The Morning Show is engrossing Sorkin-lite
By Julien Rodger
Apple TV+’s flagship The Morning Show has excellent production values and acting led by Jennifer Aniston, although the script through two episodes falls short of brilliance.
The Morning Show feels like a hybrid of Broadcast News and Aaron Sorkin shows like The Newsroom or Studio 54. Like Broadcast News there is the combination of off screen journalistic values (Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson) and the on air talent (Jennifer Aniston’s Alex’s Levy), although unlike the cynical take on William Hurt’s newscaster in that film Alex can match Bradley in self awareness and intelligence. In Sorkin-esque style the show spends much of its time behind the scenes watching characters like Alex, Mark Duplass’ Chip phone call juggling producer or network division boss in Billy Crudup’s Cory walk while talking and bouncing their personal views off of each other. However unlike a Sorkin show, the Morning Show’s real political viewpoint is unclear. They take time to show Bradley stuck between liberal and conservative causes, while its view on #MeToo is decidedly grey by both showing Mitch Kessler’s (Steve Carell) #MeToo victims’ pain and allowing Mitch to defend himself by saying the affairs were consensual and blame the court of public opinion for acting too quickly. They also show Nestor Carbonell’s character Yanko in a consensual and seemingly healthy relationship with a PA half his age, but are afraid of the backlash if they went public. It’s likely the show will make a call on Carell’s innocence or guilt later, but for now it’s take appears to be “listen to both sides”. Regardless of whether its political intentions, the script is not quite sharp enough to be living off an endless stream of ringers in its dialog like the best Sorkin shows or films, but a little too theatrical and full of stars to feel lived in and like you are being the scenes of a real Morning Show.
Apple paid 15 million an episode and it shows as the production value is excellent. Mimi Leder directs the first two episodes with impressive cinematography, appealing bright colours of its morning show setting and tracking characters are they are walking and talking. The standout performance is Jennifer Aniston as Alex conveying a range of emotions from the genuine friendship she had with Mitch combined with the betrayal of him putting her career at risk. Much of Aniston’s best acting comes non-verbally as her face tells the story of the stress she is under and the years of her talent and intelligence being under appreciated, such as when in the first episode she goes into Mitch’s old room and breaks down. When the Morning Show camera starts rolling she has to immediately snap into a different, warm person, the mother of America. This difference between the persona she uses on TV and the real person is at the heart of why her character is so complex. In the first episode some of Reese’s scenes as Bradley are played over the top such as her viral coal protest and her mom screaming at her that she ruined dinner, however by the second half of the first episode the show figures out her character more. The best scene of the first two episodes has Bradley and Alex on the Morning Show together in a segment discussing her viral video. The human chess between the two is complex as Alex looks to out Bradley’s true intentions on air. In the second episode Bradley’s interview with Crudup’s Cory is an excellent scene establishing they understand each other both professionally and emotionally. Her idealism also proves a great foil to Duplass’ Chip who knows breezy morning stories pays the bills. In the second episode the show’s opening credits debuts with an illustrated sequence of balls growing and shrinking and changing colours from friendly to more aggressive. This reflects a show about power plays and maneuvering backstage and how the pride of its characters will play against each other as their relationships develop.
Carell as the disgraced Mitch effectively shows the inabilities so many accused men to admit their wrongdoings, but at the same time is not totally without a point that his side of the story should be explored first. There is a lot of the lack of self awareness of Michael Scott in his role, but a real world, less lovable version. Carell has said he doesn’t think The Office could have worked in 2019 due to greater backlash over some of Scott’s workplace actions, and his character of Mitch appears to be inspired by this take. While one of the strengths of the show is Aniston and Bradley’s characters are highly empowered, intelligent women who can go toe to toe with anyone, it allows characters like Mitch, Cory, Chip and Daniel, a black gay reporter aiming for the Morning Show job (Desean Terry) to be complex as well. The only character who comes off as largely one note so far is Aniston’s husband (Jack Davenport) played like a typical emotionally unavailable foreign husband character that they haven’t spent much time showing why Alex fell in love with him.
Morning Show has the intelligent dialog, humanity and production and acting talent to be a great show. At the moment it falls just short of having that top level sharpness or true resonance, but going forward as Apple gets used to how to make a TV show, the potential is clear.