Like Bradley Jackson, the spitfire reporter played by Reese Witherspoon on The Morning Show, I’m here to ask the hard-hitting, tough journalistic questions.
So I must ask: Is it possible that, in its second season, the AppleTV+ series is trolling us with its messiness? I submit to you the following evidence:
(1) A major plot point/recurring gag is that UBA, the fictional network the show is set in, is launching a new streaming service called, you guessed it, UBA+. “Another streaming service, they should be illegal,” one character quips while UBA’s network president Cory (Billy Crudup) admits that “the world is mad about” the launch. It seemed very much like they are channeling the admittedly irrational anger we all felt towards Quibi last year.
(2) Was anyone out their clamoring for The Morning Show’s perspective on the coronavirus pandemic? I didn’t think so. Yet here we are. The drama loves to highlight how naïve we all were in ignoring the early signs of the pandemic. Daniel Henderson (Desean K. Terry) who hosts the network’s popular pop-culture show called The Twist thinks they should be covering it, but everyone thinks he is making a big deal about nothing. “If a person gets coronavirus 5,000 miles away, does it make a sound?” snarks weatherman Yanko Flores (Nestor Carbonell).
(3) The list of what I’m not allowed to discuss is long, but suffice to say the second season puts two characters together romantically in what clearly seems to be a transparent (desperate?) move to get people talking… but it’s more like something that would have gotten people talking two decades ago.
(4) Apple TV+ has embargoed any reviews of the show until the day the show premieres, which doesn’t exactly scream “we are super confident in our product!”
But let’s back up.
The first season of what was supposed to be the crown jewel of Apple TV+ (that honor actually belongs to Ted Lasso) ended way back in December of 2019, a.k.a. the Before Times. The show was fine, often teetering on the line of so-bad-it’s-good with its grandiose speeches and very big stars. The first season centered around Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell), the popular co-anchor of the UBA network’s morning news program being fired from his job because of his history of sexual harassment and abuse. Reeling from his sudden ousting, his friend and former co-anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) is paired with conservative local news anchor Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) who finds herself in the big leagues after one of her local reports goes viral. In the first season finale, talent booker Hannah Schoenfeld (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), one of Mitch’s victims, dies from an overdose. This tragedy spurs Alex and Bradley to expose UBA’s institutional history of harassment and misogyny—and specifically Mitch and UBA president Fred Micklen (Tom Irwin)—on air. (In a prescient plot point, Bradley is reporting on 5,000 people quarantining on a cruise ship because of a mysterious virus when Alex goes rogue.)
The second season premiere picks up immediately after that explosive moment and… well, Apple TV+ has expressly forbidden me to tell you much of what happens next, which to be honest makes it difficult to talk about the show. What can I discuss? The second season is set in early 2020 before the pandemic shutdown and with the presidential election as its backdrop. Reese Witherspoon is back to being blond. Jennifer Aniston looks like she just stepped out of one of her Aveeno commercials. (You could put 2021 Jennifer Aniston into a 1995 episode of Friends and I don’t think anyone would notice. It makes me want to purchase every skin care regimen Aveeno offers.)
Part of the fun of The Morning Show is just waiting for the next famous face to show up. Look, there’s Will Arnett as Alex’s smarmy agent. Oh, Mindy Kaling is back as rival network anchor Audra. Marcia Gay Harden returns as Maggie Brenner who is writing an explosive, behind-the-scenes, tell-all book about The Morning Show, which has Alex on high alert. There are also a host of new characters: Hasan Minhaj, star of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj , guest stars as Eric Nomani, who joins The Morning Show team. Julianna Margulies has a major story arc as Laura Petersen, a UBA news anchor tasked with interviewing both Alex and Bradley. Greta Lee’s Stella Bak is now UBA’s new head of the news department; she is no-nonsense and not fond of faux enthusiasm or people dismissing her because she’s only 33. “I want to build things. But I can’t build them if the ground isn’t level,” she tells Cory.
What’s really strange is that the first two episodes of the season are spent pretty much rebuilding everything the show tore apart in the first season finale. It also oddly spends a lot of time on Mitch’s character, now enjoying his $119.2 million dollar settlement in… again, AppleTV+ doesn’t want me to tell you where. Carrell is a great actor. But I’m not sure we needed any more of Mitch’s story. Truly. And, as with the inaugural season, I’m perplexed by what point the series is trying to make with Mitch’s character. Are we supposed to feel sympathy for him? In the new episodes, Mitch befriends documentary filmmaker Paola Lambruschini (Valeria Golino) in a storyline that really just made me want to hit the fast forward button.
If the first season was about the Me Too movement, the second season is about… well, I’m not sure really. The show says so much without saying anything at all. Characters are prone to big dramatic speeches and even bigger, more dramatic fights. Everyone is mad at everyone else 99% of the time. No social issue goes unturned (cancel culture, racism, COVID—the series ticks through the all without ever making a point). The show continues to have the vibe of a network drama that would have been controversial in, say, 2003. The things The Morning Show thinks it is being groundbreaking about aren’t groundbreaking at all. It just has a very false sense of self-importance. A character actually utters the line, “This is for the soul of the universe.”
During one of their many, many fights Alex yells at Bradley, “You know, there are people with real problems.” I’m inclined to agree.
The Morning Show premieres Friday, September 17th on Apple TV+, with new episodes released weekly.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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