The most damning thing I can say about The Morning Show, the star-studded drama that is part of Apple TV+’s big launch this Friday, is that it’s fine. Reminiscent of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with its frenetic take on putting on live television, the show is like an old-school network drama—which again is perfectly fine, but not exactly what one would hope for when discussing the crown jewel of the streaming launch.
Originally announced two years ago, there’s probably no way this long-gestating project could live up to the perceived hype, but in this case mediocrity is the soul of disappointment.
But let’s back up. Clearly inspired by Matt Lauer’s firing and allegations of sexual misconduct (which also broke two years ago in November of 2017), The Morning Show follows popular morning show co-hosts Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Mitch (Steve Carell). They’ve worked together for 15 years amid declining ratings for their network UBA. As the show begins, Mitch is fired for his behavior and, with only a few hours notice, Alex must go on air and address the situation. “You are part of this family and we will get through this together,” she says at the top of the hour.
Meanwhile, feisty whippersnapper Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) is biding her time as a reporter for a conservative local affiliate in West Virginia. Her job prospects are stagnated by her uncontrollable temper, but Bradley’s career begins to change when one of her politically-tinged outbursts is videotaped and goes viral.
Let’s pause to talk about where you could make a drinking game out of The Morning Show. First, there are a lot of shots and usage of iPhones. In the opening sequence, the iPhone is practically another character. Yes people use their phones all the time. And yes many, many people have an iPhone. But still, the constant pan of the camera towards the iPhone was a bit much. It’s a heavy-handed product placement.
More concerning is the constant use of the word “fuck” or some variation thereof. I don’t mean this in a prudish way but its use here, practically every other word, is distracting. Also its constant use means all the characters talk pretty much the same way which is rather boring. If you took a drink every time a character said “fuck,” you would be wasted 15 minutes into the premiere. There’s a lesson most streaming networks have yet to learn—just because you can use profanity doesn’t mean you have to.
The other thing that is prickly is the show seems to be trying to thread the needle on the spectrum of horrific behavior brought to light by the #MeToo movement. Mitch is convinced that he didn’t do anything wrong because he had extramarital affairs but, as he’s way too fond of announcing, he “didn’t rape anyone.” To Mitch there was the first wave of the movement where the rapists and sexual predators were outed, and now there’s a second wave that he’s caught up in and it’s not fair. Even if this is just the way one character thinks, where there’s some sort of sliding scale of sexual aggression and misconduct, it’s an unsettling hypothesis to put forward. I honestly couldn’t tell if the show believes the way Mitch thinks is abhorrent or if it’s trying to spark some sort of conversation among viewers. “There’s nothing sexy about consent,” one of Mitch’s friends (Martin Short) says to him and Mitch is duly horrified. But he still whines, “This is Weinstein’s fault!” Carell is a great actor who can bring a lot of nuance to Mitch’s outbursts and perceived victimization, but still there’s something unsettling about the direction the show seems to be going in here.
As previously mentioned The Morning Show is chock-full of big names and they all do a fine job. It’s great to have Aniston back on a TV series. Billy Crudup oozes smarm as UBA news division president Cory Ellison. The real problem is that three episodes in (all that were made available for critics), I don’t have a clear idea of who these characters really are. They do a lot of telling us who they are without really showing us. The writing fails to make anyone distinct. Witherspoon leans into her Southern roots to give Bradley a twang and we know she’s got an anger management issue, a drug-addicted brother, and mom who is hard to please, because that’s what we’re told. Alex has an estranged husband (Jack Davenport) and a daughter in boarding school, and she feels as if she’s given up her life to be America’s sweetheart. We know this because she says it in a big speech.
Feeling betrayed by Mitch and The Morning Show executive producer Chip (Mark Duplass), who kept the HR investigation into Mitch from her, and outraged/fearful that her contract negotiations are lagging and that UBA won’t give her “co-host approval” (the one thing she desperately wants), Alex blindsides everyone by spontaneously announcing Bradley as her co-host, leaving the network and the show scrambling.
It’s a power move. When chastised by the network president, she seethes, “You’re not listening. I don’t need to justify anything. You all are so convinced that you are the rightful owner of all of the power that it doesn’t even occur to you that someone else could be in the driver’s seat.” It’s a great line but one that doesn’t necessarily tie to what came before or after it.
Apple has made itself almost indispensable in our daily lives. The company did this by coming up with new innovative products that we didn’t even know we needed, but quickly realized we couldn’t live without. The Morning Show is a fine drama. But when launching a streaming platform you expect people to pay for, you need more than fine. You need to break the mold and give us a TV show we didn’t even know we needed but cannot live without. The Morning Show is not that.
The Morning Show premieres November 1st on AppleTV+.
Check out our reviews of the rest of Apple TV+’s inaugural programs below:
For All Mankind
The Elephant Queen
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. 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).