When I heard that the new Apple TV+ series “The Morning Show” starred Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell, I naturally assumed it was a comedy. I knew that it revolves around a morning network talk show similar to “The Today Show” or “Good Morning America“. Seeing the two of them sit behind a desk and crack jokes or perhaps a sort of ripoff of “The Office” that went behind the scenes at such a show just didn’t appeal to me.
Then I heard it was nominated for three Golden Globes in the drama category. Perhaps there was more here than I initially believed so I decided to check it out. I ended up binge watching all 10 episodes in a little over two days and at times it took my breath away. Jennifer Aniston and her costar Reese Witherspoon well deserved their Golden Globe nominations as well as the series nomination for best TV drama. Aniston, Carell, and Billy Crudup have also received Screen Actors Guild nominations.
Late Update: Aniston won the SAG award for Female Actor in a Drama Series.
There will be very minor spoilers ahead but I don’t believe it will ruin the show for you. If you are worried about spoilers just watch this show because it gets my highest recommendation.
Aniston plays Alex Levy and Carell plays Mitch Kessler. They are the anchors of a network morning news talk show called “The Morning Show” or TMS for short. In the opening episode it is announced that Kessler has been fired for sexual misconduct paralleling the true life story of Matt Lauer being fired from “The Today Show”. Note however that this is not at all intended to be a thinly disguised telling of that story. It is very much complete fiction.
Initially there is a scramble by the network to decide how to deal with this disturbing situation. Aniston’s portrayal of Alex is exceptional as she tries to express sensitivity towards the accusers, outrage towards Mitch, and her own personal hurt that such a thing could happen to someone who is her friend and with whom she has had a great working relationship for 15 years.
In the next few episodes Alex is in a fight with the network to keep her job and to try to have a say in who will be her replacement cohost.
Along the way she happens to interview Bradley Jackson portrayed by Reese Witherspoon. She is a local TV reporter that has a slightly embarrassing viral video moment where she gets into a shouting match with a protester at a coal mine. The network tries to intimidate Alex by hinting that she could be replaced by someone like Bradley Jackson at the drop of a hat. Alex reverses the tactics by publicly announcing that Bradley Jackson will be her new cohost starting Monday morning. Of course neither the network nor Bradley herself have any idea that this is going to happen. Rather than fire Alex for making an unapproved announcement, they decide to roll with it thinking that if it fails they can blame her. Although Bradley realizes she’s a pawn in a big chess game she goes ahead and takes the job.
While all of this politics of network TV makes for fairly interesting drama, the real story is the #MeToo issues about the firing of Mitch Kessler. Throughout the 10 episodes, we the viewers ride a roller coaster of emotions in regard to his character. He insists that although he had affairs with coworkers, everything was 100% consensual and that he doesn’t deserve to have his career ruined or to be lumped in with sexual predators the likes of Cosby and Weinstein. You can’t help but believe him that in some ways he is a victim of these accusations.
Along the way as he’s trying to fight for his reputation, he reaches out to a friend who is a filmmaker whose career has been similarly ruined by #MeToo allegations. This part is brilliantly played dramatically by Martin Short. But they are not far into the conversation where Mitch is trying to say “We aren’t like Weinstein or the other perverts out there” when he begins to discover that his friend really is a sexual predator. The contrast between Mitch and his predatory friend makes you more still sympathetic for him.
However in later episodes as we hear the other side of the story from his accusers, we get a different perspective of the whole thing. You begin to see in a very dramatic way that although Mitch can accurately say that everything was “consensual”, the power dynamic of the situation puts him in a much more negative light. You begin to feel deeply for his accusers. Although not the same kind of despicable sexual predator as the Short character or other Weinstein types, Mitch is not at all an innocent victim in the situation.
Bradley Jackson is a fascinating character as well being thrust into a national limelight overnight and basically being in over her head. Yet when presented with the opportunities to investigate the story deeper and perhaps uncover how the network brass had long known about and covered up Mitch’s affairs she has to run with the story. She ends up in a sort of conspiracy to overthrow the network president with the help of the head of the news division played by Billy Crudup. Also is the noteworthy performance of Mark Duplass as the show’s producer who assists in this network coup when he realizes that he is going to be the fall guy for allowing Mitch’s behavior to continue unchecked.
A brief aside for a moment… When looking up Mark Duplass on IMDb.com I came across this video interview in which he reveals that originally “The Morning Show” was supposed to be a quirky fast-paced comedy… the show that I didn’t want to see. But then they realized they could do something significant with #MeToo and they completely scrapped their original scripts and rewrote the show. Many of the episodes were written just in time to be filmed. I still find it amazing that shows like this and “The Watchmen” can be written on the fly like this.
Aniston has many outstanding dramatic performances throughout the series but the most touching revolve around the subplot of Alex’s family life. She has been separated from her husband and he asked for a divorce. Naturally the publicity people are worried that the public will think it’s related to Mitch’s departure when in fact it’s not. Her concerns about the effects of the divorce on their teenage daughter are also quite dramatic and well portrayed by Aniston.
At times this series is reminiscent of the Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom” which ran on HBO for three seasons from 2012-2014. This is especially true in the flashback episode where they go to Las Vegas to cover the mass shooting that occurred there. We also go on location to cover California wildfires.
The writing is superb. The performances by Aniston, Witherspoon, and Carell are all top-notch. Although there are a few funny moments it is mostly breathtaking drama throughout. It is very much the single most thought-provoking TV series I’ve seen in a long time. In a recent review of Netflix’s “The Messiah” I described it as the most thought-provoking show I had seen in some time but this one clearly eclipsed it.
On a variety of talkshows and news programs ever since the wave of allegations that launched the #MeToo movement, pundits have been saying “We need to have a national conversation on this topic.” As far as I’m concerned, these 10 hours of dramatic television are an excellent attempt to have that conversation. You really get an in-depth and personal look at the issues from all sides. Anyone who has any interest in understanding #MeToo or anything concerning sexual dynamics in the workplace absolutely must see this program.
In fact anyone who enjoys good dramatic television should consider watching this. I’m giving it my highest rating of “Must-See“.
I previously had high praises for 2 other Apple TV+ series “See” and “For All Mankind” and even said that the latter was almost worth subscribing to Apple TV+ on its own. But those both are fantasy or sci-fi genre shows that might not appeal to a wide audience. This however is an important TV series that needs to be widely viewed.
I got my subscription to Apple TV+ because I recently purchased a new iPhone and iPad. There is a seven day free trial which should be enough that you could watch the show if you set aside time to binge 10 episodes at about an hour each. The subscription is $4.99 per month which is very cheap compared to other services but note that their catalog is quite small containing only original programming. They’ve announced no intent to license outside TV shows or films that are not exclusive to their service.
The bottom line is you should sign up and binge this. It’s well worth $4.99 if you can’t get it all watched during the seven-day free trial. And if you have time check out some of the other series from this service. Links to my reviews below.