The Morning Show handles the truth… but can we?
I recently binge-watched Season 1 of Apple TV’s flagship drama ‘The Morning Show’. An all-star cast, compelling pilot episode, and (thanks to a sneak-peak on IMDB) the promise of a 9.7 rated finale was all I needed to assure me that investing ten hours of my time would be a wise decision. If the question arises of why I slept on it for so long, it was because getting another subscription in addition to Netflix, Prime, Mubi, Disney Plus and the BFI Player just seemed excessive, but then Apple tempted me with a trial and the rest is history…
I watch a lot of television but felt compelled to write about this season because it treads some very interesting lines between reality and fiction, sincerity and artificiality, and the innocent and the untouched. Its themes are centred around ideals reflective of the political and cultural zeitgeist of the decade, such as abuse, family and truth. Perhaps some of the critics calling The Morning Show a snoozefest consider these threads, and the construction of them, boring, but to me they are of great interest and value.
Truth is at the core of The Morning Show. Reese Witherspoon plays Bradley Jackson, a field journalist who rockets to fame after a video of her setting a pro-coal protestor straight about the climate emergency goes viral. Her personality hinges around her no-nonsense attitude and tendency to ‘word vomit’. In her first on-air shift as co-anchor she drops truth bombs about taboo topics which receive gasps from the show’s crew but a sharp incline in viewers from the American public. Her handling of the truth does not align with the producers' needs to protect viewers from certain actualities but ultimately her character is one of the driving forces in unravelling the notion that the Americans need to be shielded from reality. The hypothetical viewers of TMS aren’t being outwardly lied to, but the spin used to pivot the narrative of news stories is dizzying.
Editorial angles aren’t a new concept, but the lengths taken to keep up the facade of ‘America’s best loved family’ – meaning its long-serving anchors Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) – in order to keep up the pretence of a perfect little bubble is troublesome. Their entire brand is shaped around a fabricated set of traditional American values and seemingly wholesome relationships. This all becomes hard to keep up when Mitch is accused of sexual misconduct. Can their viewers – and we – really believe that, given their closeness, nobody else knew about his treatment of women? That colleagues were being abused right under their noses and they stayed silent? That Alex Levy, the sweetheart of morning news, had no idea that her co-host of 15 years, was sexually harassing the women she works with? Who's protecting who?
The producers of The Morning Show use Mitch as way of exploring how it can be easy to excuse popular public figures from abhorrent acts. And the character even tries to do the same for himself by blaming Weinstein! Mitch consistently came out on top of audience polls and in episode 8 (a flashback episode) we begin to see why – he is charming, popular and fun on and off screen. Up until this point in the series, there was an uncomfortable ambiguity about the circumstances surrounding the allegations he was facing but when the episode plays out and you realise the extent to which he abused his power (predominantly over women of colour), any doubts about his relative innocence are dashed. Perhaps the structural imbalance in the show was intentional, but even so, it spends a disproportionate amount of time on the male perspective. Ultimately, there was too much of a focus on his truth, rather than his victims’.
Despite the criticisms of The Morning Show, there is much to praise. I can’t help but think that any critique saying it’s ‘preachy’ comes from a place of discomfort and I don’t think it’s a bad thing to make people re-consider what exploitation, misconduct and assault actually look like. It’s a show that deconstructs the rotten frameworks of the media industry, exposes fraudulent nice guys as well as exploring sexism, racism and homophobia in their micro and macro forms. It also features a blistering performance from Jennifer Aniston, and Billy Crudup is brilliant as Cory Ellison, the President of the News Division, while many of the supporting characters provide plenty of interconnected narrative arcs that also kept my attention.
Is The Morning Show a true representation of what happens on actual news programmes and behind the scenes at television networks? Having never been employed by one, I can’t say for sure, but it is based on Brian Stelter’s book about morning show wars, and there are rumours out there on the people it could be about. The fact that they cover actual events - the most notable being the Las Vegas shootings and Californian fires - adds another layer of intensity and it will be very interesting to see how the writers deal with the pandemic in future episodes. The melodrama, super high production values (reportedly $15 million an episode) and performances had me compelled from episode one and I can confirm that the finale was the explosive denouement I had been waiting for.
Production for Season 2 was halted due to Covid but resumed in October with the original cast and some extra stars (including Julia Margulies - they really are spoiling us!). I’m looking forward to seeing where creators Jay Carson and Kerry Ehrin take the show (within a show) next and hold out hope that they continue to empower characters and audiences, all while keeping us gripped and entertained by the pursuit for the truth.
Watch The Morning Show here: https://tv.apple.com and watch the trailer below: