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Back For More: Sorkin's 'Newsroom' Is A Serious Standout

Jeff Daniels returns to Aaron Sorkin's HBO series <em>The Newsroom</em> as cable news anchor Will McAvoy.
Jeff Daniels returns to Aaron Sorkin's HBO series The Newsroom as cable news anchor Will McAvoy.

The one major change series creator Aaron Sorkin made to The Newsroom between seasons was a structural one. Instead of having each week's show focus on a separate major storyline, this year's edition of The Newsroom follows a single story over the course of the entire season. And it's a season-long plot line in which anchor Will McAvoy and the other employees of the fictional Atlantic Cable News network get one important news report very wrong.

Most of the time, though, they're on what the producers of The Newsroom consider the correct side of history. That's easy for Sorkin and his team to write, because they approach their real-life topics in hindsight, just as they did last year.

Season 2 begins a bit before the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and The Newsroom soon gets to focus on presidential politics. In the third episode, Jeff Daniels, as Will McAvoy, delivers a commentary on the previous night's Republican presidential debate, using actual footage from that event. McAvoy is a Republican, but he didn't like what he saw that night — and especially didn't like what he heard.

As the scene cuts between McAvoy in the studio and people watching him from the control room and elsewhere, we hear some very pointed commentary indeed. It's the kind of scene that polarizes viewers of The Newsroom -- some love the show for its messages and its passion, while others think it's too overtly preachy. But no question, it gives Daniels a really meaty scene to play, and he attacks it very well indeed.

In addition to the outright "author's message" passages, The Newsroom contains other Sorkin signatures. There are times when characters display way too much knowledge off the top of their heads, and others where characters — usually the women, and especially where romance is involved — display almost no knowledge about how to handle social situations and basic conversations.

Even some Sorkin fans respond poorly to these elements. But to make my own viewpoint clear here, I'm fine with it. I can deal with the journalistic and emotional improbabilities because of what else The Newsroom gives me. Each week, just as The West Wing did, it examines, in the context of a TV drama series, serious and complicated subjects that truly matter. On TV right now, that alone makes The Newsroom a standout.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.