Is it possible for a fleetingly grand idea to become a reality after a major mistake threatened to destroy everything? That was part of the premise behind HBO’s third and final season of “The Newsroom,” which followed the cast still recovering from the news scandal that plagued them in the previous season. Luckily, the major difference was that the stories seemed to have a greater sense of realistic urgency that seemed to escape the previous seasons. It also helped that viewers knew this was the final season, which allowed them to prepare for the inevitable end.
“The Newsroom” followed intrepid “News Night” anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) who had his personal life in order as he basked in the glow of his engagement to his show’s executive producer MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) after he overcame his personal relationship hang-ups with her. They were eager to start their new life together as they renovated their apartment. Unfortunately, their professional life at the office wasn’t so rosy because they were still recovering from the Genoa scandal that threatened to destroy the show and the network along with it. The scandal made it hard for them to take a risk in reporting the news for fear of getting it wrong again, which is why it took them so long to report much of anything on the Boston Marathon bombing. The events also made it clear that the internet could make even the average person an online journalist where fact checking seemed to go by the wayside for the wrong reasons. Will and MacKenzie’s boss Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) was trying to support them as well as light a fire under his employees to make sure the news did get covered. With the internet becoming a larger factor in reporting the news, Neal Sampat (Dev Patel) who was in charge of what information was being garnered from the internet and discern what was credible or not. He came across a whistle-blower looking to expose a possible government conspiracy, but he also managed to commit a few felonies of his own that could put him in jail for a long time. He had to go on the run, while Will took a prison sentence by not revealing the source to protect Neal. Meanwhile, fellow reporter Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) exposed that the network was poised to be part of a hostile takeover, which led it being sold to a man trying to turn everything to a more youthful audience for reasons that didn’t fully work. Sloan tried to keep her job and maintain her new relationship with fellow news producer Don Keefer (Thomas Sadoski) as they continued to test the bounds of their relationship. Will MacKenzie be able to hold down the fort at home and at work while Will was in jail for an unknown period of time?
In terms of questions, the show’s biggest involved how it was going to wrap up some of the long running storylines. The first one involved whether Will and MacKenzie were destined for a happy ending. Sure, it seemed like a bit of a leap from the on-screen couple being at odds and now eager to walk down the altar. The leap made sense, because Aaron Sorkin wasn’t likely sure he would get a chance to properly wrap up the series and decided to give viewers some semblance of a conclusion if the show wasn’t renewed for the final season. What made the story work was that Daniels’ Will and Mortimer’s MacKenzie had a breezy chemistry that allowed them to banter no matter what story was being thrown their way for better or worse. It also helped now that the on-screen couple had a more realistic reason as to why they couldn’t be together in the form of Will’s prison sentence rather than their neurotic emotional hang-ups that kept them apart. It also helped that the show had some realistic storylines that involved how the internet’s version of the news seemed to be taking over the actual news and whether it was possible to question a too good to be true story, especially when the FBI got involved in the process. It was also nice to see Patel navigate his own credible storyline that allowed everyone to deal with the dilemma of going with the story even if it meant Neal going to prison in the process. The show’s other romantic entanglements have shown some strong improvement as well. Munn’s Sloan and Keefer’s Don excelled at being the non-traditional couple who loved each other as they tried to frighten the other in a series of emotional tests that always managed to backfire. They were a couple that investigated the possible takeover of their network and trying to cheat the rules of the buffet line. The biggest improvement involved Jim (John Gallagher, Jr.) and Maggie’s (Alison Pill) push/pull relationship that never seemed to get off the ground. That story tended to take up too much time in the past seasons, but it was wisely put on backburner until the last two episodes to give viewers a satisfactory conclusion.
As for breakout performances, Daniels, Mortimer and Waterston led the pack as their characters proved to be the driving force of some of the show’s strongest stories. Daniels’ Will proved to be the right mixture of smug, neurotic and utterly complex as he anchored the news on and off-camera. He managed to make Will both likable and the most alienating character at the same time. Daniels could make viewers feel sorry for Will before turning their feelings on a dime with a simple look or a turn of phrase that could change everything. He had chemistry with both Mortimer and Waterston, but his strongest scenes were with Patel’s Neal as he tried to be his friend rather than his boss when they both discussed Neal’s uncertain future and what needed to be done. He showcased Will’s evolution from a cruel boss who didn’t know anyone’s name to someone who would go to back for someone he cared about. Mortimer’s MacKenzie had evolved into Will’s confident equal who loved him no matter what he did, or said to her, to keep them apart. Once Mortimer managed to dial down MacKenzie’s tendency to go over-the-top in persuading Will to join her side of the argument, she captured what made Will fall in love with the character’s optimism. Waterston, on the other hand, had the challenging to make viewers overlook his iconic role on the long running “Law & Order,” which he did for the most part. It was fascinating to watch Waterston’s Charlie delivering fatherly advice to everyone in one breath before switching to a series of curse words that would make jaws drop to the floor. He made the total 180 degree change worth watching because Waterston made Charlie into Will’s conscience that allowed him to rationalize his actions rather than hide them internall. Waterston also made Charlie’s shocking demise in the fifth episode both shocking and tragic as it signaled that the show was rapidly coming to a close.
“The Newsroom” aired its series finale on December 14th at 9:00 PM on HBO. Check your listings and OnDemand for episodes from all three seasons.
Verdict: The show managed to improve upon a lot of their early flaws with a shorter number of episodes and racked up the right amount of tension along the way.
TV Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)