TV review: “The Newsroom” not as bad, but not great

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From the July 11, 2013 edition

Often but not always — cough “Homeland” — series improve in the second season because kinks get worked out thanks to time off and reflection. With HBO’s “The Newsroom” it would be pretty hard for things to get worse; what started as imperfect potential devolved into a total mess by the end. Well, some things have improved on “The Newsroom” and unfortunately some things remain the same.

The litany of problems — preachy, smug hindsight in addressing near-past news events, creator Aaron Sorkin turning up the dialog to 11(hundred), pedantic love triangles and most egregiously the idiotically portrayed female leads — in the freshman season have been toned down. “The Newsroom” feels smarter and more streamlined in Season 2, but it’s still not a particularly great series.

There are many reasons to watch “The Newsroom” — besides being utterly fascinated bythe depths it can sink to. There’soccasional worthwhile drama and moments of genuine humor.

Will McAvoy isn’t exactly well-written, but Jeff Daniels adds a lot with his performance. Speaking of strong performances, Sloan Sabbith would be nothing without Olivia Munn. Seeing Sam Waterston go full-on ham as Charlie Skinner is offputtingly fun. Even Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) is transfixing in his douchebaggery.

Irritating to no end is how poorly MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) and Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) are presented. Both actresses are immensely talented, especially Mortimer,but get beleaguered with nonsensical writing. I could care less about Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) the drama between him, Maggie and Don.

Thankfully Sorkin recognized these blunders, making a few immediate and keen adjustments (that don’t fully mature til the third episode). The excessive coupling storylines take a backseat to more urgent newsroom narratives, and an interesting season-long arc seems to be in play. Characters have shed some of their hyper-exaggerated nature, and the liberal rhetoric is more judicious.

Despite theprogress, there are still too many inexcusable moments of: liberal righteousness, foolish character beats in sole service of plot, pretentious dialog/comebacks/one-liners and (self-addressing) smugness. And though MacKenzie is improved, Maggie remains an emotional jumble. “The Newsroom” is better — if less train-wreck/hate-watchable — but it’s still got a long way to go.