The Morning Show review: A confident start for Apple TV+
8/10 Total Rating 8/10
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon shine in Apple TV+’s witty and entertaining newsroom drama.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” admits Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) several episodes into The Morning Show, Apple TV+’s new newsroom drama. It’s a rare moment of honesty in a show that questions what exactly that is in the modern media age.
That admission could be emblematic of the whole show, given that it comes from such an untested source: the online giant Apple is launching its subscription service, Apple TV+, the best part of a decade after Netflix ushered into the streaming era, having spent years selling computers, phones and MP3 players. What does the company know about making TV to compete with the big dogs of the small screen? What it does do is a smart move: give money to Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon to exec-produce something they’re passionate about.
The result is a star-studded, fast-paced, whip-smart breakdown of the current state of journalism, a show that captures the buzz of a studio, the hum of 24/7 media attention, the pressure of trying to stay true to one’s self while also staying relevant. In other words, it’s everything you could want a flagship TV drama to be.
The prestige telly vibe is right there from the opening scene, as all of the titular programme’s players are rounded up to tackle a crisis: Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), Alex’s longstanding co-anchor, has been fired for sexual misconduct. The decision sends the show into a tailspin, as Alex has to keep on broadcasting solo, trying to move on while still addressing the issue.
At the same time, we’re introduced to Bradley (Reese Witherspoon), a younger, no-nonsense reporter, who loses her rag at a coal mine demonstration and ends up ranting at a protestor. When a video of her yelling goes viral, she’s brought on to The Morning Show for an interview – just at a time when Alex is negotiating her contract renewal and the show’s makers are looking for a Mitch replacement.
What happens next is at once predictable and surprising, but the details don’t matter: the joy of The Morning Show lies in seeing Aniston and Witherspoon collide repeatedly, as the duo sink their teeth into two fantastic roles. Aniston is impeccable as the far from flawless Alex, a veteran broadcaster who has become lonely and exhausted over the years. She’s both yesterday’s news and the topic du jour, a career woman with a broken but close family, the woman regarded as a much-loved mother by the nation, but who is treated like an outdated grandma by the TV bosses. Witherspoon is just as good as Bradley, a straight-talking whirlwind of transparency. She starts a little too noisily, as required by the plot, but she soon settles down to prove her bite is as brash as her bark; when asked if she’s not a typical woman by one character, she immediately asks back what a “typical woman” is.
What the duo have in common is that they’re both tired of not being listened to, of being pushed around by men in suits or told they don’t fit the right profile. And so, while they begin in the all-too-familiar position of rivals, they refreshingly start to move from head to-head antagonists to side-by-side partners, each inspiring the mad-as-hell other not to take it any more. During any interviews where Bradley’s being questioned, it’s only a few answers until she starts interrogating the other person. And the more time Alex spends asking for approval of her future co-anchor, the more outspoken she gets about what she thinks and what she wants from her show.
It’s enjoyable just to see a TV series in which two rounded, entertaining characters get to run things, and they’re backed up by a stellar ensemble cast, each given the chance to be more complex than they initially appear. Billy Crudup steals every scene as Cory, an entertainment exec brought in to liven up the news for an audience that wants light viewing – but he’s more sincere than slimy, and shrewdly understands that these days, people can get news in the palm of their hand the way they want, already matching their own political views. Mark Duplass is sympathetic as Chip, the exec producer of the show who is loyal to Alex but also begrudgingly beholden to Cory and her whims, leaving him stressed and powerless.
Even the always excellent Gugu Mbatha-Raw gets a chance to shine as the head booker of the programme, who has a knack for putting the right people together. Karen Pittman also impresses as Mia a dogged and skilled producer – the fact that she effectively gives herself that job is the icing on the cake. All the while, Daniel (a calm, compelling Desea Terry) watches on as his chance to be the first black co-anchor on a daily morning news show risks slipping away, while he’s stuck reviewing things such as Gilmore Girls: The Musical.
Away from the studio, Steve Carell continues his strong streak of dramatic roles as a man realising he’s out of touch with modern society – not in terms of news but in terms of morals and decency. Once the daddy of breakfast telly, he’s now an outcast filled with anger and sadness, struggling to understand why he’s being punished as part of what he thinks is a “less bad” wave of #MeToo allegations. (A conversation in Episode 3 highlights just how muddled he is.)
Director Mimi Leder pings pongs back and forth between them all with aplomb. Mitch is kept in a cold world of greys and blues and Alex is surrounded with warm yellows and oranges, even though both are isolated in their own ways. The power of a televisual close-up is never forgotten and the professional chaos of a studio is only briefly drowned out by the human drama.
As the programme prepares to address Mitch’s accusations head on, writer Kerry Ehrin finds sympathy and retribution on all sides of the fence, without losing sight of what’s right and wrong. As a result, it’s not always clear what defines this morning news programme, but that’s indicative of the bigger picture; this is a snapshot of an industry in confusion, where professional jealousy, digital disruption and social uncertainty only fuel the competitive politics at play.
“You’ll never get to something honest and you’re gonna be crucified for it,” Mia warns Alex, as she braces for a potentially incendiary interview. But honesty is what The Morning Show offers, admitting the current state of affairs: that the news is awful and we’re all addicted to that.
It’s a polished but personal affair, one that cuts through topical and often difficult subjects with a deceptively breezy touch, a confident stride and an often amusing burst of dialogue. If this is its flagship TV show, maybe Apple does know what it’s doing after all.