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The Morning Show should be appreciated for what it is in Season 2 -- one of the most batsh*t-expensive soap operas ever made

  • "About four episodes into the new season of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, I stopped expecting it to have the qualities of a prestige television series—narrative complexity, emotional resonance, logic—and began simply appreciating it for what it is: one of the most batshit-expensive soap operas ever made," says Sophie Gilbert. "And that’s perfect. Ink-dark dramas in which Oscar winners suck wearily on vape pens or try to survive nuclear fallout in order to Say Something about modernity are a dime a dozen, the glut of the peak-TV harvest. What’s less common is the show Apple has inadvertently gifted us: a feast of high camp and late capitalism. If you can meet The Morning Show on those terms, its second season is quite a ride. The first, which arrived after several years of extended hype and snarky commentary about its reported (and disputed) $15-million-an-episode price tag, was largely a critical disappointment, even if viewers loved it. Reimagined post-#MeToo to incorporate story lines about sexual harassment and abuses of power in network television, the show couldn’t quite balance its commitment to serious plot points with its extravagant impulses toward musical numbers and Machiavellian speechifying. Its writing was consistently laughable, if not surreal...But what is 'good TV' anyway? Who’s to say that a show in which a character trips over a high heel and wakes up in the hospital with COVID-19 is any more or less worthy than one of HBO’s many shows about murdered women? If we interpret camp to be something so unironically bad that it’s actually good—a tribute to excess and artifice in which, as Susan Sontag wrote, everything is always in quotation marks (using the terminology of the show, not feminism but 'feminism,' not gelato but 'gelato')—then in Season 2, The Morning Show is a camp masterpiece. Liberated from its previous desire to parse events in a meaningful way, it’s become stranger and more fun."


    • The Morning Show is even more disappointing in Season 2, doubling down on the failures of Season 1: The Morning Show was supposed to be Apple TV+'s flashy, irresistible headliner, says Inkoo Kang. "But even with a delectable premise, a prime opportunity to engage with one of the most seismic yet controversial cultural shifts in recent memory, and the combined star power of Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell, The Morning Show lost the spotlight to the far more modest Ted Lasso, which has received 20 Emmy nominations (and so far three wins) for its freshman season compared with the drama’s eight (with one win for supporting actor Billy Crudup, the master of the joyless laugh)...But the 10-episode second season just doubles down on the failures of its precursor without the compensatory empathy for or interest in victims. Season 1 grappled with what it takes to really clear the rot out of a corrupt institution, and how much easier it is for those in charge to merely look as if they’re doing so. (For a far more focused exploration of that quandary, watch Netflix’s The Chair.)" Kang adds: "The maximalist abandon that directs the series dictates that there’ll be far more recurring characters — most played by recognizable, wasted actors such as Néstor Carbonell, Janina Gavankar, Marcia Gay Harden, Mindy Kaling, Holland Taylor, Valeria Golino and Will Arnett — than absorbing story lines. But the most confounding creative choice of the new season is to set it in the first few months of 2020, in the early days of the pandemic and the Democratic presidential primaries. Those who missed the preachy sanctimony of HBO’s The Newsroom will find much of it recycled here."
    • You can’t help but notice that the white characters on The Morning Show get fuller storylines: "People of color on the show are given a handful of moments to express emotion (usually pained disgust), but their personal lives away from the office are a mystery," says Nina Metz. "As characters, they exist to flesh out this world but they are never fleshed out themselves, from Karen Pittman’s unflappable executive producer (I want to know more about her and hear her in private conversations with people she trusts), Greta Lee’s wonderfully pinched head of news (a character who has no real authority despite her title, which feels like a real phenomenon women in her position might experience, but she never talks about it or even talks about, ya know, the news) and Desean Terry’s frustrated anchor (who has legitimate beefs, but again that’s all we see of him: perpetually hitting a brick wall at work). It kills me that Shari Belafonte’s floor director is reduced to a handful of lines that amount to, 'Annnnd we’re out.' Ultimately the show would rather spend time rehabilitating Mitch in Lake Como than give any of the aforementioned characters substantial storylines. I found myself wondering about those kinds of choices and who the show prioritizes as worthy of three-dimensional portraits. There’s a hilarious absence of personal and corporate publicists in the mix, who would absolutely be micromanaging these scandals. Even the aesthetics of The Morning Show feel off: It looks expensively made, and yet so many details are visually lifeless or just wrong. Why does Bradley still live in a hotel suite nearly a year after moving to New York? Why not at least get Alex’s hair right? It’s too easy-breezy — too much like Aniston’s own hair rather than styled and sprayed within an inch of its life — for someone who works on morning television. That might be a detail that bugs me the most. Ultimately The Morning Show suffers from haphazard storytelling and an emphasis on the least compelling corners of this show-bizzy side of TV news."
    • Season 2 embraces pure chaos and, unfortunately, the pandemic: "The Morning Show Season 2 has absolutely zero interest in refreshing viewers on its dense debut season, particularly the finale that ended with Hannah's (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) death," says Proma Khosla. "Instead we're inundated with constant, clunky exposition about the months that followed, a time period this show could easily have shown in earnest instead of jumping ahead. Alas, the purpose of this becomes clear quickly, as The Morning Show Season 2 promises — nay, threatens — to build up to the coronavirus outbreak. As a result, we're treated to a tortuous crawl toward reliving some of the most traumatic months in global memory, complete with cringeworthy jokes about masks and social distancing, and characters awkwardly placed in China and Italy so they can watch history unfold in what the show surely thinks is elegant and serendipitous fashion (it is not). It recalls the now notorious twist in 2010's Remember Me and a handful of international films that insert fictional characters into real events that are just too damn fresh. Filmmakers want to feel close to the action — even when the action is trauma — but needn't follow that impulse."
    • The Morning Show is neither bad nor good: "The idea of communicating what it feels like to watch the second season of the Apple TV+ series The Morning Show is absurd on its face," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "Sure, a rote summary is technically accurate: It’s a show about the production of a major network’s morning news series, starring two anchors played by Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, and focusing largely on what happens after former anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) is forced out in a Matt Lauer–esque cloud of disgrace. In the second season, the rivalry between Aniston’s Alex Levy and Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson develops further, and network executives continue to reel from the fallout of Mitch’s departure. Julianna Margulies also joins the cast as Laura Peterson, a journalist doing a substantial investigative feature on the problems at the network. All of that will be a part of what viewers of The Morning Show’s second season, which premieres its first episode today, will watch. But none of that touches the actual experience of watching this season of The Morning Show, which takes that fairly straightforward description and refracts it into a shimmering production of some of the silliest, most awkwardly melodramatic TV around. It is captivating in its stilted strangeness; almost arresting in its capacity to identify the least recognizably human direction for any story to go and then head unerringly toward it. 'Bad' isn’t the right word, because it doesn’t capture how hilarious and striking the show can be. 'Good' isn’t a great fit, either. One element of the show’s first season that felt central to its outlook is that it is a show about news and politics that loves to squeeze itself right up against the biggest, most exciting stories it can find. In season one that was Me Too, and the Las Vegas shooting massacre, and wildfires in California. Season two’s obvious targets are COVID, the 2020 election, and Black Lives Matter. To a significant extent, this season follows the first’s playbook: The show is about those things, but The Morning Show’s attempts to tell stories about them, and the characters themselves, reach for a numb, unprincipled emptiness...It’s not that there’s anything wrong with unprincipled emptiness, per se, especially as fodder for a workplace melodrama about people who cover the news. It’s that The Morning Show can’t fully commit to that as its guiding worldview."
    • The Morning Show tries to turn 2020 into chaotic, pressure-cooker entertainment: "Season 2 of the series, premiering Friday, continues to weave its dog-eat-dog newsroom narrative around thorny #MeToo matters but now adds the presidential election, the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial reckoning that contributed to one of the wildest news years ever to create a chaotic mix of topical satire and pressure-cooker entertainment," says Lorraine Ali, adding: "Season 2 again enters territory that is frequently too fraught to dissect in public without triggering knee-jerk responses — with all the risks that entails. And whether it holds together as the world falls apart is an open question. But The Morning Show most definitely succeeds at striking the balance between advancing its own personality-driven narrative and tackling topical issues in one entertaining drama."
    • The Morning Show is even messier in Season 2: "Apple TV+‘s The Morning Show has done it again!" says Meghan O'Keefe. "The Morning Show Season 2 doubles down on the first season’s chaotic energy and brash approach to contemporary events. While The Morning Show Season 1 tried to examine the #MeToo movement from all sides, this new season tosses its star-studded cast into the maelstrom that was early 2020. We get shouting matches about straight white male privilege, cancel culture, and, yes, COVID-19. If you liked borderline camp energy of The Morning Show Season 1, you’re going to love the mania of Season 2. But if you hated the first season of the Jennifer Aniston/Reese Witherspoon vehicle, no amount of great turns from the likes of Billy Crudup or Greta Lee is going to win you over. The Morning Show Season 2 is very much The Morning Show Season 1, dialed up Spinal Tap-style to '11.' The Morning Show might be the most unapologetic show on television today. Initially framed as a glossy drama about the behind-the-scenes egos at a popular morning news show, The Morning Show rebelliously threw out all of its Season 1 scripts when the #MeToo movement exposed the sins of Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and a cavalcade of other enshrined male figures. Steve Carell’s avuncular Mitch Kessler became a ruined sex pest fighting through his cancellation while the rest of the characters reckoned with their roles in this toxic culture. It was a weird show full of temper tantrums, Sondheim duets, and more sympathy for sinners than we’re used to. Well The Morning Show Season 2 doubles down on the first season’s chaotic, grandstanding, grey-area energy by boldly facing the early days of COVID-19."
    • In Season 2, The Morning Show is … more: "More absurd, and sometimes more poignant; more ambitious, and also more unruly," says Alison Herman. "An already overstuffed cast gets several high-profile additions, including Holland Taylor as the head of UBA’s board and Julianna Margulies as an ex-daytime anchor in the vein of Ellen DeGeneres. (Her character lost a job in the ’90s after being outed, not unlike Ellen’s erstwhile sitcom.) Witherspoon ditches the awful auburn wig and now chews scenery unencumbered. And with the exception of a misbegotten subplot that follows Mitch as he licks his wounds on Lake Como, The Morning Show turns from a couple of bad apples to the rot left in their wake. Bradley, for her part, gets a character upgrade to match her cosmetic one. After a year holding down the fort with a new cohost (played by a convincingly blank Hasan Minhaj), she’s no longer a neophyte or innocent of The Morning Show’s many systemic flaws. A compromised Bradley is, on some fundamental level, a more engaging one—certainly more nuanced than the spitfire-crusader role she played in Season 1. This Bradley is insecure, egotistical, even diva-like; in Alex’s absence, she’s essentially become her former frenemy. And when Alex comes back, it enables the very clashes of the titans you expect of a show built around Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, who once tiptoed around each other in the name of female solidarity."
    • Season 2 places a premium on the twist: The Morning Show stomps "through 10 new episodes with forced complication and out-of-character behavior," says Daniel D'Addario. "When, at the end of the flawed but increasingly compelling first season, Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy and Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson turned on their bosses and excoriated them on-air, it felt earned. More and more, though, a series with too much story seems to have lost the plot. It is challenging to describe the antic turns this season of television makes without substantial spoilers, but I’ll say this much: Much time is spent, early on, rearranging puzzle pieces so that Alex and Bradley may find themselves working together again. Or, rather, working at cross-purposes. Though they went through a crucible together — and though the striking conclusion to Season 1 suggested the potency of their collaboration — the watchword is once again rivalrous distrust. This sense of division exists in the shadow of Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), the show’s disgraced former anchor living in exile in Italy (a beautiful place in which to ring in 2020!). And it is gingerly encouraged by Billy Crudup’s network chair Cory Ellison, the show’s one consistently realized major character. The Alex-Bradley rivalry remains among the show’s most carefully drawn elements, which is a tricky and unfortunate thing. That’s the good news. The bad news is that The Morning Show Season 2 is even more haphazard in fleshing out these worthwhile conflicts than its predecessor. The episodes are crammed with unearned twists, out-of-character choices, and the doomed marriage of soap opera antics to serious quandaries like workplace abuse....And as the season, set in early 2020, starts to head into the maw of the pandemic, its Newsroom-esque use of hindsight gets grating."
    • Season 2 contains an "aggressive pivot point" that will leave your jaw on the floor: "There is a moment in the first few episodes of season two of The Morning Show that had me screaming louder than I think I ever have in reaction to a TV show ever," says Kevin Fallon. I grabbed my face like Kevin in Home Alone. My jaw dropped through the floor into my building’s basement like I was a goddamn cartoon character. I looked around to see if everyone else was seeing what I was seeing, like when you’re in a movie theater watching something crazy happen on screen and require validation that this is actual reality. You need witnesses. But obviously I was alone, so no one could corroborate if this was all real or if the scene—if The Morning Show as a whole—was a mad delusion and I had accidentally confused my gummy vitamins and my melatonin again. My heart rate spiked like Paul Bunyan had just swung a hammer on it during a carnival game. After 30 seconds or so of my eyes darting back and forth like they had just short circuited, I realized I had involuntarily gotten up off my couch and started pacing. I was smiling, and grimacing, and cringing, and giddy, all at the same time. I have never before witnessed a more aggressive pivot point in a television series. It was the narrative equivalent of Shania Twain purring, 'Let’s go, girls,' at the start of 'Man! I Feel Like a Woman.' You only have until the end of the ensuing guitar lick to decide. Are you going to go along with her, and maybe have a blast, get in the action, and feel the attraction, oh-oh-oh? Or are you going to shake your head because this is not for you? And, oh my god, this is so not for so many of you. I will not reveal what happens in that moment."
    • The Morning Show isn’t awful, but it does awful things: "The second season, through eight episodes — all 10 were sent to critics, but I ran out of either time or interest— hasn’t improved from an already inconsistent first season," says Daniel Fienberg. "The best way to point to the show’s strange storytelling choices would be to start at the beginning, which is something the season cannot figure out how to do." Fienberg adds: "There are too many people on this show, and without exactly being sure what the series’ point is, there’s no way for the writers to know who to focus on. But I just know it shouldn’t be the men. You have Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. At the very least give me a show about them, instead of Mark Duplass’ moping Chip. Somehow I’ve complained this much without getting to the Newsroom of it all. The time-frame decision to place the season on the cusp of the pandemic and the presidential election could have created an opportunity for somber reflections on a difficult year. Instead, it’s a vehicle for extraordinarily smug dramatic irony: Characters make fun of the phrase 'social distancing' and don’t take COVID seriously enough to want to cover it. Daniel is an exception, but just because he insists on covering the coronavirus doesn’t mean the show knows what to do with him and his foreknowledge."
    • Season 2 feels like a very expensive, very bland network drama: "Yet even as broad, star-driven soap, it isn’t that fun," says Ben Travers. "When Alex and Bradley fight, it has to end with one of them saying, 'the gloves are coming off.' Why? Because it’s not clear enough from the fight itself that a line in their relationship has been crossed. Showrunner Kerry Ehrin and her writing team have to repeatedly spell things out for the audience, explaining how they should feel rather than evoking actual feelings, which doesn’t make for the kind of juicy, indelible moments these actors have delivered in the past. It just makes for a spectacle that’s hard to ignore. Soon enough, the series devolves alongside its star, succumbing to the same panic Alex feels. And really, that’s to be expected. The Morning Show and 'The Morning Show' parallel each other again and again, and everyone involved in both is privileged and powerful, from the wealthy central characters to the A-list stars and mega-tech company backing them — why wouldn’t they be afraid of losing their status, and how could that fear not take top priority in the lives they lead and the story they’re telling? But The Morning Show doesn’t know how to interrogate these questions. Any drama that takes its central subject seriously — whether that’s fostering a safe workplace, fighting the patriarchy, or finding the line between objectionable and inexcusable behavior — should acknowledge the challenges of creating real, lasting change. (And a good drama would know how to craft engaging stories out of those challenges.) Altering systems that have been in place for hundreds of years isn’t easy, but Alex & Co. seem to have reversed course. This isn’t an insightful look at how sexual misconduct persists in American culture, a dissection of modern news consumption, or a hard look at who’s framing the world’s biggest stories; it’s a shouting match between powerful people terrified of losing their power. No one’s trying to tear down the system because no one understands why anyone would want to."
    • The Morning Show is still messy in Season 2, but it's also still worth watching: "Where could the show go in season 2, with Carell still on the marquee?" says Matthew Gilbert. "Having seen the entire second season, I can tell you that the writers also seem unsure about what to do with the massive, glamor-crammed world they created. Not terminally so; the show remains highly watchable — as much for its good performances (including Billy Crudup) as for its amped-up absurdities. I laughed, I cried, I rolled my eyes, I rolled my eyes some more, I admired new cast member Julianna Margulies more than I already did, and, at a certain point toward the end, in the midst of a plot twist I won’t spoil here, I wanted to never ever see the sputtering Aniston act again."
    • Season 2 goes "full Smash": "Everything about The Morning Show is weirder this season," says Kristen Baldwin. "Launched as a glossy prestige drama about the emotional and political machinations behind the scenes of a successful morning news program, 'TMS' has gone full Smash in season 2. All aspects of the show are bigger: The 'Are they kidding with this?' plot twists. The 'Wait, did they intend for this to be funny?' spectacle. The frequently ridiculous dialogue. ('It's gonna rise from the ashes like Venus out of the clamshell, and you are Venus!') After watching all 10 episodes of season 2, I still have no idea whether the folks who make 'TMS' believe it's Important TV or just high-priced melodrama. Either way, it's a lot more fun to watch this time around." Baldwin adds: "It's fun, all this chaos — but it also takes time away from one intriguing, ultimately underdeveloped subplot. Daniel, the only Black anchor on 'TMS,' feels sidelined by the network, which he believes undervalues people of color. That would have been a rich vein to mine with both Daniel and 'TMS' producer Mia Jordan (Karen Pittman), a Black woman who knows the pitfalls of UBA's culture firsthand. They have two substantive conversations about this issue over the course of 10 episodes. I could have used more of those, and less of, say, all that drama with Bradley's addict brother Hal (Joe Tippett)."
    • Having Season 2 revolve around the early days of the pandemic makes it "a period piece for a period we’d all rather forget": "Perhaps (Mimi) Leder and her team hoped that the darkest days would be behind us by the time The Morning Show’s second season aired, so that this collection of episodes would serve as a chronicle of such a pivotal moment in global history," says Gwen Ihnat. "The problem is that we’re still in the thick of the pandemic, so reliving the moments when it was revealed that Tom Hanks had COVID or that the NBA was shutting down for the season seems redundant at best and painful at worst. Freaking out about contact tracing sounds downright quaint at this point, and overcrowded ERs are unfortunately still overly familiar. None of this can be blamed on The Morning Show, of course, but it also doesn’t really make for appointment viewing in this overstuffed age." Ihnat adds: "The show also remains committed to Carell’s disgraced character Mitch, now exiled in paradise, although you have to wonder if that devotion would exist if anyone but Steve Carell was playing him (and doing such an amazing job at it). Season two attempts to explore whether someone as outright deplorable and destructive as the sexually predatory Mitch can try to educate and redeem himself enough to become worthy of forgiveness, even though the knee-jerk audience reaction is likely to be a resounding 'nope.' (And also, 'why?') Valeria Golino is wasted as Mitch’s admiring new acquaintance who is for some reason determined to overlook his famous, egregiously long list of transgressions. The Morning Show could probably chug along just fine as is, an award-worthy series that despite focusing on the ins and outs of its central morning show is a soap opera at heart. But the series seems determined to make Valuable Statements—which, granted, did work well in season one, with the focus on several aspects of the #MeToo movement. Season two is less successful in this arena: Beyond the unfortunate COVID slant, it also unwisely delves into 'cancel culture.'"
    • Hasan Minhaj found it surreal acting opposite Jennifer Aniston, but going from The Daily Show to The Morning Show wasn't so hard: “On day two, I had to do this very intense argument scene with Jennifer Aniston," says Minhaj. "My character is Eric and she’s obviously Alex Levy on the show, but in the middle of the scene, I was like, 'is Rachel from Friends mad at me?' I kind of had to be like, 'no, no, no. You’re acting in a scene. She’s not mad at you. She’s mad at Eric.'" Minhaj adds: “I feel like the past seven years of my career, I’ve spent so much time playing a fake TV news anchor. I had no problem looking down the barrel of the camera and reading prompter. That was super easy. The new part was having to do a song and dance number with Reese Witherspoon and then having to do intense drama scenes with both Reese and Jennifer Aniston, which was really fun.”
    • Julianna Margulies on her character's impact on The Morning Show: “Laura operates absolutely differently than any of the characters that you see in that show, because she is 100 percent comfortable in her skin,” she says. “She’s the only character, I think, on the show that has no skeletons in her closet. Everything is out in the open, and she’s at the top of her game without any fear of anyone taking that away from her.” 
    • The Morning Show showrunner Kerry Ehrin recalls initially resisting incorporating the pandemic when contacted by an Apple TV executive: "I really resisted that for about a day because we had just, you know, broken an entire season," she says, recalling the dreaded moment. "And then after another day, like, it just made sense. It isn't a subject you could avoid, especially doing a show about people covering the news." 
    • Director Mimi Leder and Reese Witherspoon filming at the start of the pandemic in March 2020: “We were scared,” recalls Leder, who says The Morning Show had been filming for 13 days when it was shut down. “We were shooting and Purell bottles kept showing up. We were writing on the call sheet, ‘If you are sick, do not come in; we will pay you’ — because people in our business go to work no matter what. When we shut down, we wanted to shut down. We didn’t know really when we would start again.” Witherspoon adds: “We went through all of the things that everybody went through. The first few weeks were so frightening and really, nobody was talking about anything work-related. But it is sort of fascinating that our first year we had to pivot and then our second year, pivot again.”

    TOPICS: The Morning Show, Apple TV+, Hasan Minhaj, Jennifer Aniston, Julianna Margulies, Kerry Ehrin, Mimi Leder, Reese Witherspoon