“The Morning Show” delivers a solid comeback for the highly anticipated television return of Jennifer Aniston, but not so much for Steve Carell. The show highly dramatizes the sexual assault allegations of Matt Lauer and his fall from grace as the popular host of ‘The Today Show,’ going so far as to include the infamous button Lauer had for closing his office door. Carell plays the Lauer-esque roll, while Aniston is his co-host of 15 years, struggling to maintain her position at the network. Meanwhile, Reese Witherspoon portrays the younger small town news correspondent that, after a viral incident, will become Aniston’s new co-host. The show has promise, and even hints of what could be great.
With the launch of Apple TV+ on November 1st, Apple released their slate of original content and joined the streaming war ahead of the Disney+ launch on November 12th. Lacking the deep reservoirs of intellectual properties owned by Disney, Apple pushes a slate of original stories for their launch. “The Morning Show,” with its buzz worthy cast and hefty price tag of $15 million an episode, is Apple’s main draw to reel subscribers into using their service.
“The Morning Show” has all the makings of a great show: a solid cast, impressive budget, and an interesting story. While the show hasn’t reached its greatness yet, it has laid the groundwork for what could be a riveting show. With a small slate of original content and no back catalog of content that other services have, Apple has a lot riding on the success of this show. They’ve already ordered a second season, but it remains to be seen if that show of faith was warranted.
The pilot episode struggles to present a compelling reason to continue watching; luckily, Apple released the first 3 episodes of all of their originals. This was a smart choice on their part, as the show quickly evolves beyond the failings of the pilot. The premise has a lot of potential to explore the current media environment behind the camera in the “me too” era, but there’s only moments of a deeper narrative at play. Instead, the story moving forward regards the inner workings of network news and sets up the co-host relationship between the old-school journalist of Aniston and the new-age style of Witherspoon, who despite her similar age offers a fresh view that the network needs. The narrative of a newer younger character dethroning the reigning older one is hardly a new story, and fortunately it becomes apparent in these episodes that “The Morning Show” doesn’t fall into this narrative cliche that it seemed it would. Refreshingly, the narrative here seems to have these flawed women characters fighting not each other, but the system of network television that would prefer to use and present them as they please.
Aniston performs decently in the role; she portrays a woman concerned with her role at the network as daytime news show host, feeling pushed out and abandoned by her co-host, Carell, who is fired after the allegations come out. Aniston is her most powerful when her character takes control of her career and life, a scene depicting her in a meeting with network executives and claiming what’s hers after 15 years as co-host is especially strong. Witherspoon has the acting chops to handle the role of the new reporter coming in to shake things up, and a good rapport with on-screen partner Aniston. Her push-back against the people around her is understandable, not wanting to be a pawn in the network game, but hopefully she breaks through this and takes advantage of the opportunity being presented to her and have some fun in the role. The weakest link is Carell, unable to break free of his previous role in “The Office” — it’s hard to take him seriously in the role. What should feel like a man facing the end of his career, instead appears like a man trying to act, actively taking the viewer out of the show. Most of his scenes feel like an afterthought; they feel so on the fringe of the rest of the shows narrative that it feels more like a ham-fisted way of cramming Steve Carell into the series as opposed to an organic plot-line. Other than one incredible scene between Carell and Martin Short, another character facing allegations, most of the scenes feel unjustified.
Notable secondary characters include Mark Duplass as the head producer of the titular news show, while sadly having not much to do other than feel like a man scrambling to keep control of his show. The strongest side character comes in the form of Billy Crudup’s network president. His strong presence injects the show with the power player that while cliche, is needed in this show. He plays well against Aniston, sparring for power over the show, and has good moments with Witherspoon where his real character can come through beyond the executive persona.
In its early episodes “The Morning Show” presents a solid cast and potential to tell compelling stories about the evolving world of journalism. The real strength of the series is when the focus is on the character of Aniston taking power for herself after years of being stagnant in her career and when the politics of network journalism is explored. With a social climate and journalistic culture unrecognizable compared to what it was even 10 years ago, “The Morning Show” has the opportunity to explore extremely topical narratives in a nuanced way. It’s unclear where Carell’s storyline fits into the show moving forward, feeling like a plot point to jump-start the show rather than a warranted side plot to explore and devote time to. As of now, only time will tell if the show can deliver what it’s promising and prove to be Apple’s shining star.
Spelling errors corrected.