Television

Ignore the Critics and Enjoy a Sour Bite of Apple's Vicious The Morning Show

Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon kill it as troubled television journalists in a changing media environment.

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The Morning Show. Available now on Apple TV.

The Morning Show, the Jennifer Aniston-Reese Witherspoon series intended as Apple TV's blockbuster inaugural event, has been treated more like a bomb in many of the early reviews.

Some critics plainly made up their minds from the show's early production problems—a bunch of producers were ousted and, it was said, the storyline reworked substantially. Others bristle at the idea of Aniston as a dramatic actress rather than a comedienne. There's a Stalinist subtext that The Morning Show isn't sufficiently #MeTooish. And Apple executives believe at least some of the complaints stemmed from resentment of the company thinking it can make TV shows as well as Macs.

It's all hogwash.

The Morning Show is high-voltage drama and big-time entertainment, a savage, scorching portrait of the TV news industry as a modern court of the Medicis where corporate genocide is coffee-break sport, where subordinates exist to be crushed and superiors to be sabotaged. It may not be exactly news that the most trusted men (and, these days, women) in America are anything but, but it's never been so convincingly demonstrated.

Modeled heavily (but not exclusively) on the 2017 scandal at The Today Show in which Matt Lauer lost his hosting job after accusations of sexual harassment, The Morning Show is drenched in the gender drama of today's television.

Aniston plays Alex Levy, a long-time co-anchor stunned by the abrupt pre-dawn firing of her partner Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) on the grounds of sexual harassment.

And though Alex isn't implicated in any way in Kessler's misconduct, she quickly realizes her job is in peril anyway. The show's ratings have been slipping for years, and Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup of the film version of Watchmen), the newly arrived head of the network's news division, has a radically different vision of what the show should look like. In a world where everybody can track events on their cell phones as they happen, he thinks, TV news is an anachronism.

"The entire world of broadcast could fall off a cliff in just a few years," Ellison warns a subordinate. "What we really need on television right now, it's not news or fucking journalism, it's entertainment."

Enter Witherspoon's character, Bradley (Two Fucks) Jackson, a talented reporter who nonetheless has been wandering in the wilderness of small-town TV for a decade after uttering the F-word twice in the same stand-up report.

Her molten temper is still lethal. Covering a protest over coal, she grabs a pro-coal demonstrator by the shirt to deliver an anti-carbon tirade that's captured by somebody's cell phone and goes viral. Guess who sees it and considers it grandly entertaining?

Bradley's candidacy for a job at The Morning Show is complicated by the fact that much of the staff considers her not just a loose cannon but a phony whose coal meltdown was a publicity stunt staged for YouTube consumption.

Foremost among the skeptics is Alex, who confronts Bradley about the possibility that she's a fake during an on-air interview. Bradley retorts that the viral sweep of the video was not the result of calculation but a populist quest for authenticity among viewers: "I think they want to trust that the person who is telling them the truth about the world is an honest person … [lonnnng beat] like you." That's less an insinuation than an uppercut to the jaw. But Alex's riposte is no love-pat, either: "Good luck in Hamhock, Virginia."

The confrontations, conspiracies and—eventually—wary cooperation between Alex and Bradley are the diamond-brilliant heart of The Morning Show. The famous anti-chemistry between Aniston and Witherspoon when they played quarreling sisters in a 2000 Friends arc is still alive, albeit without the comic overtones.

Aniston, in her finest dramatic performance ever, plays Alex as a prickly bundle of fears, insecurities and loneliness, a woman whose wealth and fame as a 3:30-a.m.-wakeup morning-show host has come at the expense of family, romance or any other trappings of normal life.

Witherspoon's Bradley is no less troubled. Her family life—defined by a hard-to-please mom and a junkie brother, both of whom she must support—is a mess. Her professional life, even more so: Bradley's conviction that journalism should ignore balance in the pursuit of "truth" as the reporter sees it has kept her at odds with a series of producers and general managers.

And her perpetual Two Fucks fury has left her friendless even among the newsroom proles. "I AM fuckin' agreeable!" she shrieks across a parking lot after a producer suggests it would air her career to take it down a notch.

Like Aniston, Witherspoon has mastered the art of turning a repellent character into a transfixing presence. There really aren't any heroes or even likeable personalities, just a collection of corporate nightstalkers prowling the alley ways in search of a quick kill. It says something about the show's darkness that the closest thing to a sympathetic character may be Carell as the disgraced anchor Kessler, raging endlessly (and pointlessly) that somebody changed the rules of the game during the middle of his turn.

"I didn't rape anybody," he protests. "I didn't fire anybody. I didn't jizz into a plant in front of somebody. You know what I did? I fucked a couple of [production assistants] … and they liked it." He caps his speech by walloping his big-screen TV with a fireplace poker. Thus is Marshall McLuhan refuted.

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  1. Some day journalists will understand that their profession just isn’t that interesting. Every few years they make a movie or a TV show about journalists and every journalist loves it and writes an article praising it and general public ignores it.

    Although, there is one movie about journalism coming out this winter that seems to be getting a lot of buzz and is likely to do quite well at the box office, Jewel. Oddly, journalists don’t seem very enthused about that one.

    1. I dunno if you saw Nightstalker from a few years back, but I thought it was fantastic.

    2. Some day journalists will understand that their profession just isn’t that interesting.

      Doubt it.

    3. I remember the opinion editorialist on the local radio (he came on about the time before or after Sleepy Joe told us Uncle Remus stories and played songs like “marzy doats doezt doat liddlelams edivy”. He always end with “I ask not that you agree with me, only that you think about it.”

      Today’s journalists are endless opinion-editorialists who will never ever consider the possibility they could be wrong.

      Mary Mapes and Dan Rather still claim the “Killian memos” supplied by Bill Burkett are the TRUTH (which implies that the Texas Air National Guard archived memos that match Marion Carr Knox’ Olympia typewriter with signatures that match Col Killian’s handwriting have be the fakes).

  2. Others bristle at the idea of Aniston as a dramatic actress rather than a comedienne. There’s a Stalinist subtext that The Morning Show isn’t sufficiently #MeTooish.

    1. Aniston is perfectly fine as a dramatic actress.
    2. Possibly because Hollywood might just be starting to do the math on Woke.

    1. From what I hear Midway is an actual decent war movie without any PC bullshit. Ford v. Ferrari is supposed to be a no PC bullshit movie. Jewel is going after the major media, which is a woke sacred cow if there ever was one and its protagonist is an evil white male.

      Having three major releases over the Holidays that are not woke bullshit is an improvement. I don’t know if they have finally started to do the math but they seem to have learned something.

      1. It all goes back to my theory that the backlash is happening. Early stages, yes, but it’s happening.

        Check out this short clip (cut at relevant time) where this gaming industry dude goes on an anti-gaming journalist tirade that lit some people up.

        People are starting to say shit, publicly, out loud, and they’re not getting fired for it.

        1. We are hopefully getting close to a preference cascade. I think their failure to destroy Kanye West and Dave Chappell was the start of it. If those guys could get away with telling the woke mobs to fuck off, other people realized they could. That is why they tried so hard to destroy both of them.

  3. Her molten temper is still lethal. Covering a protest over coal, she grabs a pro-coal demonstrator by the shirt to deliver an anti-carbon tirade that’s captured by somebody’s cell phone and goes viral. Guess who sees it and considers it grandly entertaining?

    Uh oh, this sounds a little Aaron Sorkin-ish… but yet I admit highly realistic as why journalism is in the shitter. That anti-carbon tirade is basically what reporters do on Twitter every day. Which is… why Twitter has been the most important tool in journalism since the printing press.

    1. Covering a protest over coal, she grabs a pro-coal demonstrator by the shirt to deliver an anti-carbon tirade

      I hope the show detailed her trip to flyover country in Business Class, her stay at the highest end hotel in town and her being driven around in a large SUV.

  4. “Bradley’s conviction that journalism should ignore balance in the pursuit of “truth” as the reporter sees it has kept her at odds with a series of producers and general managers.”

    …who claim that journalism should ignore balance in favor of truth as the producers and general managers see it?

    1. Yeah, a reporter whose career suffers because she is too biased. That makes the usual millionaire who marries a hooker with a golden heart story sound believable by comparison.

  5. Thus is Marshall McLuhan refuted.

    Oh, yeah? Well, it just happens that I have Marshall McLuhan right here, and he’s not refuted….

    Sorry. Someone was going to say it sooner or later.

  6. based on this review, I watched the first episode.
    Based on that first episode, I tracked this review back down just to comment.
    It’s a terrible show with Witherspoon giving her first unbearable performance I’ve ever seen. The scene with her berating the pro-coal protestor is ridiculously wish fulfillment and she’s simply too awful to watch and it’s all because of terrible writing.
    It’s too bad with the great cast but boy did the writers let them down.

  7. Might be good if the climate change tirade psycho part is rebuffed by a little bit of rational push back since I am sure that this show too will be laced with all sorts of woke climate change fagginess and crying pussies.

  8. I dunno if you saw Nightstalker from a few years back, but I thought it was fantastic.

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