This review contains spoilers for The Morning Show season one.
There’s an innate problem with bolting fiction onto recent, real-life events. The fantasy and the reality both suffer in their competition with each other. Perhaps that’s one reason why Aaron Sorkin’s enjoyable series The Newsroom never reached the presidential quality of The West Wing.
The same faults squirm in the veins of The Morning Show, which in season two steps over that portentous threshold to the dreadful year of 2020. This close-to-home method of storytelling – more pungent in season two than the comparably brilliant season one – jumps into a structure that feels semi-improvised.
You can imagine the writers sweating, heads in their hands: straining to wrap their characters’ storylines around (you guessed it!) Covid-19. At a time when plenty of us are still trying to process that year, the efforts are commendable. And despite the difficulty with which its glossy fictions weave around the devastating truths, there are few mainstream series more daring than The Morning Show. It enters those tangible places and explores them with fascinating precision and morally confusing nuance.
Reese Witherspoon as Bradley Jackson. Photo: Apple
Season two picks up from the aftermath of the season one finale. Co-anchors of The Morning Show Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) publicly announced that TMS's company UBA was responsible for systemic sexual abuse and a toxic work environment. The chief perpetrator was the disgraced former anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), the centre of an intense #MeToo scandal.
Alex has now quit the show, and Bradley manages mostly on her own. Where this could've led to a more confrontational era for TMS, Bradley instead sheds her thick skin and dyes her hair blonde. It's a massive loss, especially as her firecracker personality was one of the key delights of season one. UBA is now under the dubious control of Corey Ellison (Billy Crudup): a moralistic, over-articulate wannabe sociopath who wants to lift the company out of its darkness.
And then Covid rears its ugly, infectious head. The series perfectly captures those opening stages of the virus: starting as a boring movie extra before becoming a globally hated star. The first episode ends at a New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square. The camera rises over the big, bright, and bombastic numbers – igniting at the stroke of midnight. It could be considered escapism, a lovely trip to the Before Times, if there wasn’t so much horror and dread behind those damn numbers.
Greta Lee and Billy Crudup as Stella Bak and Corey Ellison. Photo: Apple
Mitch returns to carry the series’ divided opinions on cancel culture. The Big C-C is another hot topic that’s rarely covered with detail in modern dramas, with the recent and notable exception of The Chair on Netflix. It’s a dangerous plot, considering the revelations from season one which exposed Mitch as a protected sexual assailant. But he, along with his debilitating guilt and anxiety, is still a funny and empathetic personality.
Carell possesses that rare ability, like his long-standing role as Michael Scott in The Office, to be likeable regardless of circumstances. It's an emotionally perplexing experience to watch this character. He challenges your automated assumptions about him and others of his kind.
But The Morning Show often swerves its proximity to profundity, liking to linger in the trash. The fights and grudges and overly familial friendships unfurl against serious events. And the dialogue is so ludicrous and over-stuffed, sounding like a mortifying mimic of Sorkin. The same goes for the series’ idealism, which – though admirable – fails to lead anywhere too productive.
And yet, it’s exactly those silly, explosive, reality-bending inadequacies that make the series so watchable. It doesn’t surpass the honesty and entertainment value of the first season, but those ten episodes are addictive dishes in a varied, televisual buffet.
The Morning Show season 2 will drop weekly on Apple TV+ from Friday 17 September.
|What||The Morning Show, season 2, Apple TV+ review|
17 Sep 21 – 17 Sep 22, ON APPLE TV+
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