As a society, I think we can all agree that no good news is ever delivered by way of a phone call at 3 a.m. Like, ever. Okay, maybe if your friend lives in a different time zone and calls to wish you a happy birthday or something, but if that happens, your friend legitimately sucks. In the opening moments of Apple TV+’s new drama, The Morning Show, it is not a dumb friend calling various members of The Morning Show (the morning news show within the show, you get it) team to celebrate life, but rather pass along some pretty dreadful news: Co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) has just been fired by the network over allegations of sexual misconduct — an investigation into those allegations was leaked to the New York Times and Mitch is out. Chaos, yelling speeches in people’s faces, and a star-studded TV series ensues.
Let’s not pretend that you’re only now just hearing about The Morning Show. Apple has been hyping up the reunion of Rachel and Jill Green for what seems like actual years of my life. Why wouldn’t they? The glossy show boasts Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, Reese Witherspoon’s brown wig, and Steve Carrell as its leads. Dear lord, hype that up! Let’s also not pretend that we all don’t know this is very much based on what went down with Matt Lauer on The Today Show. It is so thinly veiled, there’s almost no veil to be found.
There is one other thing about which we should stop pretending. I feel like everyone was expecting this to be the next big prestige drama (not unwarranted, the show certainly thinks it is Very Important), but let’s call it what it is, at least in this episode: a well-produced, well-acted primetime soap. Or, like, whatever-time soap — streaming, amirite? And I say that not as a dig, but as someone who lives for soapy dramas.
You know when I figured that out? Right around the time Reese Witherspoon’s character, Bradley Jackson, a reporter at a local conservative news station in Virginia, who’s not like other reporters, she’s tough — she curses a lot and wears leather jackets and has feelings, okay?! — gets in trouble with her boss after a video of her screaming at a protester about how exhausted she is with the state of the world goes viral. Her response to her boss who is asking her to check her temper? “I was talking to him about the truth. Remember the truth? Journalism? We’re newspeople!” Oh reader, I laughed so hard. That’s some top-notch cheese right there, not an Important Dramatic Monologue. I think we’ll all be happier when we (and that “we” includes the actual show) embrace the soap!
After the news about Mitch breaks, things proceed much as you would expect. Mitch, who is an — there is no better word for it — asshole, spends the next three days holed up in his mansion yelling about how he didn’t do anything wrong, his affairs with multiple PAs and assistants were all consensual, and he’s simply collateral damage in Harvey Weinstein’s mess. So yeah, just like, a real charmer.
Meanwhile, the heads of the network — including Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), the new director of the news division and possibly a psychopath — are scrambling to figure out how best to not just retain all of their advertisers but also how The Morning Show, which has been dipping in the ratings, could capitalize on the moment. It’s very gross!
But this show — at least, this episode — is not about those dinks. It’s about Alex Levy (Aniston), Mitch’s co-anchor of 15 years. They are the mom and dad of morning TV. She calls him her “TV husband.” Alex is blindsided by the news. You guys, Jennifer Aniston is insanely good on this show. She so perfectly balances Alex’s hurt, anger, grief, and yes, even the thought that this could be a huge moment for her career. Alex goes on the air alone when The Morning Show begins just hours after the Mitch news breaks. She gives her little speech about how shocked she is, how betrayed everyone feels, while also noting that her sympathy is with the victims and she’s glad she lives in a world where actions have consequences. She even tears up! If that was her moment, it was a pretty good one.
Off the air, she fumes about not being told about the investigation and wanting control over who will replace Mitch, she grows increasingly annoyed with people giving her condolences, she sucks down a lot of vodka. It’s not until she is told to give a nice fluffy interview with Bradley Jackson that Alex reaches a breaking point.
You see, Alex doesn’t buy that a reporter in the year of our Lord 2019 would not assume people are filming her and thinks the entire incident must have been set up for publicity. On air, Alex slowly winds up to calling Bradley out for breaking the number one rule of reporting: You don’t make the story about you, and she clearly did. Alex continues with the digs, clearly hoping to ruffle Bradley, but the woman remains unruffled. She even dishes some of the passive-aggressiveness back. Is Alex impressed or pissed that she didn’t break her? Probably both. You guys, if all Aniston-Witherspoon scenes are going to be like that, we can have 1,000 people remind us that “we’re newspeople!” and I won’t even care. Just kidding, let’s cap that at like, two at most.
Of course, there is another showdown we’ve been waiting to see this entire episode, and it finally arrives in the final few minutes: Alex goes to confront Mitch face-to-face. She comes to his home in the dead of night, having to sneak through the backwoods so as to not alert the press hovering out front. She arrives soaking wet from the rain and she is so, so angry. Guys, if Aniston doesn’t win awards for this scene alone there might be riots. Mitch continues to be a real prick, adhering to his belief that he’s the victim here. He even wonders aloud if Alex is just jealous of the other women since the two of them apparently slept together twice in the past. Why Alex doesn’t claw his face in that moment, one will never know.
In fact, it is only once Alex shows how completely devastated she is by this — that she gave up everything in her life for this job and now, because he’s an asshole, she could lose it all, that she also lost the one person who truly understood her life, and the bond they had before is gone forever — that Mitch shows the slightest remorse for his actions.
Any start toward healing is completely obliterated when, after they embrace and she tries to leave, he runs after her — he does not want to be alone, you see! — and follows her outside to tell her that the network was planning on getting rid of her anyway. Alex thinks he’s just trying to hurt her, but honestly, after seeing Cory have a discussion with Executive Producer Chip (Mark Duplass) basically saying the same thing and then watching him call up Bradley post-interview to “discuss her future,” Mitch’s reveal tracks.
This Just In:
• Did we really need a glimpse into Bradley’s backstory in this episode? We meet her bipolar addict brother, Hal (Joe Tippett), and her mother (Brett Butler), who most definitely hates her daughter, before Bradley’s whisked off to NYC. Bradley’s apoplectic that her mother would take Hal out of the rehab Bradley put him in just two weeks ago. Her family sucks, basically. More on this later, surely.
• Oh, okay, Paige Kessler (Embeth Davidtz)! Mitch’s wife shows up only to tell him she’s taking the kids to the Hamptons and divorcing him. She didn’t really like him anymore, anyway.
• Bold of Apple to have a character in their marquee show give a speech about how broadcast news is dying and unless it reinvents itself it will be devoured by tech companies. Cool, cool, cool.
• What’s the deal with Chip and Alex? Are they simply just close after 15 years of working together? She seems to kind of hate him — she ignores his calls and generally scowls at him — but they have excellent chemistry. Also, Chip is always the first to defend Alex to the network and he definitely looks like he wants to punch Cory in the face when he suggests getting rid of her since she’s basically Mitch’s TV widow now and has lost any sexual appeal. Actually, I believe the quote is “Nobody wants to watch a widow get fucked,” which, hello, is truly something.
• Alex and her husband (Jack Davenport) seem to be in a weird place, huh? They’re clearly only still married for pretenses: Alex almost forgets to put her wedding ring on before she leaves for work from an apartment where she clearly lives alone. But when he and their college-aged daughter come to see her, he does seem genuinely concerned for how she’s doing.
• There’s a Big Event on Friday, guys!! No one mentions what it is but they talk about it several times! A big event at the worst time!! Get ready!
• Bradley Jackson? We’re really sticking with that?