Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom has been a fascinating mess of a show. And when I say that, I mean that the mess has been fascinating, not necessarily the show. Its first two seasons are characterized by polish, wit, and ambition, but also hindsight sanctimony, contrived plotting, maddening gender politics, and more than its share of irritating missteps. The show never really found its voice or its audience, which on some channels means cancellation. But HBO gave it a six-episode “kiss-off” renewal to tie off the threads. It might have been better off cutting its losses.
The first few episodes of season three had me half-convinced that Sorkin had finally figured the show out. It certainly had some high stakes, well executed hooks: a major plot involving a government whistleblower, and another involving a hostile takeover of the network. It’s big, compelling Story, and when Sorkin’s sharp dialogue is firing on all cylinders, The Newsroom is bracing stuff.
The show even seemed to have listened to some of the widespread criticism of its handling of female characters. Sorkin’s irritating malecentric viewpoint never goes away, alas, but at least he gives Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer), Maggie (Alison Pill), and Sloane (Olivia Munn) more and better voices in the argument. His male characters are still dicks, and “heroic” in their dickishness, but at least they get called on their shit more often.
Alas, it’s only the illusion of progress. The final two episodes of the series bring the whole shebang to a clumsy, unfortunate halt. Sorkin’s true colors come out in the penultimate hour – primarily in a controversial campus rape storyline, which is undisguised Sorkin malecentrism writ large, but also in his future-phobic disdain for the new media landscape. The finale, meanwhile, is a massive misfire: a flashback-heavy episode that rewinds to The Newsroom’s early days. It’s a peculiar “pre-pilot” that succeeds primarily in reminding us that this crack team of reporters never really lived up to their aggressive mission statement. Which is perhaps appropriate, because neither did The Newsroom – a show that never realized its promise, and which closes with an air of insincere apology and ultimate defeat.