2.5 out of 5 stars

The Morning Show is one of the most disjointed and messy shows on television. The second season is even more cringe-worthy as it tries to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic as well as continues the #MeToo discussion the first season revolved around. It’s baffling how a series with such a talented and star-studded cast managed to bypass prestige drama and land in the realm of soap opera.

Season 1 of The Morning Show tastefully handed the #MeToo movement and its ripple effect on the entertainment industry. Its wrestling with workplace ethics and the complicity of those working at the fictional UBA network was compelling, but season 2 crosses the line to become outright bad; akin to watching Dynasty (1981-89) grapple with big and important cultural concerns.

Jennifer Aniston returns as Alex Levy, a calculated morning show TV anchor who’s used the toxic environment to work her way to the top. After sensationally quitting live on air, she’s now working on her autobiography. Reese Witherspoon’s plucky upstart Bradley Jackson, a role she’s clearly 20 years too old to play with any conviction, is still anchoring the show. Alex has since been replaced by Eric Nomani (Patriot Act star Hasan Minhaj), but there are more lucrative jobs on offer at the network. Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) is still in hiding after the multiple sexual misconduct allegations were made public about him. He’s written far too sympathetically on the show, not helped by casting the ever-likeable Carell, whose attempts to be mean often feel just grumpy.

The first half of the second’s dedicated to the impending coronavirus pandemic. The opening scenes where the news team celebrate 2020 feels like the start of a horror film, with everyone taking a deep breathe of relief that the year couldn’t be any worse than 2019. We all know they’re about to proven incorrect, of course. The Morning Show’s adherence to real-world events is refreshing, with reporters dismissing COVID-19 as an overreaction, sent to Wuhan like it’s a vacation jolly. It’s all worryingly realistic. Then there’s the schedule of presidential debates that anchors are scrambling to moderate, something many of us forgot even happened in 2020. You wouldn’t be unfairly judged for cringing at people being taught how to wash their hands to the tune of “Happy Birthday”. It’s a sobering reminder of how different the world was such a short time ago.

The Morning Show feels like it should be Apple TV’s answer to HBO’s Succession; a nimble mix of prestige drama and boardroom satire. The cast certainly deserves to be on a show with smarter writing than this. The uneven portrayal of pay-outs, NDAS, and racial tokenism lack any delicacy. The new addition of veteran actress Holland Taylor as a UBA board chairman only proves how bad the scripts are, as even her stern wit can’t make the behind-the-scenes drama interesting.

Julianna Margulies’s addition as snooty reporter Laura Peterson is a good idea that soon collapses. She has bad blood with Alex, as they were both bright young things pushing their way up together before their relationship soon fell apart. But this interesting dynamic about the way the industry pits women against each other, so men can stay in power, is ignored in favour of titillating lesbianism, with Peterson starting an affair with Bradley, despite them having no chemistry together.

There are too many characters yet not enough for them to do on The Morning Show. Daniel (Desean Terry) believes he’s been overlooked for being black and gay, yet that arc is abandoned. Yank (Nester Carbonell) has no emotional arc since Claire (Bel Powley) has been written out, so he’s reduced to portraying a clueless middle-aged man who has no idea what is and isn’t politically correct. Mia (Karen Pittman) and Alison (Janina Gavankar) appear to say one throwaway line about being ignored, only to be ironically be ignored by the writers of this show themselves!

Marcia Gay Harden returns as journalist Maggie Brenner, who’s writing an explosive tell-all book about The Morning Show. This has Alex on high alert, worried her relationship with Mitch will be revealed and she’ll be painted the bad guy on social media. It’s actually one of the better subplots, mainly because it’s one that continues to a conclusion and doesn’t get abandoned. The way a single interview and a Twitter hashtag can make or break a two-decade career is one of the few things The Morning Show gets right about modern celebrity culture.

The Morning Show is at its best when it’s dealing with the business of being in the media spotlight, and not whenever it’s focused on the personal lives of those involved in it. The Sorkin-esque ‘walk and talks’ down corridors, the whispers in the production room, and the pings on Apple Watches, are shot like a horror film, with impending doom just one notification bleep away. It all makes the production of live TV feel exciting, or certainly in contrast to the bedroom gossip of the lead characters.

USA | 2021 | 10 EPISODES | 2.00:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH

Cast & Crew

writers: Erica Lipez, Adam Milch, Kerry Ehrin, Torrey Speer, Kristen Layden, Brian Chamberlayne, Jeff Augustine, Ali Vingiano, Scott Troy, Stacy Osei-Kuffour & Justin Matthews.
directors: Mimi Leder, Lesli Linka Glatter, Jessica Yu, Tucker Gates, Rachel Morrison, Victoria Mahoney & Miguel Arteta.
starring: Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, Néstor Carbonell, Karen Pittmanm Desean Terry, Steve Carell, Greta Lee, Ruairi O’Connor & Julianna Margulies.