple on this show.

Gotta love the cracks at the expense of Oklahoma, too.

Sloan is also pursuing the drone story, which was in its infancy when this season of Newsroom began (early September 2011). This is really one of the things I appreciate most about Newsroom. It affords these huge running stories — huge stories that are often buried beneath sound bites, the political horse-race and 24-hour sensationalism of modern cable news — the gravity that these stories warrant. In fact, I hope they run with the drone story throughout the season, especially given its relevancy today. In either case, that story led to Santana’s decision to bring in a panelist, who is the one who will be feeding the story to the news room in what looks like could be a Judith Miller type situation.

We also know that Will McAvoy — after calling the Tea Party the American Taliban — has been removed from 9/11 Anniversary coverage, which is not only greatly upsetting for McAvoy, but it causes him to pull his punches during the drone-strike panel for fear of further alienating an audience that’s already feeling alienated by McAvoy’s comments (this will likely provide some context to why they were so willing to go along with the made up Operation Genoa story).

Oh, and McAvoy’s comments also kept Reese Lansing and AWM out of a Judiciary Committee that was formulating SOPA. I would’ve loved to have heard more about that, but it doesn’t come as a surprise that AWM and Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda) were on the side of SOPA, although the crack at “the f***ing pajama people” was ALL Sorkin. (The ears of 47 TV critics perked up at that line. “F***king pajama people, huh? Yeah, well you wait until you read the review I’m going to write about your show on my blog tomorrow, Sorkin!”)

I should also note that, despite being cast and despite being in the IMDB credits for this episode, there was no sign of Patton Oswalt, which suggests that — when Sorkin went to HBO to completely rework the first two episodes of the season — Oswalt was cut completely out of the story.

Overall, not a bad episode at all, though it was mostly table setting for the rest of the season. For better or worse, it also lacked any of those big, dramatic Sorkin moments: There were no rousing speeches, and there were no huge inspirational/treacly moments. But they will come. The episode also didn’t feel as though it left a lot of red meat for television critics to criticize and skewer, but I’m sure that — by mid-afternoon today — someone will have found an angle upon which they can trounce, and the rest of the television critics will line up to take their swings. God bless the Internet.

The line of the night goes to Will McAvoy for the perfect rejoinder to Rebecca Haliday’s expletive.

And here’s the moment that I thought was pretty fun, but that I know is going to make Sorkin an easy target for ridicule.

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