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Picks and Pans Main: TV

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The Newsroom

HBO, Sundays, 10 p.m. ET/PT |

DRAMA

I have good news and bad news—but the bad news is mostly old news, so it counts a lot less. In season 2, writer-creator Aaron Sorkin’s yakety drama about TV anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is much stronger and more solidly entertaining. The main cause for improvement is a simple narrative device: Sorkin sets the season’s real and imagined events (including Occupy Wall Street) within the framework of a big lawsuit brought against Will and his team. It’s the same trick Sorkin used so effectively in his Oscar-winning Social Network screenplay: He can make even a deposition-prep meeting crackle with resentment and suspicion, and here he has Marcia Gay Harden as lead attorney Rebecca Halliday. She controls the conference room with the assured but bruising power of a dominatrix. Beyond that, Sorkin has dug deeper into his characters, making it easier for a viewer to tolerate (I didn’t say forgive) the rich, butter-crumb dialogue and a tendency toward neurotic cuteness—as if these news pros had been mentored by Charlie Brown. Associate producer Maggie Jordan (Alison Pill) has often been insufferable, a sort of type A pixie, but this time she goes after a major story and stumbles into tragedy. Her near-breakdown is, as journalists say, powerful stuff.

Breaking Pointe

CW, July 22, 9 p.m. ET/PT

REALITY

Breaking Pointe, starting its second season, is an absorbing reality show about the backstage lives of young dancers with the Ballet West company in Salt Lake City. The scenes dealing with their romances feel a bit formulaic, but the details of the casting and mounting of a new production (in this case, Cinderella) have a nice, soft-spoken tension. It’s sort of like Smash with mirrors, a barre and no belters.

COMMENTS? WRITE TO TOM: tomsreviews@peoplemag.com