Newsroom16Critics saw the first four episodes of "The Newsroom" before weighing in with their mostly negative assessments (including my own), so Sunday's installment marked the first one I was seeing at the same time as the public.

That seemed like as good a reason as any to revisit Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama, which has already inspired more spilling of ink and hand-wringing than virtually any show since, well, HBO's "Girls."

Perhaps I'm getting soft, or grading on a curve, but I did find more to like in this episode, which offset (partially) some of the excesses that appear destined to remain a hallmark of the series. (Spoiler alert if you haven't watched and still intend to.)

Newsroom03Yes, Sorkin is still obsessed with the Koch brothers — those billionaire GOP financiers — as well as Rush Limbaugh, who is again made to look like an asshole. In this case, he didn't need much help, as Sorkin recycles a moment where the radio blowhard essentially took joy in journalists working in Egypt being rounded up and jailed. Whatever your politics, flashing back to near-historical events still feels like a kind of brazen score-settling, and even some of the media beats (a sleazy website called TMI) might be a little too cute for their own good.

That said, there was also quite a lot to like in the episode, including Jeff Daniels' continued fine work, the depiction of morning-show hosts as airheaded nincompoops, and a riff on the movie "Rudy" that I could see putting a lump in the throat of someone who isn't a complete cynic.

HBO has already renewed the show (a virtual formality, given the pickups for series like "Luck," before it imploded, and "Enlightened"), so Sorkin will have time to potentially find his groove. A big part of that might be to simply catch up to the present, and dispense with the "I know all the answers because we all took the test last year" template.

To use an analogy Sorkin can surely appreciate, his off-speed stuff still has more zip than a lot of writers. While "The Newsroom" is never likely to approximate his fastball, with Sunday's hour he at least looked as if he has a better idea where the strike zone is.

 

 

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more