Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in the news drama series...

Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy in the news drama series "The Newsroom." Credit: AP

THE SERIES "The Newsroom"

WHEN | WHERE Second-season premiere Sunday at 10 p.m. on HBO

WHAT IT'S ABOUT The lawyers have arrived at the headquarters of the fictitious cable news network ACN. Lead attorney Rebecca Halliday (Marcia Gay Harden), who will represent ACN staffers in a wrongful termination lawsuit, has nothing particularly optimistic to offer the condemned -- not that she is a bouncy optimist by nature anyway. ACN is facing a monumental trial -- but over what, and why? And of course lead anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) must be involved in this in some way...

And then: Flashback, to the summer of 2011, with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaching; the Occupy Wall Street movement gestating; a bunch of GOP candidates squabbling; and a secret and highly volatile war on terrorism unfolding. Meanwhile, Will has some words to eat -- from last season, when he compared the tea party to "the American Taliban"; he is being censured on the House floor, while ACN chief Charlie Skinner (Sam Waterston) and "News Night" executive producer McKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) are wondering how to defuse this latest rhetorical effusion.

Also: A video has surfaced on YouTube -- of Maggie Jordan's (Alison Pill) scream de coeur at the "Sex and the City" tour bus carrying one "News Night" producer Jim Harper (John Gallagher Jr.). That particular effusion will have consequences too -- big ones.

MY SAY "The Newsroom" came into view just around this time last year (late June to be exact) and the anticipation was dangerously overheated. Written and created by Aaron Sorkin! About the news media! Jeff Daniels leading a straight-from-Broadway cast to die for, or at least plotz for.

Then came the show. In hindsight, it's easy to see what went wrong last year -- a tidal rush of words and speechifying that evoked some strange and bracing combination of "Twelve Angry Men" and screwball '40s comedies like "His Girl Friday." But it's also easy to overlook what went right -- above all that "The Newsroom," and Sorkin, obviously cared deeply about ideas, particularly as they related to the continued viability of the much-maligned TV news industry.

But what this show needed to do -- and in the first episode, absolutely has done -- is get tougher, leaner and create that sense that the "newsroom" is a real place, and not a soapbox for McAvoy (as proxy for Sorkin) to occasionally ascend. Sunday's episode is much more about process -- the manifold little things that add up to one very big thing, a nightly TV news broadcast. There's a big juicy legal hook that feels real, too, partly because it is real, evoking the infamous "Tailwind" scandal at CNN in the late '90s, when the network incorrectly reported that Sarin gas had been used during a military operation in the Vietnam War.

BOTTOM LINE Edgier, more sharply drawn, while that Sorkian chatter remains at a very high boil. Unfortunately, the second episode muddies this positive first impression, but there's a whole season ahead. Give this excellent and improved show another chance.


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