Reviews for the new series from Apple TV+, The Morning Show, have been middling, and I understand why. The series is being judged as the anchor show for a multibillion-dollar upstart streaming network launched by one of the largest corporations in America. I get it. If you expect to sell-out Wembley Stadium with a ’90s rock festival, and you bring in Gin Blossoms to close the show, it’s going to raise some confused eyebrows.
The thing about the Gin Blossoms, though, is that they’re actually pretty good if you’re into sensitive ’90s white-boy rock. You don’t hire them to close a festival with 100,000 spectators, but they’ll do just fine playing in the slot right before it turns dark and the lights come on.
That’s The Morning Show. They’re the Gin Blossoms of television shows. It’s not particularly original, the writing is thin, but it’s polished, it hits all the right emotional beats, and it’s very watchable. It is not a show for which Apple should have spent $15 million an episode. It is not a show that Apple TV+ should have launched with. But if The Morning Show aired at 9 p.m. Sunday nights on HBO, it would do fairly well. I know, because The Newsroom ran for three seasons.
The Morning Show, however, is not a topical drama — it does not address substantive news issues on the show within the show, and it lacks all of Aaron Sorkins Sorkinisms (to both its credit and to its detriment). It’s more of a prestige soap opera about a morning news show dealing with the fallout after its lead male anchor, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), is fired for sexual misconduct. Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), his female co-anchor, is left to try and keep the show together and maintain her own aging relevancy while confronting a new network executive Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), who wants to provoke behind-the-scenes drama to enliven a morning show that has gotten stale.
Crudup, by the way, is the best reason to watch The Morning Show. His character sews chaos and revels — twinkly-eyed — in his own destruction. He finds in Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) — a local anchor who went viral for a profanity-fueled rant about journalistic principles when she thought no one was looking — someone who may be able to stir up some tension and drama on his morning show. He pits Alex against a younger, feistier Bradley, and while that works initially, the two seem to be moving toward a reluctant frenemy relationship, which may also be by Cory Ellison’s design.
Carell’s Mitch, meanwhile, is desperately trying to salvage his career, which was derailed by what he insists were consensual sexual relationships with subordinates. He doesn’t understand why affairs that were once acceptable and routine have come back to bite him in the ass, and he complains that the goalposts have moved on him. Alex, meanwhile, feels betrayed, in part because her onscreen partner of 15 years has abandoned her through his reckless actions. Carell is brilliantly cast here, because his character is a sleaze, but Carell himself comes with some built-in sympathy. Not enough to excuse what he’s done, but enough to want him to have a reckoning with himself.
I mean, look: It’s not a great show, but the Gin Blossoms were not a great band, either, but hell if I didn’t listen to New Miserable Experience about 500 times. What it is, however, is an hour each week with skilled, likable veteran actors, great production values, some fairly mediocre writing, a great supporting cast (Mark Duplass, Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and Billy Crudup grinning devilishly. Is it worth a $5.99 a month Apple TV+ subscription? Absolutely not! But half the people who own Apple products have figured out by now that they probably have gotten a free year’s subscription, and as a show that otherwise costs viewers nothing but time, The Morning Show is a better than average way to fill it.
Header Image Source: Apple TV+