THE NEWSROOM: SEASON 2 – DVD review

I never saw Season 1 of “The Newsroom,” but that didn’t keep me from getting instantly hooked on the second—one that earned Jeff Daniels an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Maybe it’s because this HBO political drama comes from Aaron Sorkin, who in “The West Wing” trained viewers to try to keep up as best they can and not sweat the information gaps. Though there aren’t as many walk-and-talk moments in the cable newsroom as there were in Sorkin’s White House, there are still plenty of common elements. Here, as in “The West Wing,” Sorkin blends a heavily researched authenticity with the kind of fast-talking conversations that underscore the high stakes, the pressures, and the intellectual depth required to make it in the volatile world of broadcast news or politics. There’s a lot of overlapping dialogue and a tremendous amount of information to juggle. Under pressure, some characters turn out to be diamonds, while others prove themselves to be little more than black-hearted lumps of coal.

As in “The West Wing,” one continuing main plot is supported by side plots that affect the ways in which the characters relate to each other. This season the Atlantis Cable News team covers the 2012 election between incumbent President Barrack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney, and the network also deals with the fallout from a remark that moderate Republican-leaning anchor Will McAvoy (Daniels) apparently made last season about the Tea Party—he called them “America’s Taliban.”

This season, the network also deals with an unlawful termination suit and the maelstrom that results when they report a story that turns out to be fabricated. It takes awhile to be able to distinguish some of the characters—a hazard, really, of jumping in at the start of Season 2 instead of the first season, when writers typically spend more time on introductions—but viewers will be grateful for two winning character stories. In one, Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) is eerily like the Jim from “The Office.” He’s quick-witted, sarcastic, impish, and puts all of those impulses to good use when he leaves his senior producer’s job temporarily to cover the Romney campaign with sheep-like Republican-leaning newscasters from rival networks on the Romney bus. He meets and gets involved with a conservative reporter named Hallie (played by Grace Gummer, Meryl Streep’s daughter). In the other captivating story, associate producer Maggie (Alison Pill) also left her desk for a field assignment, but returned from Africa much changed, and the narrative shifts between when she has blonde hair and when it’s short and dyed red.

Two other less compelling subplots involve McAvoy and his executive producer and ex-girlfriend MacKenzie (Emily Mortimer) and the attempts of economist Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) to mesh with this crew of sarcastic and self-assured journalists. Constance Zimmer is likeably abrasive as a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, as is Marcia Gay Harden playing a lawyer who grills the staff in order to prepare a defense against litigation. Rounding out the main cast are Jane Fonda as the CEO, Sam Watterson as ACN’s president, and Dev Patel and Chris Chalk as associate producers.

Like Sorkin’s other work—and that includes “The Social Network”—“The Newsroom” is mostly a drama, but so sharply written that there’s humor here too. But this is HBO, so the number of episodes is minimal. Nine are included here, with two of them focusing on Election Night.

Video:
Presented in 16×9 aspect ratio, “The Newsroom” looks as sharp as the writing, with nice edge detail for a DVD and skin tones and colors that are naturally saturated. My wife couldn’t tell that it was a DVD, so it upconverts well.

Audio:
Predictably, the featured audio is an English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and it’s full-bodied enough to where it has heft on the lower end. Dialogue is clear and crisp, and though the rear speakers aren’t called upon that often, they come to life when footsteps traverse or ambient sounds of newsroom chaos pitter-patter like white noise. Additional audio options are in French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish 2.0, with subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Korean, and Thai.

Extras:
The DVD has the same bonus features as the Blu-ray, with the exception of “instant preview” HBO pilot episodes and an HD episode recap. What’s here on this three-disc set are audio commentaries on four episodes featuring Sorkin and an assortment of actors and directors. Also included are nine pretty basic (2- to 3-minute) production featurettes that shine a light on the topic du jour and behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

Bottom line:
Famed news anchor Dan Rather has gone on record as saying that “The Newsroom” has “the potential to become a classic.” Season 2 gives it a nice push in that direction. Sharp writing, crisp pacing, and a complicated set of characters and situations make this 24-hour news cycle series more satisfying to watch than the news itself.

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