When you’re owned by the largest public company on the planet, you can spend money as you please. What’s so endlessly intriguing about Apple TV+, the little streaming service owned by the aforementioned corporate behemoth, is what they’re not spending money on.
Take MGM, one of the most desirable entertainment brands out there, with thousands of hours of bingeable content. Recently it went on the selling block. In the 1980s, Ted Turner bought MGM and overnight transformed his dinky TV operation — a 24-hour news channel and a so-called “superstation” that showed Atlanta Braves games — into a cable colossus. He used MGM to launch TNT, which quickly became one of cable’s most-watched networks.
Did Apple place a bid on MGM this time around? If they did, we're not aware of it. The winning buyer was Amazon, another massive global company that operates a streaming channel. Amazon executives don’t treat streaming like a hobby — like everything else they invest in, they’re in it to win it. With Apple, you’re never quite sure. It’s like saying that Jay Leno and Elon Musk are both in the car business. Semantically that’s true, but there’s a big difference.
To be fair, no streaming service’s shows collectively have a better reputation among critics than those on Apple TV+. It’s not just Ted Lasso; they’ve liked Visible, Dickinson, Home Before Dark, Central Park, Physical, the weird one about the babysitter and Schmigadoon! Looking over my personal list of reviews, I’ve sung the praises of Defending Jacob, Losing Alice, Little America and Boys State and I was an early Ted Lasso adopter. But also looking back, I see that I haven’t reviewed an Apple TV+ series in seven months. It’s not that I’ve been avoiding it. There’s just not that much to review.
Apple has $137 billion in cash. Netflix, the drunken sailor of television production, will probably spend $20 billion this year on content. Apple could be Netflix tomorrow. It could be Amazon Prime Video tomorrow. It has not gone that way. Instead, its efforts seem completely focused on doing the best with what it has —and by the way, that costs money, too.
Which brings us to the second-season premiere of The Morning Show, the show about the drama behind the scenes at a morning program that also wound up exposing all kinds of drama behind the scenes at Apple TV+. Based on Brian Stelter’s reported account of goings-on at NBC’s Today show, The Morning Show was chosen as the showcase show that Apple TV+ would build its Nov. 1 launch around. It had top-notch casting, blue-chip production credentials, a budget higher than Game of Thrones, and an unexpected gift from the headline gods — actual Today show co-anchor Matt Lauer’s career going up in flames over multiple (and creepy) sex-harassment charges.
And then came the launch. It was bumpy. The show looked great, but all the story lines! All the characters! Sure, there were some great performances, and incorporating Lauer's #metoo narrative was shrewd, but that involved tearing up the original story, with the result that the early episodes felt kind of like a cake that was three-quarters baked. Apple TV+ — which barely had a PR department — further blundered by sharing only the first first three episodes with critics. One reviewer compared The Morning Show to a shiny box filled with packing peanuts; more than one called it a terrible show that they somehow couldn’t stop watching. Critics were giving it a tremendous amount of slack, but that didn’t stop the showrunner from complaining about “attack-ish” reviewers, or director Mimi Leder from blaming “Apple haters,” as though Samsung Galaxy users had it out for this TV show.
Then the season progressed, and Jennifer Aniston asserted herself. (There aren’t going to be any spoilers in this review, not even for Season 1, because I can’t assume you’ve watched it and I recommend you do.) Aniston plays the central figure in the show, Alex Levy, a longtime presence on the popular rise-and-shine program on the UBA network. Alex is in the place every woman in show business dreads — midlife. Professionally, she's at her peak, is clearly the most important person on the morning show and, she would argue, the whole damn network. She is the Johnny Carson of UBA. And yet her career prospects are fraught, because she isn’t Johnny Carson. She's a woman at midlife in a business that values youth and beauty and especially both qualities in the same shapely package. (I don’t think it’s any accident that Apple TV+ picked up the Israeli series Losing Alice, which explores the same idea in psychothriller form.)
Alex embodies a determination to shape her destiny and not be guided by any male executive’s ideas of a woman’s career arc, and yes, there’s more than a passing resemblance to the actor playing Alex. Through a combination of heroic writing and her own enduring appeal, Aniston was soon riding the speartip of The Morning Show’s narrative through the increasingly dramatic events of Season 1.
Season 1 is only ten episodes, and Apple TV+ is only dropping one new episode per week of Season 2 between now and December, so it will be easy to catch up. As for the new season, let’s just say it sets up Alex to play an even larger role at UBA and introduce some players — notably Julianna Margulies — who can only improve The Morning Show.
The Morning Show's Season 2 premiere drops today on Apple TV+. New epsiodes are set to release weekly through December 20th, 2021.
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Aaron Barnhart has written about television since 1994, including 15 years as TV critic for the Kansas City Star.