The tricky thing about reviewing Apple TV+‘s The Morning Show is that you can’t really address the show head-on. There’s all this other… stuff… around… the edges that is impossible to ignore. Dogs and cats fighting in the street, art and commerce clanging together. It’s like trying to wrestle with an opponent while three penguins in yellow velour tracksuits dance outside the ring. You know you need to focus. You’re trying to. It’s your job. But, man, look at those penguins go. Did they… did they choreograph it? That’s kind of impressive. Where did they even get the tracksuits? How did they pay for them? Do they have jobs? Is this their job? It’s all pretty unmanageable.
So let’s try this instead: Let’s break this review into parts. Three parts. Let’s deal with each thing separately in an attempt to wrangle them all by the end. Here we go.
PART I — Is The Morning Show good?
The Morning Show is okay so far, through the three episodes Apple released to critics. It should be. The wattage on it runs very high. Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell are all in one television show that is directed in large part by Mimi Leder, one of the creative masterminds behind The Leftovers. There is a colossal amount of talent involved and that talent shows up on the screen. These people are good at their jobs.
The plot of the show goes something like this, much of which you’ve probably figured out from various teasers and announcements. Aniston plays Alex Levy, the co-host of a very Today-like morning news show. She wakes up one day and discovers that her longtime co-host (her “TV husband,” in her words), Mitch Kessler (Carell), has been fired suddenly as a result of #MeToo-type allegations. Chaos ensues. Spin and betrayal and concerns about going forward with the show fill the early moments. Mark Duplass plays an on-set producer who has to deal with the fallout. Billy Crudup plays a slimy network executive who slithers here and there. Both of them are busy trying to figure out who can replace Mitch and give the show a jolt in a positive direction.
Enter Bradley Jackson, played by Reese Witherspoon. Bradley is a loose-cannon local news reporter. You can tell she’s a loose cannon because the show dyed Reese’s hair brown and gave her a half-dozen f-bombs to spray around in her first 10 minutes of screentime. She goes viral for a contentious confrontation with a protestor and gets invited on The Morning Show and has a slightly more mild contentious confrontation with Alex during her interview. There’s heat there. Billy Crudup knows. He’s making a face about it all. You can see where it’s headed.
There’s a good show in there, even if it’s not all on the screen yet. There’s a good story to tell, too, one about high-profile workplaces dealing with high-profile scandals and how to navigate the choppy waters between that shipwreck and dry land. There’s also one about veterans of an industry dealing with ever-changing technology and norms and how newer, younger options are waiting in the wings to replace them. And another one about a trusted public figure dealing with a sudden onslaught on public shame. These are things we can work with.
It does get a little clunky in the early going, though. Some of the dialogue sounds like a Sorkin cover band, especially a few lines from Bradley, who at various points in the first hour dismisses Mitch as someone “peddling soft news to the masses” and at another point shouts “I was talking to him about the truth! Remember the truth?!” But lots of shows are a little clunky at the start. The Good Wife was another show that jumped into the fray with a headline-ripped premiere about a powerful man who did a bad thing that caused a woman in his life to re-evaluate things and make changes. It was also … okay in the early going. It got really good a little later, once that foundation was set and the characters moved on to new pursuits and challenges while being forever changed by The Thing That Happened. It’ll be interesting to see what The Morning Show looks like in a season two or a season three.
But this brings us to…
PART II — Should you watch The Morning Show?
This is the velour-wearing penguins part of the tortured analogy I started with. Can I in good conscience tell you to shell out the money for Apple+, a brand new streaming service that has a limited slate of original programming so far and no deep well of other options, in order to watch The Morning Show? It’s not fun to factor this type of thing into the equation but it’s something we’re all going to have to consider more as rival streaming companies roll out their competing products.
Like, if The Morning Show aired on network television? Sure, I’d tell you to watch, if only for the star power and potential and the fact that Reese Witherspoon cusses a ton and it would be funny to watch that happen on, say, CBS. If it aired on basic cable, like AMC or FX? Also yes, probably, because you already have those channels unless you’ve already cut the cord. Same with many of your already established premium networks and streaming options, which you might already have access to or consider because of their deep well of additional options.
But asking you to dip into your pocket and pay for a brand new service without much of a track record … I don’t know. I can’t get over the feeling that the bar needs to be higher. It’s not particularly fair to the show or the people who made it, including director Leder, who appears to be taking full advantage of the money Apple is throwing at the show. It’s the reality, though. And it’s going to continue being the reality for a while.
And that gets us to…
PART III — Would it be fun to hop in a time machine bound for 2006 or so and explain to someone that the company that makes their MP3 player will one day produce a television show that stars Rachel from Friends, Michael Scott from The Office, and Elle Woods from Legally Blonde?
Yes. But maybe don’t tell them too much else about 2019. Not right away, at least. It’s a bit much.
‘The Morning Show’ arrives on November 1 with the launch of Apple TV+.