In an ideal world, I would be able to review every television show without any preconceived notions. Watch episodes without knowing anything ahead of time about the behind-the-scenes creative struggles or personalities of the actors on the screen. But that is almost never the case in real life, so every review includes a journalistic tension between what's on the screen and what I know happened during the show's production.
"The Morning Show" is the high-profile series that Apple is using to kick-pff its new AppleTV+ streaming service this Friday. And watching the first three episodes (all of which will be available on the launch date). it's difficult not to be influenced by already know about the series that is very loosely based on the Brian Stelter book "Top Of The Morning." The series had a rash of creative problems in its production, including a change of showrunners. It's reportedly one of the most expensive television series ever made and it includes enough star power to fill a big budget feature film. Yet, given it all of that money & turmoil behind the scenes, it's difficult not to see "The Morning Show" as a sporadically entertaining mess that reflects its high-pressured production history.
The series begins with a #MeToo scandal that results in Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) losing his coveted spot as co-host of "The Morning Show." Jennifer Aniston's Alex Levy struggles to navigate through the resulting turmoil, not helped by a a broadcast network entertainment president (played by Billy Crudup) that is placed in charge of the show and the network's news division despite not having any previous experience. Levy didn't know of the internal investigation that led to her co-anchor's dismissal and she attempts to find equilibrium while trying to rally a staff that includes executive producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass).
A potential replacement comes from an unexpected direction when a viral video of Reese Witherspoon’s character, Bradley Jackson, goes viral. Despite being a field reporter for a right-leaning regional superstation, when she's confronted by a counterprotester at an anti-coal rally she's covering, she spits out a monologue about the increase of incivility from both sides of the political spectrum and how that anger only builds on itself. "Because all they want to do is hear themselves talk. And they all want to be right. And they all want to win."
This incident leads to her being hired as co-anchor of the troubled morning show, but her video also serves as the philosophical underpinning of the series (or, at least the first three episodes). The emphasis is less on the television business or even the many hot-button issues you'd expect to see tackled in a series that focuses of the very real ethical challenges of a morning news television show. Instead, the series focuses on the human side of the story, from Mitch Kessler's desperate attempts at trying to prove his innocence to Jackson's struggle to find her place in a new high-profile position where's she's partnered with a beloved female anchor.
There are more than a few moments in the first three episodes (which is all I've seen at this point) that painfully seem constructed to make a "point" about how broken we are as a culture, how every issue is a hot button one and how we should be willing to give even the worst among us a chance for redemption. In other words, it comes off somewhere between Aaron Sorkin and "The West Wing."
There are some great performances and how can there not be, given the talent on the screen? Still, all of the star power seems to mute the passion and anger that should be a part of any series about the TV business in the #MeToo era. All of it makes me wonder what the show would have looked like with a cast that was less filled with star power and more concerned with making some uncomfortable points about life in 2019.
Despite all of my qualms about "The Morning Show," if you have AppleTV+ you're going to watch it. If for no other reason that to see Anniston and Witherspoon in action. Episode three is markedly better than the first two episodes and hopefully that bodes well for the rest of the series, which will drop another new episode each week.
"The Morning Show" premieres Friday, November 1st, 2019 on AppleTV+