07/18/2013 12:59 pm ET Updated Sep 17, 2013

Hearthrobs and Heart Breakers: John Gallagher, Jr. in Short Term 12, The Cheshire Murders on HBO

Mason, as played by The Newsroom's John Gallagher, Jr. does not scream sexy when we first see him in the new film Short Term 12. Recounting an incident involving a runaway from the facility for difficult teens where he works, he describes a moment of taco tummy, when his body fluids give out all over his shorts and sneakers. Eeew, TMI, you think, thanks for sharing, but as this movie progresses and you see his dedication to helping his charges extends to anything that will reign in their impulse to act out, he becomes more and more appealing. A foster child himself, lucky to have landed in a loving family, Mason especially adores his girlfriend Grace (Brie Larson), the soul of this movie.

Writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton wrote the script from his experience working in such a facility; he's not shy in exposing the extreme nature of his characters. Grace is entirely loving one minute, and full of rage the next, smashing objects wishing they were heads. At dinner at Circo, Brie Larson said she was cast because the director liked the chameleon aspect of her acting. She could change on a dime. But Mason's tenderness and compassion for Grace sets a new bar: the heartthrob for a new age, Gallagher said that in portraying Mason, he kept thinking about how to become better, following this character's example. Against the background of severely abused teens, their love story becomes the through line. You want them to stay together, if only because their love spills such healing on the children around them.

Many television personalities joined director Cretton and actors Gallagher, Larson and Keith Stanfield who plays a severely hurt young man, among them Meredith Vieira, Felicia Taylor, Jill Martin, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, Allison Williams and publisher Mort Zuckerman. Brian Williams, co-hosting with his wife Jane, introduced the film, foregoing his deadpan, a delivery reserved, he said wink wink, for family and friends who understand his kind of humor. But the humor was soon muted by a discourse led by Dr. Harold Kopelwicz, a panel assembled by Peggy Siegal, about the issue of abused children. You want to go after those villains who took the light out of their eyes.

As if illustrating the point in extreme real terms, the following night, HBO screened their new documentary The Cheshire Murders--to air Monday night-- about the famous heinous crime, a house invasion in a leafy upscale Connecticut town, where the father, Dr. William Petit, was severely beaten, his wife and two daughters raped and murdered, the house set on fire. While the media tended to see this true-life story in black and white, horrendous evil perpetrated on angelic good, filmmakers Kate Davis and David Heilbroner, peeled back the story to show the murderers, Joshua Komisarjevsky and Steven Hayes as ne'er-do-wells, products of Dickensian childhoods, including in the case of Komisarjevsky, sexual abuse, religious exorcisms and speaking tongues. While showing the trial as an attempt to mete justice, the film also raises questions about police protocol and the efficacy of the death penalty in such a case. In the big picture, you have to wonder how children can survive unprotected childhoods without serious irreversible damage to their psyches, and, left unchecked, to the world around them.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.