The HBO series, The Newsroom, started its second season this past Sunday. Once again, the acting is great, and, while it is certainly no Downton Abbey, the show is generally fun to watch.
And, once again, we get to watch the incredibly complicated news anchor Will McAvoy's personal and professional narcissism on display - posing as moral self-righteousness, in turn posing as public spirited journalism. And we get to watch the continued the personal and professional fallout from Will and MacKenzie's miscarried love affair, which in a vividly sane moment of analysis at the end of Season 1 MacKenzie herself had held up to her protégé Jim Harper as a model not to be followed in his own tangled relationship with Maggie. (MacKenzie's genuine personal concern for Jim's personal and professional well being is surely one of her more attractive traits). MacKenzie clearly wishes she hadn't ruined her relationship with Will ever so many years earlier. So what stops them from getting back together? Individually, each of them has some attractive qualities, but overall one is left wondering (as I myself wondered in my post at the end of Season 1) why anyone would ever like - let alone love - either of them.
And, once again, the over-arching political and moral pretentiousness of the leading characters is balanced by the continuing relational soap-operas of the much more sympathetic younger characters. Are they much more sympathetic because they are younger? Are twenty-somethings' lives permitted to be a relational mess in ways we think more mature adults should have outgrown? If so, is one of the themes of the show that, just as in post-modern America, "young adults" are permitted to exhibit non adult behavior at a later age than would have been tolerated in any previous generation, perhaps the pattern is continuing up the age ladder. Perhaps no one is really ever expected to "grow up" any more. And what exactly would growing up mean in a post-modern world where relationships no longer sem to presuppose marriage and children? (Only Elliot seems to have a "normal" family life. Perhaps that is why he is such a seldom seen marginal character?)
For whatever reason, Jim, Maggie, and even Don all seem so much more likeable than their bosses. We kind of want them to succeed - whatever exactly "succeed" might mean. Now that Don has broken up with Maggie (having just so recently invited her to move in with him), will he gravitate to Sloan Sabbith on the rebound - now that her interest in him has been made evident? Will Jim actually pursue Maggie, or will Mackenzie's warning prove prophetic? And will Neal fall in love with that girl from Occupy Wall Street?
Meanwhile, as regards the show's political-moral takeaway on current events, will Season 2 simply replay the pattern of Season 1 or will it break some new ground?
As I observed at the end of Season 1: "The program wants us to believe that news stories like the debate on the debt ceiling really matter more than the Casey Anthony trial or Anthony Wiener's texting. I suspect most of the show's audience already agrees. A decade ago, when 9/11 hit after a silly summer of similarly trivial news coverage, there was considerable hand-wringing about the media's addiction to such stuff. But there somehow needs to be a better way of making that case than playing right into populist stereotypes about liberal elites who are contemptuous of ordinary people - or trying to make moral heroes out of people whose own selves seem as trivial as the news they disdain." Whether Season 2 will - or can - accomplish that is what remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, let's enjoy the show.
Meanwhile, let's enjoy the show.
Much more sympathetic are the younger characters - Maggie, Don, and Jim - caught up in their seeminly inescapable love triangle. Don's actually not such a bad guy, but I at least found myself rooting for Maggie to dump him for Jim. That looked as if it might at last actually happen in the final episode, but Don won Maggie by "committing" to her. That is, he asked her to move in with him - and gave her a key to his apartment. Is a key the post-modern version of a ring? That's not an absolutely outside-the-box question, since Sloan Sabbith, the sadly single economic reporter explicity told Don earlier in that episode that she would regard a propposal of marriage as the true sign of someone's commitment. Apparently, marriage is just way beyond Don's imagination - or Maggie's expectations. (Sloan's belief in marriage might help explain her unfortunate singleness at least as much as her supposedly off-putting intellectualism and her supposed social awkwardness.) Meanwhile, Maggie's and Don's continuance as a couple seems to leave Jim stuck in an even more incongruous relationship with Lisa.
Back to the political track, the show seems to veer from an emotionally powerful episode (the killing of Osama Ben Laden) in which everyone seems to rise above partisanship and actually embrace patriuotism to totally absurd scenarios, such as expecting the Republican National Committee to accept a debate format the sole purpose of which apparently is to ridicule and denigrate the candidates while further inflating McAvoy's ego. One certainly doesn't have to like or agree with any of the actual candidates to sympathise with the young RNC apparatchik who complains to his older (more traditonally "moderate") colleague, "I hate these people. I don't know why you don't."
The show really is fun to watch, and it has some really engaging sub-plots. One such is Will's psychotherapy, which offers intriguing insights into his neurotically lonely life, facilitated by a well played therapist.There's the story of the tech nerd, Neal Sampat (who, of course, is also charming and sexy, as well as intensely intelligent and talented), whom one would hope to see more of in any second season. There's the corporate sub-plot about the tension between the high-minded news division and the bottom-line preoccupations of the parent company's CEO, Leona Lansing (superbly played by Jane Fonda), and her son Reese, who is presented as the unambiguous bad guy in the group.Of course (as every scene of McAvoy's Manhattan apartment reminds us), Reese's bad-boy greed only highlights the hypocrisy of the elite lifestyle enjoyed by McAvoy, et al, who even in this economy know absolutely no personal financial anxiety.
The program wants us to believe that news stories like the debate on the debt ceiling really matter more than the Casey Anthony trial or Anthony Wiener's texting. I suspect most of the show's audience already agrees. A decade ago, when 9/11 hit after a silly summer of similarly trivial news coverage, there was considerable hand-wringing about the media's addiction to such stuff. But there somehow needs to be a better way of making that case than playing right into populist stereotypes about liberal elites who are contemptuous of ordinary people - or trying to make moral heroes out of people whose own selves seem as trivial as the news they disdain.