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Thursday, 23 September 2021

REVIEW: Was Apple TV's The Morning Show not given a fair shot?

 When streaming service Apple TV+ was first announced in March 2019, one of the most exciting projects teased was drama The Morning Show, with huge names such as Jennifer Aniston, Reece Witherspoon and Steve Carell at the helm. The series would follow a breakfast news show on a popular American TV network, and the repercussions of a sexual misconduct scandal involving one of their hosts. As Alex (Aniston) is left in the lurch by the firing of long time TV husband Mitch (Carell), Witherspoon plays Bradley Jackson, a plucky reporter, who is chosen by Alex as his replacement, in a bid to retain control over her own show. 

Despite the all-star cast, The Morning Show was somewhat of a sleeper hit, perhaps because it was difficult to encourage audiences to subscribe to yet another streaming service, especially as Apple TV+ only had a small selection of original programming at the beginning (although the phenomenon that is Ted Lasso has made sure this is no longer an issue). And when the reviews came in, they were mixed, to say the least. The Morning Show was seen as tonally confusing and narratively flawed, with only surface level dealings with serious issues such as the #MeToo movement. However, amongst the less than positive response, some reviewers were urging their readers to watch until the end… and they were proved right, as, by the close of the season, the show was receiving both popular and critical acclaim.

 The show undoubtedly became a much more exciting prospect in those final few episodes, but I believe the entire series was purposely building to that explosive conclusion. A series of flashbacks revealed that shunned host Mitch (Steve Carell) wasn’t just a work colleague who behaved inappropriately, but a sexual predator who had used his power to silence his victims. The season 1 finale was one of my favourite single episodes of a TV show, I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. The death of Hannah, the head booker who was sexually assaulted by Mitch back in 2017, was shocking and upsetting, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw’s performance was exceptional. Plus, the infamous ending to the season, where Alex and Bradley hijacked the show to expose the wrongdoings of their own network and of CEO Fred Mickland, was incredibly compelling.

Fast forward to season 2, and after showing the immediate aftermath of Alex and Bradley’s takeover, The Morning Show has moved on eight months and so have all the characters. Alex sensationally quit the show and is now seen living in an isolated cabin in Maine, finishing her tell-all memoir – that conveniently leaves out any mention of her former colleague Mitch. Meanwhile, Bradley is still hosting ‘The Morning Show’, but still searching for the autonomy within the role that she was promised, and former producer Chip is now working at a local news station, seemingly happier than at the conclusion of season 1.

It has been a while since I saw the first season of The Morning Show, but it took very little time for me to become hooked once again. It always feels exciting to watch, and the writers have managed to make season 2 feel fresh and different by initially distancing some of the central characters. For example, bar the opening minutes, Alex and Bradley had no scenes together in this first episode. But before long, new CEO Cory (Billy Crudup) has managed to coax Alex back to the show, so we look forward to the return of the intriguing dynamic between Aniston and Witherspoon – one which is far removed from the Green sisters of Friends two decades ago.

For me, the star of this show is and always has been Jennifer Aniston, whose performance as Alex Levy is so brilliant that it makes me angry she was typecast in one-note romcoms for many years. Levy is anything but one note; her cold stoicism is frequently undermined by her immense guilt surrounding her complicity in the Mitch scandal, despite her position of power, and Aniston performs these nuances wonderfully. Another highlight is Billy Crudup, who manages to steal every scene he is in, and is still just as brilliant as the charismatic and crafty Cory.

During the opening episode, The Morning Show probably tries too hard to remind us that it is December 2019, most likely because they want the audience to recognise that COVID-19 is on the horizon. Ironically, one of the producers on ‘The Morning Show’, whilst weighing in on potential stories for the next day’s show, ignores what is the very beginnings of the pandemic. The episode also ends with someone sneezing in the background, which I also found a bit too overt but which may foreshadow the role that COVID-19 will play in this series. After the pandemic halted filming on season 2, episodes were rewritten in order to keep the show relevant. But will this strengthen or weaken the series as a whole? I’m not sure. I highly doubt The Morning Show will provide a new take on the pandemic, and therefore it has the potential to be an unwelcome reminder of what we’ve all experienced over the last couple of years. However, I think it could be an interesting twist for the show. Despite being involved in the reporting of world news, the characters are all self-absorbed to some extent (which was clearly the show’s intention). So, what happens when a deadly virus comes along, making the backstabbing and in-fighting seem insignificant in comparison? It will be interesting to see how the pandemic will impact the existing storylines, as well as the overall dynamic of the show.

I can’t wait to see how season 2 of The Morning Show will unfold. It’s incredibly watchable and entertaining, even if it ends up being style over substance at times. Yes, it’s over the top and melodramatic but there’s always a reason for it. For example, the cheesy New Years’ themed musical number, performed by Bradley and co-anchor Eric, beautifully juxtaposed the breaking news report on a rival network that another of UBA’s anchors had been accused of emotional abuse in the workplace - demonstrating the network’s desperate and perhaps futile attempts to paint over the deep cracks in their organisation.

 There is also lots more to look forward to: whilst Steve Carell didn’t appear in this opening episode, he will be featuring in the second season, and ER’s Julianna Margulies will be joining the cast as a renowned journalist and new mentor figure for Bradley. Maybe, just maybe, The Morning Show is building to something special once again.

               The Morning Show is streaming weekly on Fridays on Apple TV+

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