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'The Newsroom' 2.1 Review: "First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers" (TRAILER)

Thompson on Hollywood By David Chute | Thompson on Hollywood July 9, 2013 at 7:53PM

The second season of Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama series "The Newsroom" promises to be every bit as entertaining as its first -- if not more so, due to a unifying structural choice that takes fuller advantage of novelistic narrative freedom of post-"Sopranos" cable drama.
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Jeff Daniels in "The Newsroom"
HBO Jeff Daniels in "The Newsroom"

The second season of Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama series "The Newsroom" promises to be every bit as entertaining as its first -- if not more so, due to a unifying structural choice that takes fuller advantage of novelistic narrative freedom of post-"Sopranos" cable drama.

Although subplots abound, and the pleasure of the show still tends to hinge on on individual cool scenes of terrific actors biting into Sorkin's hyper-verbal bickering dialog, the season has begun as if intends to tells a single long story that is, in part, a complicated mystery about a big story that goes disastrously wrong for the protagonist team at Atlantis Cable News (ACN).

The premiere episode begins in August 2011, almost immediately after the the events of the Season One finale. Real-world stories touched upon include the presidential campaign and Occupy Wall Street, both of presented not as the "A" story of the season but as strong subplots.

From the looks of things the entire season will be framed as a series of flashbacks, as the newsmen and -women of ACN are deposed by their high-powered defense attorney, played by Marcia Gay Harden. (The deposition as framing device ploy served Sorkin well in his screenplay for "The Social Network.") The details of the team's legal emergency are being parceled out a few tidbits at a time, and if the strategy is deftly handled the on-going investigation will give the whole season the compulsiveness of a suspense thriller.

Marcia Gay Harden
Marcia Gay Harden

The dizzying height of the stakes are spelled out clearly by Harden's steely Rebecca Halliday: If ACN doesn't prevail in court "no-one responsible for Genoa will ever work again."

We get the gist even before the first set of opening credits, though at such a motor-mouth Aaron Sorkin pace that you may need to rewind a couple of times. Genoa, we learn, was an exclusive story about a US black op that was "bigger than Watergate," according to Emily Mortimer's Executive Producer MacKenzie McHale, and that earned the network huge ratings.

Unfortunately, embarrassingly, the story then had to be retracted, allegedly at the behest of the Defense Department, though anchorman Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) vehemently denies this.

The mystery, then, is both what occurred during Operation Genoa and the exact nature of the news team's failure in reporting of it, which means digging into the process that puled them into it. (There are indications in later episodes that political bias may be one culprit: The team believes the story they report because it confirms their newsy liberal prejudices about the military.)

We look forward to piecing together the truth from accounts of several variously unreliable witnesses, a journalistic procedural rather than a police procedural. Or perhaps we will be drawn to the sad realization that in the fog of war the truth can rarely be determined beyond beyond a reasonable doubt.

This article is related to: Reviews, Television, TV, TV Reviews, The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.