Aaron Sorkin's political news drama The Newsroom, which begins its second season on HBO this Sunday, is one of the more polarizing shows on television.The first season was hotly anticipated by a lot of people—West Wing diehards, Social Network fans, and even the small but dedicated group of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip stans—all who thought that (Sorkin + politics) x (cable TV + HBO) = likely success. Of course, we now know that reaction to The Newsroom's first batch of episodes ranged from PURE RAGE at worst to heavily modulated optimism at best.
I'm not here to try to convince you that The Newsroom is a capital-G-Great television show; it's not. Instead, what I am going to do is let you all in on a secret viewing method that made the first season a lot more enjoyable than it probably should have been, one that I hope will help you enjoy Season 2 just as I will: Just think of it as another HBO fantasy show. It fits right alongside—or perhaps right between, on the scale of quality—True Blood and Game of Thrones.
Now, don't get it twisted. If you ask me, The Newsroom is a much better show than True Blood and it's certainly nowhere near as good as Game of Thrones. But like those two other tent-pole HBO dramas, The Newsroom exists not in reality, but its own utterly fictionalized version of the real world. In Season 1, so many people got hung up on the show's incessant need to re-configure the past so that Sorkin could show us all HOW TO DO JOURNALISM—partially because that mostly resulted in hilariously preachy bullsh*t, but also because the show tried too hard to key into real events. So here's what you gotta do: Imagine that none of it actually happened IRL. When Season 2 spends four episodes making fun of already forgotten conservative presidential "candidates" like Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich and somehow brings Will McAvoy into the origin story of Binders Full of Women, your first thought is probably going to be "Who's Herman Cain again?" and your second thought is probably going to be to just tweet "SORRRRRKKKKIN!" in all caps. But what you should really do is just pretend—as the Republicans eventually did—that Herman Cain isn't a real person, and that he never tried to run for president. Keep repeating to yourself "None of this is real."
Once you've gotten past The Newsroom's insistence on mocking CNN long after it's already done enough to make a mockery of itself, it's easier to start accepting the show's other faults as parts of Newsroom universe (they're still problematic parts, but still). Sure, it could bother you that The Newsroom exists in a world where blogging is still only for really weird (and foreign) nerds and where just about anybody can easily deliver a soliloquy full of $2 words about important concepts like DEMOCRACY and AMERICA and REAL MEN. But hey, it could also bother you that, on True Blood, a vampire killed a newscaster and then suggested a race war on national TV and people only got mad for like four days, or that everybody on Game of Thrones likes to pontificate while they fornicate. We're willing to accept that vampires and werewolves and dirtbag werepanthers exist in society on True Blood, and that dragons and smoke demons exist on Thrones. Every fantasy show has its weird things we just buy because we're invested in at least some of the characters or themes. The Newsroom is no different.
And maybe, just maybe, thinking about the show as a fantasy will help alleviate what is perhaps The Newsroom's biggest issue: its treatment of women. Perhaps this is just a world where totally competent career women don't know how to use email clients on smartphones, or can't do their jobs because they're constantly blubbering their way through two different romantic relationships with barely deserving men. Right?!
Whoops, okay, so maybe that's a step too far. Being a fantasy show doesn't write off sexism. Hell, even True Blood knows that (I think).
But even though The Newsroom isn't a great show, and even though it probably never will be because so many of its fundamental flaws are so thoroughly Sorkin-y (the news boners, the sanctimonious speeches, the fairly problematic representation of women) it nevertheless features some really good characters (Sloan and Charlie most notably, but Neal, Don, Will and Mac all have their moments on the reg) that make the problematic material better. And once you start imaging the Newsroom universe as a place where every monologue about freedom of the press actually improves the world and let every montage set to five-year-old Coldplay songs wash over you, The Newsroom becomes immediately better.
Will you be watching The Newsroom Season 2? What do you like or dislike most about the show?