I’ll admit that I approached the Season 3 premiere of “The Newsroom” with both excitement and worry. There was definitely this sense of a neatly wrapped package at the end of Season 2 that I worried what the next steps could possibly be for the show. I could’ve easily accepted the end of the series at that stage – recovering from a totally blown story with a renewed sense of purpose, the message of fighting the good fight of good, sound journalism. Thankfully, the thing that “The Newsroom” seems to excel at is opening its seasons strong. All three season premieres of this show have found a way to pull me in and move me through a smattering of themes and stories we’ll cross in the season. We thankfully have a great place to move for the next six episodes: how do you recover from the fall of faltering on a story? There’s a lot riding on ACN now, as introduced by the premiere in a compelling way that focuses more on the meat, less on the asinine drama.
The main arc here is that ACN is reeling from the effects of losing the confidence of its viewers. We fast forward in time from the 2012 elections to the dreaded Boston Marathon bombings. When the news first breaks, Mac catches it on one of the feeds in the bullpen – though it’s immediately clear to everyone in the bullpen that this is a hot story, they approach tentatively. Hallie, Jim’s girlfriend who is now working for ACN (ick), tries to argue for the validity of what happened solely based on Twitter’s feed. It’s not enough. Everyone is frantic trying to call and get sources on the record, verify the facts, and Reese is frustrated watching ACN be one of the last to go live on the air to report. They won’t take anything so quickly and easily now, especially post-Genoa. Even if it is painfully clear what’s going on. The frustration of the hesitance is declared wonderfully (and kinda comically) by Charlie – if they hear what happened through other news channels…………..
In the background, Sloan is fixated on her new Bloomberg terminal to watch all the financial stuff go down. While at first I thought her thread would be a totally separate thing, it turns out the hints dropped to her at a breakfast with a friend who’s got an in and through one of her student instead reveal something that adds to the pressure of broadcasting the news quickly but correctly: someone’s looking to buy ACN, especially given the dropped ratings for the network post-Genoa.
The other major thread of the season, again prompted in part by the hunger to get the hot scoop and act on the news first, involves Neal. Though Neal following Occupy was kind of treated as a joke in Season 2, especially by Will and Mac, instead he taps into something crazy, and, obviously, incredibly risky for ACN. Curiosity killed the cat for Neal after he looks into a request for an encryption key passed off by Hallie. He drops this information during a team meeting and Will – twinkle in his eye looking for a scoop to get them back on top – encourages Neal to pursue the lead. He gets a secret flash drive filled with classified government documents. While at first it could be the beginning of a breaking story, in retelling how he acquired the documents, it’s revealed Neal prompted his source to fish for more than the original give to verify the leak, thereby aiding and abetting a felony essentially. This will clearly become a more long-term story to follow, and the best part about this is we don’t quite know which direction we’ll go. There’s definitely going to still be the debate of whether or not it’s safe to pursue the story, which will inevitably drive what could happen to Neal. Tying in all these major arcs that all affect one another on the rooftop at the end was a good (but maybe too on the nose) reveal: the ratings are crap, crap enough that they’re in danger of being bought, and though the best way to get back on top is to hit the media with the next big scoop, even that can be incredibly dangerous to pursue.
Though entertaining, this premiere wasn’t entirely perfect. The two biggest duds of the premiere (and the show) is the forlorn Jim-Maggie thing and sometimes Mac. Mac, though clearly a motivated, talented producer, can be trivialized at times, and this definitely happens in this episode. We actually open with her and Will debating wedding stuff, and we basically just confirm how high maintenance Mac is. I really like Emily Mortimer but I wish there was more to Mac sometimes. Her best moment on the show ever is definitely her figuring out that stupid Dantana messed with that raw footage. But they definitely have trouble keeping her consistently good, cool, whatever. I do like it better that she and Will are together, but it almost feels a little much how much they reference it. They banter well together, but the relationship stuff gets sappy, even for me as a reviewer of The Mindy Project (which celebrates this sorta stuff). And then Maggie? I’m glad they didn’t have to spell it out for us too much that she’s still reeling from “what happened in Africa,” but come on. Maggie becoming REALLY into working out is cheap. Everyone still clearly worries about her stability. I am intrigued by the turn she takes on camera, and how Jim reacted to it. It’s probably the most tolerable she’s ever appeared on screen. But I can only imagine what will happen next, especially now that Hallie is just all up in Maggie’s world now, too. I wish this love triangle crap can just die already. At least I only have to take it for 5 more episodes.
Again, overall I found myself charmed and intrigued by the premiere. We present the problems of this season in a great little package – the fate of ACN rides on these next steps with the information that’s been handed to its team members. Even though we can kinda guess that they’ll rise up on top somehow, I’m very interested in the ride we’re about to take. The Newsroom finds interesting ways to tie in recent news events into the story arcs, and I like revisiting the events they cover through their eyes. How far along will we go on this timeline with them? Will this be fast and dirty, or span a longer period and go deeper into the Snowden / NSA well?
Till next week, I leave you with a couple odds and ends:
-How in the hell does Sloan TEACH and appear on ACN?
-Although I totally loathed Don season 1, he’s fast become a character I enjoy. And this Don lovefest definitely continues through this premiere. From him arguing his way out of jury duty to the judge to him challenging now-girlfriend Sloan about her over-the-top financial analysis setup, he adds a very necessary comedic punch to the show.
-Also surprisingly comedic were Charlie and Will together. I really love that Charlie is going to be Will’s best man at the wedding. When the two of them give that speech together discouraging the team from cheering the misinformation broadcast by CNN, they were just a ball of adorable bros. Their chemistry together is incredible.
-Watching Chris Messina in a dramatic role is such a fun treat. I’m so glad I get to review him across two shows this fall.
-I’ve always enjoyed Neal’s role on the show, and I’m so glad he’s pushed to the forefront of this season getting that government document leak.
-The circumstance surrounding Elliott needing to push Maggie in front of the camera is so wonderfully ridiculous. Again, this show can be so serious and dramatic that there are definite needs for comedic relief, and it was a great surprise to find it here. Really, who does put walnuts in chicken salad?
-Sometimes the writing can be so on the nose, and I definitely felt a nod to Ferguson (even though I know this was clearly written before) when Don comments on how hyper-militarized the police response was for the manhunt post-bombing.