Jennifer Aniston! Reese Witherspoon! Steve Carell! The Morning Show has a seriously A-List cast, and by rights it ought to be AppleTV+’s flagship drama – a must-watch TV event discussed at office water coolers around the world and showered with gongs at all the major awards shows. This thing must have cost so much money to make. And yet it is deeply, disappointingly mediocre.
Alex Levy (Aniston) is the co-host of a popular American breakfast show who wakes up one morning to discover that her co-host Mitch Kessler (Carell) has been fired. News of a secret internal sexual misconduct investigation has leaked to the New York Times, and suddenly she is flying solo without her TV “husband” of 15 years (who is stranded at home in crisis meetings, methodically and symbolically destroying his flat-screen telly).
In a cut-throat world, Alex must now fight to keep her position as the network bosses circle like sharks. And nipping at her heels is ambitious journalist Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), who would very much like to replace her.
The good news: I did actually find The Morning Show laugh-out-loud funny. The bad news: unfortunately – despite a handful of amusing moments and witticisms – I don’t think it is meant to be a comedy.
One of the absolute best/worst scenes in the first episode comes when we meet local reporter Bradley for the first time at a coal plant protest in Virginia. As she’s about to film some on-camera interviews, a protester attacks her cameraman and shoves him to the ground. The attacker is incoherently angry about “fake news” or whatever, but our intrepid journalist soon shows him what’s what! Fearlessly, she grabs hold of him and demands earnestly: “You tell me five facts about coal and I’ll let you go.” Again, I don’t think this is intended to be a funny moment.
Of course the guy stammers and fails to come up with the goods, and of course she responds with a selection of fun coal facts along with a semi-political rant, and of course this goes massively viral and attracts the attention of staff at The Morning Show. And so begins a fateful chain of events. Meanwhile, the (chastened) protester realises the error of his ways and apologises as he stumbles away. All it takes is a stern telling-off from a journalist and he’s transformed into a reasonable American citizen.
All the way through the scene I kept thinking of that clip from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, the one where Don Keefer solemnly informs the airplane pilot that Osama bin Laden has been killed “for you” and then everyone shakes hands. So cringey! So earnest! So self-important!
Further super-topical earnestness comes from lines like these: “I was talking to him about the truth. Remember truth? Journalism?” (Bradley) and “Don’t drag America into this, they’ve got enough s**t to deal with” (Alex) and “We’re The Morning Show. We can do anything” (a show booker) and network boss Cory Ellison’s character-defining statement: “it’s not news or f**king journalism, it’s entertainment.”
In fact, writers Kerry Ehrin and Jay Carson also give us a ton of state-of-the-nation stuff about America and being American and connecting with America and speaking to America. Some of it works, some of it feels awkward. Perhaps it’ll “connect” more with the drama’s American viewers? From a British perspective, it all just feels a bit eye-rolly and unsubtle and aggressively topical.
Talking of topical: the #MeToo movement is at the heart of this drama. Carell’s character Mitch has lost his job and his reputation, but in the first episode we don’t yet find out exactly what he has been accused of doing – or what the truth really is. Is he a sympathetic and pathetic character, falsely accused? Or is he a dangerous sexual predator? Perhaps it’s a good thing the drama doesn’t spoon-feed us a moral verdict just yet, but I’m hoping the whole thing is handled sensibly and sensitively.
The Morning Show will be available when Apple TV+ launches on Friday 1st November