The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s problematic paen to The Way Things Used to Be, was renewed today by HBO. I realize that’s not a flashy lede, but this is the sort of breaking story that could really benefit from a bit of perspective, some added time and consideration, to make sure we get it right. In that spirit, I suggested holding this post until 2014, but my editor, in a brilliantly nuanced bit of invective that referenced Edward R. Murrow, Chet Huntley, and the original cast recording of The Pajama Game, set me straight. We’re not here to make a good Internet blog, he said. We’re here to report the news about the fake real news.
If one was going by the ratings alone, this early show of confidence in the critically savaged series wouldn’t be a surprise. The premiere, in which modesty-challenged anchor Will McAvoy is reborn as a cigarette-chipping truth-teller, garnered over 2 million viewers, about on par with the 2011 debut of fellow fantasy show Game of Thrones. And from a purely PR perspective, renewing now also makes sense: If Episode 2’s Women-Be-BlackBerryin’ high jinks were off-putting, things only get more unpleasant in the weeks ahead. (And by “things” I mean the rising levels of sanctimony and sexism.) As cougar-y network boss Leona Lansing could surely tell you, a show of good faith works best when the iron is hot and the rhetoric is overheated. It’s also possible that the rationale was more prosaic: With the recent implosion of The Corrections, HBO suddenly had a superego-size hole to fill on the drama side. A second year of The Newsroom guarantees both a prestige product and a surefire argument-starter for at least three more months of Sundays in 2013.
This reasoning is plausible, but not necessarily encouraging. The Newsroom’s pilot introduced a number of intriguing characters — particularly Emily Mortimer’s war-softened executive producer and Alison Pill’s well-intentioned Mary Sue — all of whom were promptly dashed on the self-righteous rocks of Sorkin’s typewriter. (Only a fool, an Us Weekly subscriber, or a woman would use a computer.) At least through the (truly bad) fourth episode, there’s no sign of how the show could improve in a second season, other than taking full advantage of all the major news stories our insufficient fourth estate managed to bungle in mid-to-late 2011. (Perhaps Gary Cooper has an old college professor whose brother’s sister’s son was in charge of delivering hacky-sacks to the Occupy Wall Street movement?) But with a cast this talented, I suppose it’s worth giving them the benefit of the doubt. Besides, HBO can always pull a Luck and decide later on to shut the whole thing down on morality grounds. Between subtlety and Sam Waterston’s dignity, The Newsroom has already amassed the sort of body count even a gun-toting, immigrant-hating straw man could admire.