There’s something decidedly un-fun about reliving the beginnings of a pandemic we’re very much still in, yet the Apple TV+ drama dives headfirst into it all the same
From its earliest days in development, The Morning Show (Apple TV+) has made more headlines for its behind-the-scenes drama than anything it’s done on-screen.
One of the most expensive shows ever made – stars Jennifer Aniston en Reese Witherspoon alone reportedly earn $2m an episode – it explores the inner workings of a daytime news programme anchored by a troubled veteran (Aniston) and an erratic newbie (Witherspoon). The patchy first season was extensively retooled mid-production, swapping showrunners and reworking scripts in the wake of #MeToo. By riffing on the demise of disgraced US TV personality Matt Lauer, who was accused by multiple women of misconduct including sexual harassment and rape, The Morning Show was automatically in reactive mode. It was uncertain about what it was actually saying about power, sexual abuse and the entertainment industry, but – pfft – was going to dramatise it all anyway. Twee jaar later, and somewhat unbelievably, the exact same thing has happened again.
Four weeks into production, The Morning Show’s second season was shut down by Covid-19, leading the show’s writers to overhaul much of their material and write the pandemic into the series. The result is a 10-episode season set entirely between December 2019 and March 2020, awash in unsubtle asides (“Jesus, 2019 sucked!” a character remarks in episode one, because har har har) and difficult to enjoy. Over the course of the season – which is dropping weekly on Apple TV+ – it never entirely justifies its decision to open with dystopian shots of an empty New York and then leap back a few months in time. There’s also something decidedly un-fun about reliving the beginnings of a pandemic we’re very much still in. It never feels cathartic, useful or especially interesting, yet The Morning Show dives headfirst into it all the same.
Season two picks up a few months after Alex (Aniston) and Bradley (Witherspoon) exposed their network, UBA, for fostering and deliberately ignoring a culture of toxicity, harassment and bullying. Alex has vanished in the aftermath, quitting UBA and taking up residence in a snow-covered shack to write her memoirs. Bradley, intussen, is still at the titular daytime news show but eager to move to primetime. Unbeknownst to her, egter, the executives are determined to woo Alex back as her co-anchor, despite the pair’s slightly chequered history.
Much like season one, The Morning Show’s second year takes a while to get going. Its first episode basks in some of the show’s worst impulses, characters speaking in overwritten monologues and Witherspoon struggling to play a character who swears and shouts a lot but still doesn’t feel real. Later episodes, wel, feel smoother, as if the show has made an attempt to improve on its earlier mistakes.
Its exhaustingly large cast has been trimmed down (bye, Bel Powley and Jack Davenport!), there are more episodes focusing on just one or two characters at a time, and even Witherspoon’s distracting first-season wig has been dispensed of. The show is using Aniston to her fullest, ook. After a few early stumbles last season, she is now doing career-best work, playing Alex as a brittle, directionless woman both trapped by her past and wildly insecure about her future. In a show that so often seems unsure of what it’s doing – or why it’s doing it – Aniston is its only area of consistency.
Two seasons in, wel, The Morning Show is still something of a luxurious mess. It’s stronger when its characters guide the narrative – even Bradley becoming more textured as the season goes on – but feels trapped by its own fixation on real-world relevance, or plundering recent headlines for story ideas. The writing isn’t good enough for much of that to work, óf. At its worst, it’s less like a show with anything interesting to say about the media and how we consume it, and more a lazy bulletin board of hot-button topics come to life. Uiteindelik, you leave every episode wishing The Morning Show was just a little bit better than it is.