If you stopped, or never started, watching Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, pick it up now. Sunday’s upcoming episode on HBO is as crisp and clever as vintage The West Wing…
A year ago, the inaugural season of The Newsroom polarized critics and viewers, many of whom were highly critical of what they perceived as overt lecturing by Sorkin and a juvenile rendering of romantic relationships among characters working at the show’s fictional ACN cable news network.
This year, whether by design or coincidence, Sorkin reacted by reducing the emphasis given to mushy lovelorn subplots, and doubling down on the drama by devoting the entire season to a single story – a story which, after investigating for months, ACN televised, and got wrong.
That story, reporting the use of the chemical weapon sarin by the U.S. military during a dangerous and time-sensitive extraction mission, has been the subject of The Newsroom all of the current Season 2. It’s been told partly in flashbacks, and partly in the near present, as a legal team hired by ACN – led by Rebecca Halliday, played by a fiercely focused Marcia Gay Harden (right) – probes the news crew’s staffers in preparation for a coming lawsuit.
That mission, Operation Genoa, has become clearer in this month’s episodes, as have the network’s problems in reporting it. Last Sunday’s episode revealed, finally, that a newly hired producer (played by Hamish Linklater, seen in a much goofier role as the brother in The New Adventures of Old Christine) had fudged and edited the raw footage to make an interview subject (a retired Marine general played by Stephen Root, another sitcom veteran, in this case from Newsradio) appear to say something he hadn’t.
This Sunday’s episode (10 p.m. ET), finally and fabulously, is all business, with none of the romantic or polemic excesses – and it’s highly charged and excitingly performed, building to a climax that ranks among his very best. And when Sorkin is at his very best, few do it better.
Sunday’s show is the payoff for everything The Newsroom has constructed to date. Usually, what’s idealized about the TV journalists and producers on this show is what they do on air, in their nightly cable newscast. But here, it’s what they do off-air – the due diligence in checking, triple-checking, a story before putting it on the air, and even then getting it wrong.
At long last, we find out exactly how, and why, they messed up. Sunday’s episode is Sorkin’s slam-dunk – and just when you think it can’t get any better, Jane Fonda, as network owner Leona Lansing, comes in for the last five minutes to stick the landing. In one rousing scene, Fonda has earned a spot at next year’s Emmy nominations.
What she, as Leona, demands of Jeff Daniels’ ACN anchor Will McAvoy and Sam Waterston’s news executive Charlie Skinner, The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin already has accomplished with this week’s installment.
To catch up, HBO subscribers can watch previous episodes on HBO Go, or catch this week’s scheduled repeat telecasts. The most recent episode of The Newsroom is repeated on HBO tonight (Wednesday) at 9 ET, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET, and Saturday at 10:15 p.m. ET. And on Thursday, HBO Signature repeats the three most recent episodes, beginning at 9 p.m. ET.
However you get up to speed, this Sunday’s episode, “Red Team III,” will reward the effort.