The Newsroom Just Got Good | Aaron Sorkin Perfects the Cable-News Drama in Its Second Season

TV Shows: July 10-16, 2013

Jeff Daniels in Season 2 of HBO’s The Newsroom. (photo by Melissa Moseley)

I hated the first season of The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s attempt to create a smart, fast-talking show about cable news. Sorkin’s journalism setting didn’t feel authentic, as his White House setting did in The West Wing. And Jeff Daniels made for a smug, unlikable hero as the anchor Will McAvoy.

After tinkering, however, Sorkin has finally gotten it right. The season two premiere  (Sunday, 9 p.m., HBO) drops most of the cuteness and bogus speechifying. The episode is built around a believable incident in which Will’s unflattering comment about the tea party puts his network in hot water. As if that weren’t bad enough, he has aired an erroneous story that further threatens his career.

the newsroom, emily mortimer, john gallagher jr

John Gallagher, Jr. and Emily Mortimer in Season 2 of HBO’s The Newsroom. (photo by Melissa Moseley)

The intimate relationship between Will and his executive producer, Mackenzie (Emily Mortimer), is particularly well drawn. Their conversations are densely packed with in-jokes, topical references and esoteric allusions. These two like each other so much that they can be emotionally brutal, and sometimes even physically brutal. After Will screws up on air, Mackenzie smacks him hard on the back of the head.

By the end of the episode, you feel like smacking Will, too. This season it’d be an affectionate smack, rather than an exasperated one.

The Bridge
Wednesday, 9 pm (FX)
My least-favorite cop-show device was always the terrified woman stuffed into the trunk of her kidnapper’s car. The Bridge uses that one, but it comes up with another device that’s now my new least favorite: a female murder victim cut in half on the U.S.-Mexico border, with the torso in the north and the legs in the south. It takes a sick screenwriter to come up with that image, especially as the pretext for a jurisdiction battle between a borderline autistic American cop (Diane Kruger) and an amiable Mexican one (Demián Bichir). Oh, and speaking of sick, did I mention that the two halves belong to different women?

The Bridge is a rare misfire for FX, despite being one of the summer season’s most anticipated new shows. Beneath the oh-so-trendy grotesquerie is an odd-couple premise that couldn’t be any more old-fashioned. Kruger doesn’t help maters with one of the worst dramatic performances in recent memory. Her character is stiff, self-righteous and humorless, and you have to wonder what producer thought that would be a winning combination for a TV heroine.

Being Human
Saturday, 9 pm (BBC America)
The season premiere puts the Twilight movies to shame. The BBC’s Being Human follows similar tensions among humans, vampires and werewolves, but with no trace of Twilight’s starry-eyed silliness. It achieves true pathos as a vampire, a werewolf and a ghost share a flat, each yearning to rejoin the human community. Cheeky British humor helps prevent Twilight-style sentimentality. Plus, the vampire, Hal (Damien Molony), is so suavely sexy that he makes Robert Pattinson look like Justin Bieber.

In this week’s episode, Hal tries to stay away from blood, his hands shaking like an alcoholic’s. He’s a “human sympathizer,” you see, and he feels guilty for his previous descents into bloodlust. Meanwhile, the devil himself makes an appearance, signaling chaos to come.

This dude, I’m pretty sure, is not a human sympathizer.

Whose Line Is It Anyway?
Tuesday, 7 pm (CW)

whose line is it, ryan stiles, caandice accola

Whose Line Is It Anyway? with (L-R) Ryan Stiles, Candice Accola, and Wayne Brady. (Photo by Patrick Wymore /The CW, © 2013 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved)

The improvisational comedy series has been around for years, but the season premiere feels as fresh as ever. Chalk it up to the premise: Four quick-thinking comics come up with sketches on the spot, prompted by suggestions from the audience and congenial host Aisha Tyler. In one segment, they must think of “things you can say about your lunch but not about your girlfriend.” The best line comes from Gary Anthony Williams: “These are some dryyy buns.”

Whose Line Is It Anyway is witty, smart and surprising. Those aren’t words I’m used to typing about summer reality series.

Tuesday, 9 pm (USA)

This enjoyable series channels the ruthlessness of a cutthroat corporate law firm in Manhattan. Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) is the firm’s cocky star, playing power games to win at any cost. Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) is the brilliant associate who bluffs his way through cases without a law degree.

In the third season premiere, everybody demands loyalty from everybody else. And if that loyalty is not forthcoming, terrible things are liable to happen. Harvey tries to undermine partner Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres), who simultaneously tries to undermine him. Mike tries to reconcile with Harvey, whom he has reluctantly betrayed after being blackmailed by Jessica. And believe me, betraying Harvey is a very bad thing to do for anyone concerned with self-preservation.

I feel compelled to state that under no circumstances would I ever be disloyal to Suits.