Back in October, I screened the first three episodes of AppleTV+’s flagship series “The Morning Show” about a week before they debuted. You might’ve read my review of these episodes, which I thought were okay but soap opera-esque and a mixed bag in the realism and freshness departments.
What amazed me then, and still surprises me now, is that executive producers and stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon were simply out to make a drama series about Morning TV. But when the #MeToo meltdowns for Matt Lauer & Charlie Rose happened, they had to pause and completely change course. In a way, you have to give them a lot of credit for quickly shifting the narrative and efficiently crafting 10 episodes surrounding this concept. (Especially considering the $15 million budget per episode.)
So, I watched those three eps. half a year ago (when life was much more normal). But I wasn’t extremely eager to continue on with the next seven, which were released once a week throughout November and December. Plus, awards season was heating-up, and I screened a TON of movies (and wrapped-up the educational aspect of my life) from the end of October to the end of December.
That month, “The Morning Show” earned a trio of Golden Globe and SAG Awards nominations, as well as a Critics Choice nom. Aniston, Witherspoon, Steve Carell, Billy Crudup and the show were all represented on ballots. At the CCAs in January, Crudup won Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. And a few weeks later, Aniston took home the SAG for Best Actress in a Drama Series (followed by that buzzworthy backstage reunion with Brad Pitt).
More time went by and suddenly… I began spending much more time at home. (As have you, probably.) My in-theater film experiences have become almost nightly at-home screenings. I’ve been watching a hefty number of new shows and films in advance for about two months now. But a couple weeks ago, I decided to go back and give “The Morning Show” another try, picking up with the fourth episode.
And I’m so glad I did. It’s almost like Apple listened to the mixed reviews of the first three eps. from critics and immediately raised the bar. “The Morning Show”, once scattered and overwhelming, was now incredibly focused, funny, sharp, sensitive and really engaging.
Aniston, as constantly conflicted anchorwoman Alex Levy, has reached the height of her acting career. Witherspoon, as local reporter turned overnight sensation Bradley Jackson, gets better and better as the season go on. And Carell, as accused Lauer-like Mitch Kessler, dominates in his somewhat limited screen time.
I’m a bit surprised the entire cast wasn’t nominated for the Drama Series Ensemble SAG Award because everyone is out to make a mark, and they deliver. The MVPs are Crudup (his network executive character Cory Ellison deserves his own spinoff series) and Mark Duplass, as Chip Black, the EP of the morning program.
“The Morning Show” gets a little topical, heading to the California for the Wildfires in one episode and (in the terrific, flashback 8th ep.) Las Vegas for the deadly concert massacre. But its substance and tenacity exceed Aaron Sorkin’s topic-heavy “The Newsroom”.
One criticism I had about “TMS” six months ago was that those who don’t have a stake in the TV news business may not be able to relate to it. But with likable actors, rich characters, high production value and approachable themes (relationships, success, standing-up for what you believe in), I think there’s enough to justify why anyone (over a certain age) can and should watch this show.
Reportedly, Apple was about three weeks into production on Season 2 of “The Morning Show” when things were shut down on Thursday March 12th (the first full day of #CancelEverything). It’s unclear how many episodes were filmed (maybe three at the most), but Aniston & Witherspoon initially signed a 20-episode deal. I could see the team trying a Quarantine episode (to reflect on what’s really going on with news programs right now), but I don’t know if any more “in-studio” episodes can be produced anytime soon.
“TMS” S2 may have to be broken-up, or only consist of three or four episodes for a while. The show’s status will have to be addressed pretty soon though, as Apple likely wants as many Emmy nominations as possible (the noms announcement is at the end of July).
But, since I’ve had to change my mindset about a lot of things lately, here’s how I look at “The Morning Show”. IF, for some reason, this is the one and only season we ever get, I’m okay with that. I certainly want another season BUT… if you just look at what Aniston, Witherspoon & Co. were able to accomplish from these 10 episodes, it’s completely satisfying. Everything builds and builds to a five-minute sequence at the end of the last episode that’s stunning.
And that’s all I’ll say about it, because I hope you choose “The Morning Show” as your next new series to binge. It’s 10 hours – you can do it in one day! And then you’ll never look at Morning TV quite the same way again.