Anyone who tried to follow the crisis in Egypt on CNN while the Zimmerman trial was going on knows that “The Newsroom” isn’t entirely wrong about what’s wrong with cable news.
Aaron Sorkin’s “Newsroom” begins its second season on HBO on Sunday at a moment when CNN seems to have fully surrendered to the ratings-first leadership of Jeff Zucker. Even as millions of Egyptians took to the streets, and the military deposed President Mohammed Morsi, CNN kept its focus stubbornly on a Sanford, Fla., courtroom.
But that real-time validation alone doesn’t make the case for “The Newsroom,” a Brigadoon version of cable news that, among other things, looks backward.
“The Newsroom” is still righteous and romantic, but the characters now compete less over virtue than over virtuosity. The narrative this time around is driven by an overarching story line — a libel suit — that pulls viewers past the rocks and eddies of liberal piety.
The story starts off with Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), the anchor of ACN, trying to explain to that cable network’s high-priced lawyer Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden, one of the new guest stars) how his news team messed up a major report about U.S. troops in Afghanistan. A source offered a new, ambitious producer, Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater), the kind of scoop “that makes careers and ends presidencies.”
But the government’s legal case against the network could end the careers of anchors and news division presidents. ACN had to retract the report, then hired Halliday, a top litigator, to coach Will and his team through a deposition and possibly a trial. And the mistake might never have happened had it not been for a bizarre pileup of events that are revealed in flashbacks, layer by layer, almost “Citizen Kane”-style.
This fresh start has the added advantage of breaking up last season’s overworked romantic impasses and putting young lovers on new trajectories.
Sorkin introduced “The Newsroom” where there is a right side to every story This season, he shows how even the best minds with the best intentions can be wrong.