Expectations couldn't be lower for The Morning Show Season 3. In 2021, the Apple TV+ drama quite literally drove off a cliff in its attempt to say something about the #MeToo movement and cancel culture. Two years later, it returns with the COVID-19 pandemic (mostly) in its rearview mirror and a fresh set of priorities that reinvigorate the show, sending it soaring over this admittedly modest bar and back into viewers' good graces.
The Morning Show's new perspective isn't immediately clear. Season 3 starts on shaky footing as the characters give long speeches revealing where they stand in the war unfolding across UBA and the country at large. With the network on the verge of financial ruin — in large part due to the launch of streaming service UBA+ — CEO Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) works desperately to secure a buyer, but he faces opposition from Cybil Richards (Holland Taylor) and her allies on the board. There's a tell-don't-show quality to the first two episodes, as Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Cybil complain about men who "think they're masters of the universe," and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) attempts to convince her superiors to let her report on the lack of abortion access in Texas.
But the season gets going with the introduction of Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), the space-traveling billionaire who, after a multi-year charm offensive on Cory's part, expresses an interest in adding UBA to his portfolio. Like the GoJo deal at the center of Succession's final season, the Hyperion One-UBA agreement and the ripple effect it has throughout the company becomes the main driver of the action.
As with any acquisition, questions emerge about each character's future at the network. Alex, having saved UBA+ by suffering through COVID on live TV, wants a say on programming and long-term strategy, and when she learns about the deal, she moves to secure a seat at the table. Bradley, now in the coveted evening news slot, wrestles with conflicting obligations to her brother Hal (Joe Tippett) and Cory, whom she has entrusted with information so damning it will end Bradley's career, blow up the deal, and destroy what's left of UBA's credibility if it becomes public. In the executive suite, president of news Stella Bak (Greta Lee) navigates the obvious ethical concerns about journalistic independence and Paul's discriminatory surveillance technology while debating whether to voice her own apprehension about where the network is headed.
Season 3's emphasis on the Paul Marks acquisition shifts the show's focus away from cancel culture and timely ruminations on workplace misconduct. The Morning Show, which emerged in the wake of the Matt Lauer scandal, has always been committed to telling these kinds of stories, but it's rarely done that well — just look at last season's effort to redeem Lauer stand-in Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) and paint him as the victim of a media apparatus that refuses to grant second chances. But by building the season around the deal with the tech titan, new showrunner Charlotte Stoudt acknowledges what's worked in the past (the double-dealing and power struggles within the company) and plays to those strengths by relying on the characters to inform the story, rather than placing them in increasingly bizarre situations and forcing them to react.
The adjusted approach gives Alex space to do something beyond worry about Mitch and the public's reaction to their brief sexual relationship decades prior. Aniston appears to relish the opportunity: The former Friends star is finally able to bring more of a lightness to the character, even when she's fighting for more power at the network. Her interplay with Hamm — who's charming as ever despite the obvious parallels to Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos — is particularly compelling, and he quickly proves to be a welcome addition to a show that's been stuck in damage control mode since Season 1.
This isn't to say that The Morning Show Season 3 is devoid of the bonkers plot twists or odd creative choices that characterized previous outings. The premiere, "The Kármán Line," includes a scene set in space as the UBA team blasts off on Paul's Hyperion One rocket, and Episode 5, "Love Island," fills in the blanks of what happened after the Season 2 finale. (Season 3 picks up with the staff back in the office in March 2022.) Bradley's arc this season stems from the events depicted in "Love Island," which covers the first year of the pandemic, including the 2020 election and the January 6 insurrection. But while the episode is filled with important information, it comes too late in the season to be completely effective, and as a result, Witherspoon often feels separated from the rest of the cast. She continues to execute at a high level, and her rare scenes with Aniston are consistently powerful, but for a show that was built around these two stars, it's disappointing how little they share the screen.
At times, Season 3 also falls back into old habits. A company-wide cyberattack reveals evidence of the racism baked into UBA and its practice of underpaying employees, especially women of color, in the name of budget cuts. The storyline is an efficient way of introducing new TMS anchor Chris Hunter (Nicole Beharie) and furthering the power struggle between Cory and Cybil at the top of the company, but it's largely sidelined as the Paul Marks deal heats up. When the scandal is mentioned again, it's in passing, as when Chris presses Leonard Cromwell (Stephen Fry) on the board's priorities or a reporter asks about her "equity pay goals" on a red carpet.
But even when they're executed clumsily, this season's big swings are working together to advance the central narrative — not pulling the show in a million different directions, as has been the case in the past. It wouldn't be The Morning Show without mess, but three seasons in, the drama has finally figured out how to control that chaos and use it to its advantage.
The Morning Show Season 3 premieres Wednesday, September 13 on Apple TV+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.
Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.