The Newsroom Season 2 Premiere Review: Sorry for Annoying You With the News

The Newsroom S02E01: "First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Lawyers"


And we’re back, folks. My hair is combed, my tie knotted; I’m shuffling papers, I have one earbud in playing an mp3 I’ve made to encourage myself throughout this review in a British lady voice ("Keep pushing, dammit"). During its first season, Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom received its share of guff on a number of counts: the romantic relationships, the goofy moments like investigating Bigfoot, and the physical pratfalls detracted from the show’s investment in serious commentary on the media industry. Female characters were occasionally portrayed as ditzy messes and wiggle-fodder for the workplace’s various male eyebrows, and the facts-only, straight dope News Night mission came off at times as ALL CAPS Aaron Sorkin journal entries. 

To be fair, the show did initially succeed on a number of levels and may have suffered a degree of frustrated criticism based on the potential of the premise (i.e. good guys battle power to save the world through news)—a universe that Sorkin seemed predisposed to crackle. Hinting that a tune up was on the horizon, a few months ago HBO released this "Invitation to the Set" that screamed "do over," and I’m happy to report (see what I did there?) that "First Thing We Do, Let’s Kill All the Lawyers" indicated a welcome change in direction for the News Night crew. 

For starters, that horrendous Grandpappy O'Headline Presents: The Kellog’s News Cavalcade Sponsored by Lindeman’s Revitalizing Serum credit sequence has been replaced by more intimate visuals of life in the newsroom: explosive footage, memo close-ups, unraveling camera cables, all set to a kinetic new take on the dignified score. Honestly every time this show started last season, I felt like PBS was airing a tribute to the late members of AVN we lost this year. Also welcome in this premiere was an overall pared-down tonal focus, where "will they or won’t they"-type fluff served to cushion—rather than suffocate—the more interesting subject of how professionals navigate an extremely influential industry. 


On that note, gone too is the chapteresque (sure that’s a word) dedication to a ripped-from-the-headlines structure. Current events are touched upon, but like tonight's coverage of the fall of Gaddafi, not necessarily the focus. From the opening title card on, this method immediately worked better. We’ve seen Sorkin shine before in a legal back-and-forth scenario (The Social Network, A Few Good Men), and framing every episode within a season-long thread concerning the team’s controversial coverage of a secret operation known as "Genoa" is a perfect fit (also, welcome aboard Marcia Gay Harden as the team’s lawyer). Alleging that the U.S. committed a war crime via nerve gas, and that the Pentagon covered it up, News Night achieved not only its highest viewership, but produced the "most viewed program in the history of cable news." Or, according to expert Cyrus West (Ben KoldykeDale from Big Love and one of the unfortunate culprits in Work It!), a career-minded ringer brought in by Jim's hungry replacement Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater, The New Adventures of Old Christine) the notorious story was the sort of thing "...that makes careers and ends presidencies." These are the kind of stakes a fictional show needs, along with a sufficiently meaty plot to sustain further investigation down the road.    


Will being pulled off News Night's 9/11 anniversary show for calling the Tea Party "the American Taliban" (not sure I agree there, but that’s the point), and the later reveal that the decision had secretly driven him "mad," were equally welcome large gestures. As the closest figure to Sorkin’s surrogate, Will can at times can come off a little invincible, so exposing his need to be loved by a disapproving audience helped humanize him. Despite the fact that we never saw this distant powerful force, I love how viewers factor into the greater picture. As Will and the team are quickly learning, any level in the media chain can upend stability. Just as News Night hoped to influence a distant electorate and consumer base that, as a group, can affect both government and business, so too did the seemingly unrelated injury of a low-level reporter act as the catalyst for the destruction of an entire media empire.  


Speaking of relationships, Jim responsibly called out the Maggie situation as awkward (finally) and split to cover the Romney campaign. Good move guy, get your head straight. Though, if the depressive nature of this swift trip to the bottom wasn’t apparent,  Jim’s exchange with an aid, and how it mirrored his initial conversation with Maggie, drove the point home, this time with Jim being the one to ask, "Are you being sarcastic?" It’s sad on both ends, since Jim can be such a buoyant character—and Maggie bubbly—but eliminating these elements already makes the two feel more real, and in keeping with The Newsroom’s toned-down renovations.  

However, fans of the old "Maggoofball" got an annoying reminder of her tour bus stunt from the close of last season, in one of the most painless breakups I’ve ever witnessed. It’s a pet peeve of mine when a viral video gets used as a plot point. Given how random real-life memes can be, inserting one to convey vital information always feels so transparently written. Instead of Don watching Maggie’s Youtube footage, HBO might as well have cut to Sorkin’s beautiful fingers flitting across a typewriter. Oh well, at least the most uninteresting relationship thread has been put to rest (for now). Or in Don’s own words, "the clock’s run out on this conversation... we can’t get mired in these kind of detours. It’s like playing golf behind a foursome of blind people." Glad someone saw this.  


Even Neal’s pursuit of the Occupy Wall Street movement felt like an authentic progression from his off-the-beaten-path interests. OWS is certainly worthy of examination, because depending on who you speak with, they’re either portrayed as drum-circle hippies or educated activists. Plus, Neal deserves a serious plotline, and having him win the trust of peers who could also be a story will provide another angle on the ethics of journalism. Either way, his advice to PhD candidate Shelly Wexler (Aya Cash, Callie from the short-lived Traffic Light) sounded like Sorkin telling viewers that he received the memo: "Go back to one clear message or you guys are going to be a joke."

Last season Will at times seemed like a hard character to pin down. Sometimes he was an asshole, sometimes he was benevolent; sometimes he was petty, sometimes he was brilliant. Sometimes he reported the death of Osama Bin Laden while high. Sure, a person can be all these things, but as a main character it's nice to have a defining flaw that we can track within the context of an overall theme. If Will is Sorkin, then his Who-themed bar chat with Mac exposed the needy, driving force behind both faces of The Newsroom. The jury’s still out on whether we the audience will let him back into our hearts. One thing’s for sure, though: He better love us.  

FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS:

– Is it any one person’s fault that the Genoa tip made its way into the newsroom?

– What happened to Maggie in Uganda?

– Is Will or Mac going to save the crew?

– Is Charlie going to save Will or Mac's crew?

– How will Jim fare on the campaign trail?

– How will Jerry Dantana fit into the workplace?

– Is Will's intern going to work her way up the chain or just research musicals?

– What dastardly plot will the Lansings cook up this time?  

– Was the weird interference during the Straus-Kahn piece AVM flexing its muscle?

– Is it reductive for Charlie to call Sloan "money skirt," or no big deal?

– Is it a little "cool dad" of Sorkin to have his characters discuss rock lyrics?

– Do you think Rebecca Black is a fan of The Newsroom?

– What is the key demographic of The Newsroom?

– Do you care if Sloan and Don / Will and MacKenzie / Jim and Maggie become a thing?

– What changes did you like/hate in this, the Season 2 premiere?

– Is The Newsroom capitalizing on its premise?

– Does OWS really use Quaker hand signals?

– What do you hope to see this season?

Comments (40)
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Jul 22, 2013
I almost forgot how self-important all of these charcters are. Well, except for Don.
Additionally i do get the feeling the dialogue is witty for the sake of being witty. It doesn't feel like any conversation any human ever had but instead like someones (*cough* Sorkins *cough*) idea or fantasy of what could be.
Great to have Will back though. Although i liked that he was not so easy to categorize in season 1. Everytime he made a decision not in line with what we'd expect it gave him depth.
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Jul 18, 2013
I think it's better than the average Season 1 episode and even the weaker Season 1 episodes I enjoyed. Last year I liked the first half of the credits with the historical stuff but disliked the second half with everyone rushing around. The new ones are slick but I'm not sure they're better overall. There's a little more melancholy in the show at the moment and I think it serves it well. Some of the humour was still too cringe-worthy for my taste, some of the points seemed again over-written till they lost all their meaning. But overall it was a good episode. I'm glad the show's back and am looking forward to the rest of the season.
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Jul 18, 2013
Man they talk fast and mumble on this show!!!!
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Jul 17, 2013
Will singing 'Friday' while chaos breaks out in the control room might be one of my favourite moments of the entire series. I'm personally not seeing a big tonal change from last season to this one, though having most events happen in the past is a nice touch and the addition of the present lawyer interviews will make for more great dialogue. But this Genoa story seems akin to the work put into hosting the debates and the epic failure it became. This show has enough good credit that even it's weaker moments (Don and Maggie) can pass by without too much interruption. This is easily one of the best shows on TV right now
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Jul 17, 2013
Interesting episode, hope this season picks up though.
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Jul 17, 2013
I loved last season. I was so bored with this first ep of season 2, I stopped watching before it was over. Granted, it was late and I was tired. And, I'll finish it up later, but it's very rare for me to stop watching in the middle of a show.
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Jul 16, 2013
I don't know if I like it as much as last season so far, but we'll see. And I don't see how Don and Sloan would be a good fit, but Sloan and Charlie's back and forth was pure squee.
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Jul 16, 2013
Not bad for a season opener. I skipped the main titles because I thought they were going to be as boring as last seasons but maybe I'll have to go watch them. I personally dislike Maggie so much, she is the most annoying character and stemming from that I care little about her relationship with either Don or Jim, both who are better off without her. I may change my mind about her given her new look and some obvious psychological trauma that she went through in Uganda. I'm glad Neal is pursuing occupy wallstreet, gives him some credibility as a journalist. Not sure about this whole Gennoa thing, but I look forward to seeing what's going to happen next.
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Jul 16, 2013
Love this show. Hate that they changed the main titles though. They were original and awesome.
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Jul 16, 2013
Hey, its better than the View!!!!!
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Jul 16, 2013
Question:
Can someone please explain to me what the music-themed conversation Will and Mac had at the bar meant? And what message we're supposed to get from that exchange?
I'm afraid I didn't really get it :-/

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Jul 16, 2013
Will "loves" his audience and wants his audience to "love" him back, but Will was removed from the 9/11 anniversary broadcasts because Will's audience doesn't "love" him as much as he thinks they do and not having those feelings reciprocated stings a little. And that lack of reciprocity is something Mac knows all about given what she felt for Will.
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Jul 15, 2013
It was all right. I really hope they don't focus too much on this stupid love quadrangle that is JIm, Maggie, Don and Sloan. Why? Because its stupid. I know he is likely showing that these "smart" people professionally are just unbelievably stupid in their personal lives. And thus mimic or show a mirror to Will and Mac. But the bad thing is. I don't care about them personally. Maybe Jim, but that is about it. Maggie is too often insufferable, the whole thing last season culminating in her youtube rant was stupid. There are some people that just don't work together and that is Don and her and be done with it. It will be interesting to see what happens to her in Uganda. I have to wonder if it is going to be along the same lines as Lara Logan from CBS being raped in the protests in Egypt.

The drone thing topic is interesting. Mostly because it isn't a popular topic and is why there isn't a lot of coverage in "real news". Mostly because of the reasons that were stated.

This Operation Genoa is interesting. Mostly because it is original show content. Which is not what the Newsroom was initially about. It was supposed to be a commentary on how the news should have been covered.

Questions.

Clearly it is the new guy from DC's fault being that it was his guy that he chose rather tan Jim's guy.

-Either raped or almost beheaded on youtube by radical islamists. Probably not the latter because of her current video on youtube.

- Both, Or Sloan.

- He might. He seems more lackadaisical in this seasons start than he was last season.

-Like a square peg and I think that is the point.

- I think Will sees her as a project. It is like teaching grad students. First you have to teach a person how to think and research answers that they are completely ignorant of and then mold them into probably his version of a complete person.

-I hope Lansing is a non issue this season. It wastes too much time.

-The Straus Kahn thing was to show that they were all in sync and at the top of their game, which I imagine is contrasted by whatever happens so that they need a lawyer. It was them humming along as a fine tuned engine and then the story throws a monkey wrench in it and they didn't have their team to fix it.

- No, because the character is smarter then all of them put together.

- Nope it is just pretentious.

-Who is Rebecca Black?

- That is a good question.

- NO, please stop it. Plus Jim is on the Romney bus and at some point Maggie does to Uganda.

- I am not sure I like that this is all a flashback.

- Not if they do the love quadrangle and quote rock lyrics.

-Probably.

-No idea. It depends entirely on what Sorkin deems is pertinent. He could go on an Anti Gun rant and leave the actual news out completely. Or he could "report" stuff that actually matters. It is his baby, he can use it as whatever soapbox he wants.
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Jul 16, 2013
"This Operation Genoa is interesting. Mostly because it is original show content."
Not really, it's a version of the Operation Tailwind story where CNN in 1998 broadcast an dubiously editied version of an interview about use of sarin gas in Laos.
While that seems like real geek like knowledge, Aaron Sorkin was on last night's Daily Show :)
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Jul 16, 2013
Good catch - so now it looks like we've got a third source of story inspiration here: historical, but less recent.
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Jul 16, 2013
Yea I saw that on The Daily Show last night. Hilarious show last night.
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Jul 15, 2013
I liked the beginning of season 1 as it was something different from other shows on air during this few years and it was very exciting. Towards the end, it fizzles out. I really liked this pilot and things are tighter. I really hope it will be the same for the whole season.

You better you bet was perfect. It was a great touch and definitely the right song to pick to end episode 1.
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Jul 15, 2013
I invested a full season of "The Newsroom" it was disappointing ... I was hoping season two would be better, to no avail. Some of the Characters need to go. I could emasculate the whole show piecemeal, so here it goes.
1. Narrative- there is none, and maybe there needs to be some so the audience doesn't feel so disjointed. It takes us 10 minutes to understand exactly what's going on. By the time we figure it out, the storyline is so boring, we really don't care.
2. Characters- I think they should replace some of the characters on the show. Sam Waterson needs to go along with Jim and Maggie.
3. Antagonist- We don't have one, unless it is the network itself, which is very much weak...or Will's Executive Producer is a joke of one, if that. I like Emily Mortimer as an actress but working in news as a foreigner..chemistry is just okay. They don't have any real die hard newsies except for Sloan the economist, who is actually a real antagonist on the show
4. Writing- The writing is bad, awkward, not funny, and makes the characters look inept, pretentious, narcissistic, and the only thing we get every week is who want to sleep with whom. Really?...who the F*** cares, maybe Sorkin should have done a favor and fired himself.
5. Season 2- I am going out on a limb, but I almost want to compare TNR to "AMC's, "The Killing"... kill me before I waste another season on it. As far as I am concerned they can go into the same place... neverland...let's pretend it was never conceived, and came to fruition.
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Jul 15, 2013
I'm not a huge fan of The Newsroom or most of the characters but Leona (Jane Fonda!), Sloan and Jim are great. Jim's downfall is this useless puppy dog he becomes when anything related to Maggie (who is one of the most frustrating actresses and characters) happens.
Maggie, Don, Mac and Will I find insufferable but I really am hoping this season Sorkin finds his stride with these characters, like you mentioned in the review Will has a million different personalities and the other three are just unlikable unfortunately. Particularly Don, please kill him off or make him move away! (and take Maggie with him!)
More Sloan, Jim and Leona! Oh and Neil!
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Jul 15, 2013
I've been a big fan of this show from the beginning but even I can admit that the first season had its issues. That said, this first episode already seems quite a bit tighter and better aimed than last season. If this episode is any indication, then I will be quite happy with this season.
-If it's any one person's fault, I would go with Jerry Dantana, but truth be told, sometimes these things just happen.
-I don't know, but I am curious. I do not like the new look, for sure.
-I say a combination of both. But if it has to be one, it'll be Will; he is the hero of the show.
-I say not really. He'll want to help and do what he can, but be ultimately helped out by Will and Mac in the end.
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That could get fun. I am curious to see how Jim does fare. My guess: not great.
-That could get hairy.
-I think she was brought on either to be a Donna-type character to teach us things we don't know about the way the newsroom works as Donna was there (initially) to teach us about the way the Government works or she was brought on as merely comic relief.
-You have asked a lot of questions. And I don't know.
-No idea.
-I wouldn't, but it didn't seem like a big deal.
-Don't know who she is.
-I would say middle aged.
-I want them to become a thing eventually so everyone gets their happy endings, but I am also fine with it all taking time to get there.
-I loved most of the changes, so yay!
-I think this season's approach is more correctly capitalizing on its premise than last season.
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Who knows.
-Honestly, I'm fine for stuff like this to continue, this was all kinds of fine with me.
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Jul 15, 2013
First, Ryan, I'm pleased you're reviewing The Newsroom this year, I always found your reviews for The Americans to be excellent.
I definitely enjoyed this episode and especially found the couple of banter scenes with Sloane very funny.
There does seem a possibility of a different slant for this season, so if some of the bits from S1 that didn't work can be dealt with, S2 could end up being amazing television.
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Jul 15, 2013
I like The Newsroom - its a bit preachy at times, but i still like it.
I am a big West Wing fan and because of that i couldn't help but feel i had actually seen this episode before on WW - but it was done so much better then.
It reminded me of times when Leo and Josh were being subpoenaed, but their reactions, delivery and even their posture during the questioning were all done much better than Jeff Daniels - and thats a part of the problem with The Newsroom - the characters are too comparable to West Wing characters and their dynamic, but the direction and some of the script pales in comparison.
i'll stick with it though, because even a watered down West Wing is good tv
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Jul 15, 2013
Good work Mr. Sandoval. Sometimes it feels like there is a conspiracy against Sorkin and this show by some of the critics as nits get blown out promotion. I found your review to be very refreshing not because it was positive, but because it was fair. Thanks.
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Jul 15, 2013
Yeh, last season's reviews seemed a bit too negative; to the point that some review-readers were asking for someone either more impartial or a perhaps a fan write the reviews.

This review was quite solid. It points out what many found to be the weak areas last season without too many sarcastic comments. At the same time saying "they're doing this different, which may be better" Less focusing on name-calling the writers+characters smug elites and more "here's what happened"

Last season got a lot of hate: mostly from my Republican friends. They saw the show as an assault on their beliefs and such when really the only thing they directly went against was the Tea Party itself. Which, face it, many other commentators out there had already ripped apart but they were OK with it. I guess John Stewart and Stephen Colbert are acceptable to poke fun at the Tea Party, but Sorkin isn't
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Jul 15, 2013
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Jul 15, 2013
That was a pretty fun episode. I don't have much else to say about it, though.
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Jul 15, 2013
Can you add a question to the follow up questions please?:

- Does the carpet match the curtains?
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Jul 15, 2013
Finally a good review of The Newsroom from someone that actually seems to enjoy the show.
I don't know you Ryan Sandoval, but I see you going places!
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Jul 15, 2013
I've watched Sorkin for years (all thru West Wing and Studio 60) and the one thing that is consistent about his writing is how he comes up with grand plots that should take half a season or more and wraps them up in two episodes. He creates this great drama and tension with his characters and then lets it fizzle out. When he writes a two-part episode there's nothing but "Part 1" and "Part 2" to let you know that they're connected, tone, pace, and atmosphere even major plot points are often completely different. And the big bombshells that he usually leaves off in the first get dropped in the second. The guy is a great writer - but he's a hype man, a creator of drama not a resolver. You want something that feels real and organic ( or at least fitting within the universe) but when it comes to the climax and denouement Sorkin makes it look less like a slope and more like a cliff.
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Jul 15, 2013
In his defense, his big-time-two-parter-dramas tend to focus on the victims (or the collateral damage) suffering through what's happened. Focusing on them and their point of view. Which he does a great job on by the way.

But, then like in real life, the situation is resolved in the background and everyone gives a collective sigh of relief. They weren't involved in the "op" or in the "rescue" they're just waiting to hear the good or bad news. Sure, the rescuers have their own too but that's a whole different story.

It's like in real life: my all wondered if my mother was dead on 9/11. As we were going through that, everything else just blurred. Much of the specifics of the disaster's resolution took a back seat to "OMG is she alive!" At that moment I didn't care who people thought were responsible or planes being re-routed, just "is my mom alive?!?!?" and the facts around that (rescue efforts, communications cut off, how many people, etc.)

All of the below were *powerful* multi-parters: well written and quite emotional.

West Wing - sniper storyline focused on the pain of the survivors and the back-story of the near-dead main character. The capture was done off camera with very little detail / focus on the "how"

West Wing - daughter abduction focused on their pain and fear for the character. The capture was done off camera with very little detail / focus on the "how".

Studio 60 - brother abducted on the field, focused mostly on the brother in LA and his friends coping with the grief. Rescued in the 11th hour with very little detail / focus on the "how"

Studio 60 - main character having child delivery issues and may be dying, focused mostly on the person in love with her since she was unconscious. Saved / healed with very little detail / focus on the "how"
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Jul 15, 2013
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Jul 15, 2013
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Jul 15, 2013
"Money skirt" wasn't a big deal. And quite funny too with her standing right there behind him. Loved the "I make nerds look gooood" line.

As for Jim on the campaign trail, I'm betting he meets a girl reporter who he brings back to ACN. Then it's Maggie's turn to run away, this time to Africa where all hell breaks loose around her.

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Jul 15, 2013
As for who's fault it was... if you go back far enough it gets insane. The guy who jumped off the 2nd floor balcony into the pool. The guy who dared him to do it. The guy who served them beer. etc.

Personally, and this goes against the legal definition of it, the person at fault is the person that KNEW it wasn't true that tried to pass it off as true.

If the news team had multiple credible sources confirm an actual fact / event then I can't fault them... they got played but a lunatic or someone with a grudge.

As OPPOSED to certain real news sources that are told something subjective and impossible to know and they run with it and then frame it as a narrative. Like the motives behind a recently-publicized killing.
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Jul 15, 2013
Good episode, been looking forward to the return of the show. Bit slow in places, and thank GOD they're toning down the romance crap, I simply don't know these people well enough to give two craps about their perosnal lives.
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Jul 15, 2013
I thought this was a good episode. But the reason I'm commenting is that I'm glad YOU enjoyed it.

Last season, this show felt like one that a majority of watchers were loving and engaged in, and most critics were only too eager to take an axe to. While it got better as the season went on, it was actually a bit painful to see how badly some of the episodes were getting panned. Not every show needs to appeal to everyone, and if people find Sorkin to be preachy at times, ok. But that's Sorkin and we all know that by now.

But I digress. Apparently changes were made between seasons, and I didn't notice any difference in the quality of the writing or the acting, so I'm happy. Glad to see we can find a happy medium and maybe we can all enjoy a fantasticly written and well portrayed show this year.
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Jul 15, 2013
Good review with an excellent comment kicker. It was good to be back in the Newsroom. I believe all newsrooms are kinda fulla crap and this one is not all that much different--integrity is easy, getting away with it is hard. The France edit was a bit too perfect, but it coulda happened. A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away there was this wonderful spoof of Jaws and Dirty Harry called--appropriately--Dirty Jaws, and it was perfect in every way. At one point in Jaws, Roy Schieder empties his revolver into the sea out of frustration and this was dubbed with the classic line from Dirty Harry,"You gotta ask yourself, did he fire six shot's or only five?" Then as Clint finished it with, "Well, do ya, punk?" Schieder's son emerges from the crowd of onlookers in abject bewilderment looking every bit like the punk in question. And if that wasn't enough, Schieder looks at his gun as if wondering exactly that when the perp from Dirty Harry says, "I got's ta know." It was absolutely hilarious and very easy to make if you use two player devices and record the video from Jaws and the audio from Dirty Harry together. If you begin at the proper second it all lays down quite perfectly. What does this have to do with tonight's episode of The Newsroom, You ask? It just goes to show you, anything is possible in Hollywood. Great episode, great review and I too am glad you enjoyed it as my wife and I did. We picked it over Dexter's third offering which we will watch tomorrow night...
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