The one-hour HBO drama series created by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) and executive produced by Sorkin, Scott Rudin, and Alan Poul is back for a second season. Smart, topical, thought-provoking, and highly entertaining, The Newsroom takes a behind-the-scenes look at a high-rated cable-news program at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (ACN) Network, focusing on the on- and off-camera lives of its acerbic anchor (Jeff Daniels), executive producer (Emily Mortimer), their newsroom staff (John Gallagher, Jr., Alison Pill, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel, and others), news-division boss (Sam Waterston), and parent-company CEO (Jane Fonda). Season 2 takes place over a five-day period leading up to Election Day 2012, and encompasses numerous flashbacks to earlier events from 2011 and 2012. One of the season's major story arcs involves a wrongful-termination lawsuit made by a staff member alleged to have doctored a report about a suspicious U.S. drone strike. As details about the suit's origin and aftermath emerge, The Newsroom team continues its quixotic mission to "do the news well" in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles, and their personal entanglements.
I was one of 'The Newsroom's biggest fans when Season 1 first hit HBO back in 2012. I thought the actors were fantastic in it, and loved the 'His Girl Friday' banter that constantly went on between the main characters. I proclaimed it one of the best series TV had seen in a long time, and took a lot of heat (much of it from readers of this website) over my passion for the show. Then along came Season 2, which some believe is a vast improvement over the first season of the show. So I probably love it even more now, right? Nope. I think this second season is a huge disappointment.
Whether by his own design or as a response to the backlash he got from critics (many of them within the media itself) for Season 1, there's little doubt that creator Aaron Sorkin changed much of the tone of 'The Newsroom' in Season 2. While Sorkin tries to keep the show light and humorous at times, gone is the playful, witty banter that was one of 'The Newsroom's lynchpins. There are a few scenes throughout the nine-episode second season that remind one of how funny this show used to be, but they're few and far between, sadly. Also, Sorkin decided to retreat a bit from having his characters deal with a real news story each week and instead gives the series a season-long arc that deals with a completely fabricated story – fabricated both in Sorkin's mind as well as not being a legitimate story within the show either. This is not a spoiler, since we're told in the opening minutes of Season 2 that the characters' jobs are in jeopardy over this faux reporting…it's the how, where, what, and who that the rest of the season unravels. In its defense, Season 2 does take on a few real-life news events (the Zimmerman incident in Florida and the 2012 presidential election being the two most prominent ones), but there's just not that sense of tearing apart each topic and giving it a closer inspection with hindsight (for the home viewers, not the characters since the events are brand-new to them) that we got the first time around.
In my estimation, the biggest mistake Sorkin makes in Season 2 is putting the focus on the two characters that the majority of fans probably find the most annoying: Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Maggie (Alison Pill). The 'will they or won't they' get together plotline between the two was one of the few weak points of Season 1, and it's almost unbearable that Sorkin drags viewers through another season of back and forth between these two. This time around, Sorkin has Maggie going through an emotional crisis (which includes chopping most of her hair off) due to events that unfold in Africa, while Jim is off on the 2012 campaign trail covering Mitt Romney and 'meeting cute' (as Roger Ebert used to call it) with new love interest, Hallie (played by Grace Gummer, the daughter of Meryl Streep).
By spending so much time focusing on Jim and Maggie, Sorkin seems to have forgotten all about his lead actor, Jeff Daniels, who – aside from perhaps three episodes in Season 2 – takes a back seat to most of the storylines. Not only is Will McAvoy less of a leading character this time around, the ongoing Season 1 plot thread about McAvoy getting death threats and needing a bodyguard seems to have been totally forgotten by the time this season gets underway. Given even less to do than Daniels is the great Sam Waterston, whose Charlie Skinner seems to exist only for the occasional argument or punchline in Season 2, rather than being a vital part of the storyline as he was the first time around.
Even with all the problems that Season 2 has, 'The Newsroom' remains a quite watchable series. Although too much time is spent on Jim and Maggie, and not enough time on Will this year, the rest of the cast has developed nicely – including the continued growth of Olivia Munn's character, Sloan, and a much-expanded role for Dev Patel's character, Neal. While Emily Mortimer's MacKenzie McHale remains a bit of a mess (it's always struck me as odd that a writer as good as Sorkin tends to write his female characters as more 'ditzy' than competent), for the most part the supporting cast is just fine here. The biggest advancement for a character may be Thomas Sadoski's Don Keefer, who is much less of a jerk and much more likable than he was in Season 1.
After raving about the first season of 'The Newsroom', most of you are probably going to be surprised that I'm only recommending this one for fans of the series. I know a few people who thought that this second season was actually an improvement on the first, so perhaps if you were borderline about the show the first time around, you might want to pick this one up…but I think most of us that loved how much fun 'The Newsroom' was last year will come away disappointed with just how 'average' all around Season 2 feels. It's by no means an awful season, but one does come away from it feeling let down by Mr. Sorkin.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Season Two of 'The Newsroom' reports onto Blu-ray in a cardboard fold-out that is contained within a cardboard case. The case includes two inserts: one for an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the season, and one for HBO's new 'Instant Preview' option that is contained on Disc 1 of this set. Each of the three 50GB dual-layer discs are held inside of plastic hubs, with an additional inside flap listing all eight of the second season's episodes, along with a short synopsis of each.
While none of the discs are hard-coded with any front-loaded trailers, those with players that have the Blu-ray Live/Internet connection option turned 'on' will be treated to a trailer that highlights HBO's various original series. They'll also have the option to use HBO's 'Instant Preview' bonus, described in further detail in the 'HD Bonus Content' section below. The main menu contains a montage of footage from the season, with menu selections in a box towards the bottom left of the screen (which opens up to further menu options when clicked on). It's also worth noting that HBO has abandoned its annoying habit of listing all the episodes and bonus materials on each disc, and only lists the episodes and bonuses available on each individual disc with this release. That's a welcome change.
The Blu-rays in this set are region-free.
Like the majority of the original season, all of Season 2 has been shot digitally using Arri Alexa equipment. However, once again – mostly to try to retain the look of the original pilot episode, which was shot on Super 16mm film – the creators have put faux 'grain' in the background to make the digital image have a more film-like look to it. While I personally think that makes the image look a little softer and less detailed than I'd like, there's no denying that the transfer here perfectly reflects how these episodes appeared during their original HBO airings.
Outdoor and on-location footage has a little more detail and clarity than the stuff shot indoors and in the newsroom itself, but throughout black levels are deep, contrast is well balanced, and skin tones look consistent and are not oversaturated. Those who picked up the first season can expect a transfer that looks almost precisely the same as the first Blu-ray set did. I also detected no noticeable problems with the image – such as haloing, aliasing, banding, or the like.
Like the first season of the show, 'The Newsroom' is heavy on dialogue, light on action, which means that, primarily, most of the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track for each episode is front-heavy. That doesn't mean, however, that we don't get some occasional use of the rears – although never to the point where the show feels 'immersive'. There's excellent separation between the dialogue, soundtrack music, and other ambient noises, as well as a proper balance between everything, so the spoken word never feels drown out. There's also no problems with glitches, as each track sounds crisp and clean, with no hints of dropouts or muddiness in the audio.
In addition to the lossless English track, each episode also includes the option of French 5.1 DTS Digital Surround, Spanish 2.0 DTS Digital Surround, and Castilian 5.1 DTS Digital Surround. Subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish, Castilian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish .
I was a big fan of Season 1 of 'The Newsroom', but can't share the same enthusiasm about Season 2. By putting its lead actor, Jeff Daniels, on the back burner for much of the season and by putting the focus on a fabricated news story (which goes against the original concept of the show), I found Season 2 to be quite a disappointment. It's also lacking much of the fun and witty banter of the first season. I'm sorry to say that this Season 2 set is for fans only.