The Morning Show is too big to fail. Each episode of the star-studded new series costs upwards of $15 million. For context, that’s about the same price as each episode in the final season of Game Of Thrones, a globe-spanning production featuring extensive CGI and a sprawling cast.
As the flagship series of Apple TV+, the new subscription service from Apple, The Morning Show has to do a lot of heavy-lifting. Apple TV+ lacks the deep back catalogue of Disney or the years head-start of original programming and content agreements that Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have solidified. When the service launches on the 1st of November for £4.99 a month, it will do so with just seven new series. Apple executives are hoping that Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carrell, in their first series post-Friends and The Office, respectively, and movie star/super producer Reese Witherspoon will be enough to entice subscribers who didn’t just get a free year subscription because they bought a new iPhone.
Yes, the paycheques being thrown at this cast, which also includes Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (actors that could easily headline their own series) makes up most of that absurd budget, and for good reason; besides attracting interest and eyeballs, their talent papers over what is otherwise a middling showbusiness drama. The Morning Show is too big to fail, but three episodes in, it’s also too average to warrant its exorbitant price tag and hype.
Loosely based on CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s book Top Of The Morning, The Morning Show follows the back-stage drama at a fictional network morning news show of the same name. Aniston and Carrell star as Alex Levy and Mitch Kessler, co-anchors with crackling chemistry, or so we’re told. Besides brief glimpses, the audience never really sees the pair working together, as the series begins with the news that Mitch has been fired after several documented instances of sexual misconduct. Alex takes the news hard for several reasons, but mainly because her own fate at the network was intrinsically tied with Mitch. Still, her frustration, anger, and sadness may have landed better had we the chance to spend some time with the pair pre-scandal.
Meanwhile, firebrand local reporter Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon) goes viral after blowing up at a pro-coal protestor off-camera, landing her an appearance as a guest at The Morning Show. Her arrival is serendipitously timed, as brand-new broadcast network entertainment president Cory Ellison (Crudup) is looking to shake things up in the wake of Mitch’s departure. We’ve seen Witherspoon play variations of this part before, and she’s predictably great. Unlike the relationship between Alex and Mitch, Bradley is better left unexamined and enigmatic, as her unclear political beliefs make her hard to pin down.
10 years ago, watching Aniston’s aging anchor rage against a would-be usurper would have been a fine premise for a feature film, but in today’s day and age, medium-sized adult dramas are not getting made. Stories like this have increasingly landed on TV or streaming services, blown out to eight or ten hours to their detriment. The Morning Show deeply feels like one of those properties, a gestating feature script that had a #MeToo element tacked on so it had enough heft to expand to a series. The problem is that the show doesn’t particularly have anything insightful to say about the #MeToo movement, spending way too much time on Alex and Mitch’s response to the scandal, which feels distasteful when you think about the many real-life victims at several different networks that are still in the news.
Despite this, The Morning Show is not without its charms. It’s great seeing Aniston back on television, and she delivers a satisfying, emotional performance that utilises many of her best qualities, like her spiralling, frazzled energy. However, no one on the series is more impressive than Crudup, who makes a meal of his limited screen-time. With a bemused sense of detachment and a quality that the kids would call Big Dick Energy, you can’t take your eyes off of Crudup and his possibly unearned and misguided sense of confidence. Really, the entire supporting cast is great. I’ve spent more time thinking about Duplass’ put-upon executive producer Chip and Mbatha-Raw’s talent booker Hannah than I have about Carrell’s sad-sack whiner.
Director Mimi Leder, who last floored me with her work on The Leftovers, does her best with the material she’s given. The dressing and control rooms at The Morning Show feel claustrophobic and confining and she really makes the audience feel the realities of starting every day at 3:30 am. As you would expect with a behind-the-scenes show-biz drama, there’s plenty of walk-and-talks, long takes, and fiery exchanges, but unfortunately the dialogue never quite gets to Sorkin levels of snappiness. It’s close, but no cigar.
Considering the talent assembled, money spent, and goal at hand, to kick off what aspires to be a major competitor in the newly escalated Streaming Wars, The Morning Show just feels lacking. If this is the best foot that Apple TV+ can put forward, it may signal what many industry insiders suspect; there’s no justifiable reason for Apple to get into the content game. The Morning Show probably should have been a movie. As a series, it should definitely be better than this.
The Morning Show launches on Apple TV on Friday the 1st of November.