'The Morning Show' Has Promise, But It's Too Good To Bad Men

Two HuffPost reporters discuss whether the Jennifer Aniston/Reese Witherspoon drama is worth Apple's $4.99 subscription fee.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/HuffPost; Photo: Apple TV Plus

The Morning Show,” starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell (and other supporting players including Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mark Duplass), is the most talked about and star studded series of Apple TV+’s grand Nov. 1 debut. Charting the fallout after the firing of a beloved morning-show anchor, the series addresses everything from broadcast fame to uneven power dynamics in the workplace. It introduces newscaster Alex Levy (Aniston) right as she learns her on-air partner Mitch Kessler (Carell) was let go due to accusations of sexual misconduct. As Alex tries to navigate her way through the chaos, network executive Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) further stirs the pot, bringing in a potential co-host, small-town reporter Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon).

Reviews of “The Morning Show” have been harsh. Variety called it an “underwhelming streaming misfire.” IndieWire described it as “rudderless and dull.” The Hollywood Reporter said the show struggles “to find its focus, tone and attitude toward its main characters.”

While some of that criticism may be true, we’re here to tell you it’s not exactly as bad as it sounds. HuffPost reporters Leigh Blickley and Matthew Jacobs talk through the highs and lows of the first three episodes of “The Morning Show,” which Apple is releasing all at once before moving to a weekly model. The service, which costs $4.99 a month, has to coast on originals alone, unlike most other streaming platforms, which come with a catalog of older titles. So, is it worth it?

The Bottom Line

Although “The Morning Show” has some problems with execution, the story of a newsroom scandal and its aftermath will keep your attention.

Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell in "The Morning Show."
Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell in "The Morning Show."

The Rundown

Leigh Blickley: “The Morning Show” was critically panned this week as stars and executive producers Aniston and Witherspoon smiled through a jam-packed press tour. And Matt, let me tell you, it’s been a confusing time for me since I, for one, didn’t think the show was quite as horrible as the reviews were... Is it just me?

Matthew Jacobs: The series is certainly flawed, but a lot of early reviews seemed more concerned with “The Morning Show” as the flagship commodity for a much-publicized new streaming service than as a show in and of itself. Maybe that’s not unfair. You’d think Apple would trot out its shiniest diamond first, but this one only twinkles sometimes. I think there’s promise, though!

Leigh: The story is certainly there. The pilot episode isn’t great, but the lure of uncovering the post-scandal chaos that explodes behind the scenes was strong enough for me to continue watching. Let’s face it, horrendous truths about TV hosts have come to light recently ― most notably Matt Lauer of “Today,” who was fired in November 2017 following allegations of sexual harassment. (He was also accused of rape in October.) This man who many woke up to every morning, who they trusted to deliver the news, ended up being a creep. What does that say, if anything, about us as viewers? More importantly, what does that say about all the people who worked alongside him for years? Did they know, were they unaware, did they protect him? These are some of the questions I hoped “The Morning Show” would address.

The Hits and Misses

Matthew: The show seems a bit confused about how to handle the Mitch Kessler of it all. He comes dangerously close to being a sympathetic character when he probably should have been cast aside altogether after the first episode. It’s not his story anymore. Plus, as someone who sometimes struggles to buy Steve Carell The Serious Actor, I think Carell is woefully miscast, underscoring how wobbly the whole tone is. He’s too broad, too likable, too nasal.

Leigh: How do you think the show deals with the conversation around bad men and the Me Too movement, in general? I think I would have liked to see more of who Mitch was in front of and behind the camera before I’m thrust into his firing. The writers tell us a lot, but don’t show us much when it comes to this character. A powerful part of a show like “The Loudest Voice,” for instance, is seeing the abusive nature of Roger Ailes (Russell Crowe) and what he put his victims through. Perhaps they’ll revisit Mitch’s relationships with his accusers in flashbacks or give us more of a sense of how he was treating women? Those scenes would help the viewer separate Mitch not only from Carell but from the co-host persona we are presented with. Somehow his private conversation with Alex or that whole scene between him and Martin Short ― playing a disgraced film director reminiscent of Woody Allen ― made me feel for him when, knowing what I’ve been told, I want to turn my back.

Matthew: Right. It’s almost like we need to see every side of Mitch or none at all. This middle ground, wherein the show isn’t confirming his exact crimes and wants us to experience the fallout alongside him, feels cheap. I can’t say I’m longing for a bunch of scenes that show him harassing women either, though, so it’s sort of a lose-lose. That’s why Me Too-related fiction is hard to pull off, especially when you cast the 40-year-old virgin. I do like seeing Alex’s conflicted feelings over losing her friend and longtime professional partner, but maybe we didn’t need to see her sneak off to his house in the middle of the night. Just call him on the iPhone! (This show is obsessed with iPhones and other Apple products.)

Leigh: Tim Cook made sure of it! And I agree with you there. Pulling off a show directly responding to complicated conversations happening in real-time is difficult.

Matthew: But! There’s still a lot to appreciate here. Aniston is dynamite, the episodes have a talky “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” vibe and the soapiness gives it an entertaining tenor.

Leigh: We are witnessing some of Aniston’s best work, that’s for sure. The mania. The monologues. The wine-guzzling. It’s pure delight. And Witherspoon is also on her game. I have to say, though, the first two episodes didn’t give me an idea of who these women truly are. I was into the plot, but also questioning my allegiance to the characters. By Episode 3, I began to understand where the show was probably heading ― which is to a place that not only explores the camaraderie of the Me Too era but also dissects the friction-filled relationship between two prominent women. That is, two women being strung along by the scheming head of network news, played expertly by Billy Crudup.

Matthew: Billy Crudup! He has such a sleek way of commanding a scene. Not sure how I feel about Witherspoon, though. She keeps screaming her lines, which is especially unnecessary considering how often Bradley spells out exactly how she feels. In fact, you can tell the scripts are written by people with limited understanding of the news business. Everything is a little overgeneralized, even contrived at times. But Episode 3 is the best of the bunch so far, narrowing the focus to Alex and Bradley’s burgeoning relationship. I want to see where that goes and how well the series can imagine what that duo might look like on an actual talk show.

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston attend Apple's global premiere of "The Morning Show" on October 28, 2019 in New York City.
Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston attend Apple's global premiere of "The Morning Show" on October 28, 2019 in New York City.
Brian Ach via Getty Images

So, Should You Watch It?

Leigh: Most people want to turn to their various streaming platforms for an escape, right? So that brings us to this point: There are eight projects debuting on Apple TV+ on Nov. 1, but “The Morning Show” is clearly the biggest draw. Is it worth the $4.99 subscription fee?

Matthew: Not to get all “yay Apple!” on you — because Apple is a monolithic corporation that does not need our “yay” — but $4.99 is a good price for a streaming service. (It’ll inevitably go up, and probably sooner rather than later. But for now, a good price.) Still, one show alone cannot support an entire network, even with talent this glitzy. That said, if we take away the Apple-ness of it all, the show is not hopeless. I say watch it!

Leigh: Yes, $4.99 isn’t bad, although we’re only getting original programming and not a gazillion movies like, say, Netflix provides. If you don’t like “The Morning Show” or “Dickinson” or “See,” you’re pretty much out of luck ― no random rom-com find for you! No “Bird Box”! Give “The Morning Show” a try, though. If only for the fact that Jennifer Aniston is back on TV. Sort of.

Should You Watch It?” is a weekly examination of movies and TV worth ― or not worth! ― your time.

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