This season of “The Newsroom” almost didn’t happen. HBO spent months in negotiations with Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”), who finally agreed to return for six final episodes. The announcement came after a problematic season with too many boneheaded and frustrating moments to make up for the truly special ones. Sorkin often has trouble reigning himself in, loading the dialogue with pretentious, broad claims about politics and America. While the final season premiere is a bit more controlled, “The Newsroom” still gets lost in the big statements.
Season Three Premiere
Sundays at 9 p.m.
“The Newsroom” follows the inner workings of “News Night with Will McAvoy” on the fictional network ACN. The premiere picks up after the Genoa incident wrecked the program’s reputation with them getting a chance to “do the news correctly” during the week of the Boston Marathon bombings. In the premiere, the staff tries to figure out what happened on the day of the attack itself and the manhunt that lasted for a week after.
The portrayal of stories like this one is what “The Newsroom” does best. It’s sometimes downright thrilling to watch these characters maneuver through situations like covering the terrorist attack in Boston. When Sorkin’s dialogue isn’t relying on platitudes and over-the-top philosophical ramblings and focuses instead on fast-paced problem solving, it elevates each sequence to a much higher level, as evident in the first few moments when they’re figuring out exactly what happened so they could launch into their coverage.
Intermixed with the Boston storyline was some shoddy setup for the season to come. Sorkin forms his story so that there are 30 to 45 second hints dropped throughout the premiere, and it all blows up in the final scene. That last sequence essentially dumped a full episode’s worth of storylines in about seven minutes. It’s a strange choice for Sorkin, and it doesn’t quite pay off. There’s a way to structure this differently so that both Neal (Dev Patel, “Slumdog Millionaire”) committing espionage and Sloan’s (Olivia Munn, “Attack of the Show”) discovery of a potential hostile takeover of ACN’s parent company would both have a much greater impact. Those are both gripping ideas on their own; however, by forcing all the season’s framework into one scene, they lose their significance.
In the premiere, Sorkin couldn’t shake one of the problems that plagued the series in its first two seasons. Throughout the episode, he tries to make statements about what makes quality journalism, and those claims don’t always resonate. He couldn’t help but bring in the John King mishap and show how his heroes don’t pass along the report because they couldn’t corroborate it. He also appeared to be flummoxed over how stories spread over the Internet, bringing in and dismissing Twitter coverage and other forms of online journalism at many points during the episode.
These plot contrivances make “The Newsroom” frustrating. There’s a version of this program written by Sorkin that could be one of the best shows out there. However, Sorkin is too interested in the grand statements to worry about coherent setup for the season. That’s the problem with trying to tell an ambitious story; if you allow yourself to go too far into the truisms and lose some of the basics, you end up making television that loses its meaning.