The Morning Show, Apple TV+’s sloppy, star-studded morning news drama, whose second season debuted this autumn, is a very vocal experience for me, with the path from idea to execution being so rough and the decisions so haphazard that each episode provokes many guffaws. Daniel Henderson, co-anchor of the fictitious Morning Show on the fictional UBA network, is quarantining in Beijing after being exposed to a new coronavirus in January 2020.
On-air, he explains “social distancing” to fake-happy anchor Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon, minus awful first-season brown wig), who asks, “What?” For a long time, I’ve felt that my family has been’social distancing.'”
My skull ached from rolling my eyes so hard. The Morning Show has been an interesting misfire since its debut in September 2019, buoyed and dulled by its interest in current events.
In the first season, the show’s handling of the #MeToo movement at what appeared to be a lightly fictionalized NBC was bumbling, opaque, and perhaps unforgivable – in the season finale, the suicide of producer Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who was struggling years after she was pressured into sex by star anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), was at best mishandled, at worst exploited for shock, was at However, just seeing a program try to grapple with the tangle of professional ethics and cultures of complicity was engrossing. None of the characters did a good job of handling such discussions, but at least they tried.
The second season’s strict commitment to a well-documented, horrific, and still-unbelievable pandemic chronology is particularly risky. Is it necessary to revisit the lexicon’s introduction of “social distancing”?
Yet I find myself unable to turn away, the discomfort of a program so close to our recent reality, combined with the excitement of high-budget soap shenanigans, a heady, unsettling combination. “There’s a thin line between bad and good-bad,” Alison Herman of the Ringer wrote, “but once a show crosses it, there’s nothing left to do but go all in.”
The Morning Show is not the prestigious tentpole drama it aspired to be halfway through its second season, but it may be the most fascinating shambles on television.
It’s difficult to recall now, but its autumn 2019 debut was drenched in anticipation: a high-wattage program about a TV show, a loosely inspired adaptation of a novel about morning show drama set in the #MeToo era, Apple TV+’s flagship offering with a full premium budget. Critics were mixed, but there were several reasons to watch: it was Jennifer Aniston’s most compelling performance in years; Billy Crudup was irresistible as an amoral, kinetic media executive whose relish for drama (“chaos is the new cocaine!”) bordered on camp; and it was Jennifer Aniston’s most compelling performance in years.
The Morning Show provided dramatized access to the boardrooms and levers of power that most Americans would never see, similar to HBO’s much nimbler, serrated portrayal of cruel media executives, Succession.
The execution, on the other hand, was ludicrously unequal. Crudup; and a scene-chewing Witherspoon, portraying a spunky upstart apparently scripted for a 25-year-old, appeared to be performing in totally different productions.
Baffling left-field narrative choices, out-of-character actions, and a confused, unnecessary emphasis on Mitch Kessler’s emotional journey stymied the film’s attempts at poignancy.
It’s not that The Morning Show has improved or even found its stride in season two – far from it. As Ted Lasso has eased the weight of anchoring Apple TV+’s success, it’s only grown larger and soapier, with big-name additions (Holland Taylor as the UBA board chairman, Julianna Margulies as an ex-daytime anchor and Bradley’s love interest).
It has continued to attack sensitive issues with the subtlety of a hammer, such as coverups, payments, NDAs, the privilege of corporate success above safety, and racial tokenism in the workplace.
This includes its foreshadowing of the pandemic disaster. In early 2020, the first part of the second season will air. The Morning Show’s chronology is almost identical to ours, even down to the early explainers of the new coronavirus in Wuhan and the presidential debate schedule that its anchors are rushing to moderate.
It’s a bit uncomfortable to be loyal to a thoroughly recorded and hyper-specific current chronology for a show about a program that narrativizes the news, in part because it stars Jennifer Aniston, who will be recognized by nearly everyone in 2020.
It’s mostly just disturbing. The thin veneer of fiction on early 2020 – concerns about not covering the virus sufficiently in January, Mitch Kessler’s ill-conceived redemption arc stuck in quarantine in Italy, primary mentions of Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete – is unsettling, like drinking a flat soda or reading a forgotten email from 2019.
Despite this, there’s something attractive, or at least familiar, about the turbulence. Though there’s an inherent discomfort in side-swiping such a tiresome communal rupture, it’s at least amusing to watch it not be shoehorned into something logical or intentional.
The Morning Show is absurd, perhaps more so than it intends to be, but so is the reality it tries to portray.