[‘THE MORNING SHOW’ – Season 2 Review] suffers dip as Apple TV+ drama returns later than anticipated

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Travis Leamons // Film Critic

THE MORNING SHOW: SEASON 2

Rated TV-MA
Creators: Jay Carson and Kerry Ehrin
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crudup, Steve Carell, Juliana Margulies, Karen Pittman, Mark Duplass, Nestor Carbonell, Desean Terry, and Marcia Gay Harden

Assembled talent and expectations are not mutual. I learned this lesson the hard way. When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019 with a handful of programs, the one it was backing the hardest was THE MORNING SHOW. I can’t say I blame them; a lot of money was thrown at this Apple original touting a behind-the-scenes look at a fictional, high-profile New York morning talk show. TV ads and signage were everywhere. I paid little attention. Apple TV+ service was the farthest thing from my mind in fall 2019, and a program starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell wasn’t going to change that. Besides, I figured with those three actors and a morning show environment, TMS was going to be a soapy, lighthearted comedy about the crazy shenanigans that go into making a talk show.

I was wrong. So very wrong.

Thinking it would be a more expensive version of Aaron Sorkin’s SPORTS NIGHT, THE MORNING SHOW is instead Sorkin’s THE NEWSROOM if the male anchor was implicated in the #MeToo movement and the news show had to scramble to deal with the fallout. The allegation was the jumping-off point to the series I decided to check out after TED LASSO got a lot of buzz after its summer 2020 debut. Critical reviews for the first season were mixed. As I made my way through the ten-hour-long season, it’s easy to see the narrative hiccups, especially for someone like me who has studied broadcast journalism and understands how a talk show operates.

When the fictional UBA network ousts Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) for sexual misconduct, he leaves his on-air wife, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), to weather the fallout. Feeling this would be a prime opportunity for the ratings-suffering network to clean house, Levy makes a shocking announcement at an awards gala announcing Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) as her new co-host. Bradley, recently fired from her reporting gig at some Podunk station after a shouting tirade went viral, is a firebrand and is in no way fit to anchor a morning news show in America’s biggest media market. When the fictional show becomes a free-for-all – where Alex’s struggles, Mitch’s comeuppance, and Bradley’s meteoric rise clash and coalesce – THE MORNING SHOW becomes a richer experience thanks to a strong supporting cast. This includes Mark Duplass as the show’s executive producer Chip Black, Gugu Mbatha-Raw as talent booker Hannah Shoenfeld, and Billy Crudup, who steals the entire season – and garnered a supporting actor Emmy – as Cory Ellison, the UBA executive overseeing the news division.

Mbatha-Raw’s arc during the first season is both tragic and true to life. Hannah’s exposal and ramifications lead to an atomic bombshell season finale with the male world order in the crosshairs of Alex and Bradley. The final shot is the zenith of setting a house of cards on fire.

It could have served as the perfect sendoff to a one-and-done season, but THE MORNING SHOW, despite reviews, turned out to be a mixed blessing for Apple TV+. Unlike Netflix, which is quick to pull the plug on a series after a single season, Apple goes all in for a second season as if it had a show that was too big to fail.

The ashes left in the first season’s wake birth a new future for the UBA network and its prized morning program, for better and worse. The uncertainty of what was to become of the fictional “Morning Show” seems to have dovetailed into the actual MORNING SHOW. We pick up in January 2020, eight months after the bombshell. When Americans weren’t familiar with Wuhan or Coronavirus, as the pandemic started to emerge, its presence, little by little, became part of the backdrop. Reports from China get bumped for other stories, much to the dismay of reporter Daniel Henderson (Desan Terry), who goes on assignment to Wuhan, and gets stranded for a spell, to cover the developing story.

Shaking up the work environment causes a freefall of uncertainty during the second season, leaving the supporting cast with subplots that do little to elevate their characters. Cory is promoted, Chip is gone, Alex is AWOL, and Mitch is in seclusion overseas. The biggest addition is Juliana Margulies, a former UBA news anchor who keeps the morning show afloat alongside Bradley.

Four episodes into production, THE MORNING SHOW had to go on hiatus due to the pandemic and institution of protocols so filming could presume. To this extent, the season is disjointed. We have UBA doing everything but grovel at Alex’s feet to get her to return to the program, only for her to jettison off and suffer a panic attack over the tell-all expose written by journalist Maggie Brenner (Marcia Gay Harden). Bradley gets involved in a relationship that gains traction on social media, and family drama escalates just as COVID numbers start to spike.

As the season progresses, the greater the flaws register in where to go next. Mitch is pretty much in a holding pattern in Italy, where he can avoid public scrutiny while staying quarantined because of the pandemic. His plot is an unavoidable distraction. It should be interesting to see how audiences take to his character arc.

Where the first season succeeded in weathering a major crisis and nailing the finale, now THE MORNING SHOW deals with small ripples to magnifying degrees this time around. Each little one defines a specific character for a particular moment before moving on to something else. The series embraces its soapy side by straying further into unpredictability, which is pretty much morning talk nowadays.

Grade: C+

The first two episodes of THE MORNING SHOW’s second season are now available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+. Remaining episodes release weekly on Fridays.

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