The Morning Show debuted in 2019, a year that I don’t think that anyone would debate was a simpler time. Not that I’m suggesting that the subject matter of that first season reflected such simplicity. After all, that batch of episodes largely revolved around a Matt Lauer-esque sexual misconduct scandal and all of the fallout involved with replacing Steve Carell’s character, at least in an on-air capacity. It is, however, fair to say that the current global situation is terrible in a different, and all-encompassing context. And it’s not as though this show (which takes place in a world that closely matches our own) could choose to ignore it, like most other series (other than medical-soap operas or law enforcement-focused shows) could believably choose to do.
That’s a strange way to begin a review, and doubly so because it sounds like I’m daring to suggest that a character like Billy Crudup’s network executive (so slimy, yet so infuriatingly charismatic) could exist in our world and also be endearing as hell. Seriously though, Crudup is still the best part of this series, and Apple TV+’s most star-studded production can’t pretend to exist in a reality where Covid hasn’t intruded. Also, the manner in which the show handles it mirrors the way that I remember the virus beginning to edge into real life. That’s both good and, well, not so good.
Yep, watching this season of The Morning Show reminded me of precisely how I felt as the pandemic began to unfold. A little mention here, a little anxiety there, remember? My first conversation about Covid took place over dinner with one of my best friends in early January 2020. Cable news and morning-show coverage had begun, and I hadn’t wanted to pay much attention. At that point, it was a waiting game, and nothing could be done but wait to see if the whispers of impending doom were real. I recall chatting about how the virus sounded scary, sure. Yet it felt like a distant threat, and news reports suggested that the virus wasn’t terribly hardy in terms of its ability to survive outside the body. We (like most people) thought that things would blow over, and fast. Particularly because I’m the kind of person who baselessly worries about everything (including slightly imperfect tire pressure), I forced myself not to freak out. Survival, man.
Slowly and incrementally, it became apparent that the best-case scenario for this virus wasn’t happening. (Fast forward 21 months, and I have only seen that same friend in person on rare occasions, whereas we used to see each other almost every day.) As far as the early days of the pandemic go, that’s pretty much the kind of way that The Morning Show acknowledges it, other than a heavier treatment later in the season. With that dramatic treatment, I mildly cringed when it began, but it eventually worked, too. Let’s just say that someone else (and no clues will come from the below image) in the cast wanted an Emmy for next year.
More to the point, I’m here to tell you that if you dug The Morning Show (or even thought it was simply digestible entertainment), then don’t shy away from Season 2 simply because it incorporates our current, terrible timeline. Instead, you’ll see an overstuffed season on other issues that also includes the slow realization — beginning with an anchor determining that only “one minute” of an entire morning of programming should be devoted to the virus that would eventually take over the world — that Covid is a force that will alter life as we know it. There are other touches, too, including the surreal moment when Tom Hanks (who’s not onscreen) became the first celebrity to publicly acknowledge infection. As silly as it sounds when I type it, we’ll likely all remember where we were when we found out Hanx tested positive. And that’s not a moment that The Morning Show could pass up, for better or worse.
For most of the season, that feat happens by storytelling sleight of hand, so the show continues focusing upon characters that we can readily imagine seeing on our screens every day, and the backup players who support them. Hasan Minhaj will show everyone how much they’ve missed him on TV. Julianna Margulies plays a character with mysterious motives, although she seems like a positive force. And Greta Lee (the Russian Doll actress who oozed a “sweet birthday babeeeeee” many, many times) is onboard as a character who, yes, endures publicly slung racial slurs weathered by Asian characters by right-wing conspiracy theorists. Meanwhile, Martin Short’s still around in the skeeviest role, and cameos pop up here and there, including a Foo Fighters appearance that might remind you of how they closed The Late Show With David Letterman out a handful of years ago.
All of this is to say the following: there’s a lot more to Season 2 of The Morning Show than mere Covid coverage. Actually, it’s a very small part of the season, although yup, one should expect more as the season wears forth. What else do you need to know if you’re new to the show? This was one of a few original series to launch Apple TV+, which now boasts stunningly watchable selections including All For Mankind, Ted Lasso, and Mythic Quest, all of which are better than The Morning Show, but this series isn’t too shabby, and it’s full of familiar-feeling characters, who are all now navigating an awful specter in a way that feels, you know, comforting. And we can understand why Jennifer Aniston’s Alex has had it with Slimy Crudup, and why Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley is still hanging on, and why these women are unable to deny their begrudging mutual respect. Also, Steve Carell’s character’s still reckoning with exile, and Mark Duplass maintains a steady and oddly stabilizing presence as chaos begins to unfold.
The Morning Show, ultimately, remains an easily digestible series full of characters who are all vying for more airtime and they’re clawing at each other on their way to stay at the top. Things will get intense again with issues like systemic racism while, more superficially, barbs are thrown, both on-and-off camera. This is not the highest of art forms when it comes to storytelling, but this show deserves credit for successfully embedding tough issues amid soap-operatic storylines, and everything goes down smoothly. No one who wants to be entertained also wants a dose of Covid in their stories, yet somehow, The Morning Show (mostly) pulls it off.
Apple TV+’s ‘The Morning Show’ returns on September 17.