By Ken Tucker
July 01, 2012 at 12:00 PM EDT
Melissa Moseley/HBO
  • TV Show

Airing at the close of a week with big news stories both heavy (the Supreme Court ruling on health care) and light (Ann Curry exiting The Today Show), The Newsroom’s second episode was both timely and windbaggy, to varying degrees of entertainment. The scene that might have echoed most ringingly in your ears was the one that introduced Olivia Munn’s character, financial news reporter Sloan Sabbith. She was interrogated and cajoled by Emily Mortimer’s MacKenzie about the former’s masterful command of complex issues and wonderment that she wasn’t making more money doing what attractive women on TV do, according to Mac: Go for a glossier TV show or into the private sector. Sloan replied that she was, indeed, “offered a morning show” but turned it down because “I’m not interested in cooking.” Ding, ding, ding!: There you had it — the Ann Curry imbroglio in neat reverse.

Set in 2010, The Newsroom pivoted from the BP oil spill to Arizona’s SB 1070 act, the so-called “show me your papers” law that targets illegal immigrants. A clip of Sarah Palin being interviewed by Bill O’Reilly was shown to remind us that Sarah Palin has made some nonsensical remarks about many issues. Typical Aaron Sorkin proclamations were made: “We don’t do good television, we do the news!” “Be the moral center of this show, be the integrity!” Sorkin let those dewy-eyed young cubs Maggie and Jim do most of the heavy lifting when it came to fork-lifting the Arizona-is-overrun-by-nuts argument into the hour. This left more time for Mac and Jeff Daniels’ Will to try and achieve lift-off on some screwball-comedy repartee about their romantic past and how he didn’t want her to tell anyone about it, and she wanted everyone to know that “Will is a man with an extraordinary heart the size of a Range Rover” (is that minx setting up a very special future Will-has-a-heart-attack episode?) and that she cheated on him with her ex-boyfriend, even though it didn’t really sound that way when they laid out all the details, but who cares because the words were flying so fast, the actors were hitting the emphases so precisely, that you might have been fooled, Ricky Jay-like, into thinking you were watching a color version of His Girl Friday, if Rosalind Russell had been a ditz and Cary Grant had had a Blackberry to throw across a room.

Rush Limbaugh said on his radio show this week (I was on vacation and listening to the car radio, a rare treat: that man does clear out one’s sinuses) that The Newsroom was a fantasy for liberals, presenting recent history recast as a series of victories for “the libs,” as Limbaugh calls them. He noted that “the media has mostly panned the show,” which you’d think wouldn’t square with his usual position — that the mainstream media is always pro-liberal and wrong — until he got around to his rhetorical flourish: He wants you to ignore the critical drubbing The Newsroom has taken in various quarters and to keep watching it, because it “marginalizes” liberals into thinking “there’s a fantasy world where they have won,” and the distraction of the feel-good Newsroom will keep liberals lulled into complacency and thus less inclined to turn out and vote for President Obama’s re-election. That’s the Rush-world logic that brings him into a rare alliance with HBO.

There were two moments when The Newsroom failed me in their sheer predictability. The first was when the new e-mail system was explained confusingly to the staff and I (and you, of course) just knew that, like clockwork, someone was going to send an embarrassing e-mail to the entire corporation a half-hour later. The second was when Mac chose Sloan, whom she’d just met, to (a) be her new friend and (b) deliver the message “from person to person” (was that minx making an Edward R. Murrow allusion?) that Will is a “good guy.” I understand that both ploys were there to allow Sloan to come off as sensible and principled, but they were planted at the expense of making Emily Mortimer’s character seem even more schizo than she did during last week’s premiere.

Other than that, hey, lots of fun, right? Who didn’t enjoy hearing oily corporate guy Reese parse ratings with both Sam Waterston’s Charlie and “ratings whore” Will?

No matter how ridiculous the show can get — and it did, at the end, with the shameless shot of Will gazing at the Statue of Liberty, and the Statue of Liberty gazing back as though to say, “No, Will, you take your tired and your poor… ” — I, as they said at the end of the hour, am “in.”

Twitter: @kentucker

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