The Newsreader, season 2, review: turns 1980s Aussie politics into edge-of-seat thrills

Anna Torv as Helen Norville and Sam Reid as Dale Jennings in series two of The Newsreader
Breaking: Anna Torv as Helen Norville and Sam Reid as Dale Jennings in series two of The Newsreader - Australian Broadcasting Corporation

The Newsreader (BBC Two) was an unlikely arrival on Sunday evening primetime in 2022. In any other year it might have fetched up among the subtitled noirs and policiers on BBC Four. But Covid blocked the pipeline of homegrown content and so it was promoted. It returns without the assistance of a pandemic, and very much on merit.

A bit like Danish coalition politics, the world of a Melbourne newsroom in the 1980s shouldn’t in theory grab anyone by the lapels. In practice its localism travels because the scripts are so clever, the characters so well drawn and the performances so persuasive.

Take the first episode, set on the night of the 1987 election when News at Six, in a ratings battle with its rival, lands an interview with the-then treasurer Paul Keating. On paper, that’s a sleeping pill of a plotline, and Keating has the charisma of a sack of spuds. Yet the scene gets you on the edge of your seat. That’s quite some alchemy.

The first series tracked the rise of preppy news nerd Dale Jennings (Sam Reid), and his unlikely if rocky alliance with star newsreader Helen Norville (Anna Torv). Now they’ve become Australia’s golden couple of news, co-habiting and co-presenting. Can it possibly last?

Here in the UK we’ve had a torrid year of poring over such matters, what with Holly and Phil (and, as relevantly, Huw), meaning we probably know the answer. Along the way, each episode confronts something big: gun violence, drug addiction, Aboriginal rights, press intrusion. The skill is the way larger themes knit all too personally into the politics of the office.

Two colourful new characters are lobbed into the pot – comic Irish host Gerry Carroll (Rory Fleck Byrne) and channel owner Charlie Tate (Daniel Gillies). It’s fun watching the grizzled newsroom capo Lindsay Chamberlain (William McInnes) kowtow to money while squashing underlings. You spend all six episodes waiting for his comeuppance which, when it finally comes, is tonally perfect. Also, there’s a cameo from a young Kylie.

But it’s called The Newsreader for a reason. Ravenous story-hound Helen remains the show’s moral and magnetic core – so much so that she often occludes Reid’s Dale. After all that practice in the mirror he has honed his teleprompter voice and camera-ready neck tilt. But is there anything there when he’s not on air? The plot’s Faustian path answers that. A third series was confirmed last month, which is good news.