The Morning Show series premiere recap: The women are exhausted
There are a few stirring songs played throughout The Morning Show‘s hour-plus premiere, but the real soundtrack of Apple TV’s most expensive dip into the crowded original programming pond is the sound of vibrating cell phones and yelling…lots of yelling.
If the fifth main character of Sex and the City was New York, then the fifth A-lister not named in the title sequence of The Morning Show is the ubiquitous iPhone. And you better believe every single device has been switched to crisis mode.
The premiere opens with a series of emergency phone calls waking our main characters between the hours of 2:00 and 3:00 a.m. First, executive producer of The Morning Show —ahem, the morning show within The Morning Show, that is — Chip Black (Mark Duplass) gets a call, and then he phones his co-anchors Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) and Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) to share the news: Kessler is being fired from The Morning Show ahead of a New York Times article exposing UBA’s internal investigation into multiple sexual misconduct accusations filed against him.
This sends Alex reeling, and let’s be clear: Aniston is made for this role. There are few actors that could balance the fury of being put in this position by a league of selfish men, while simultaneously showcasing the dynamic onscreen charisma that would have made Alex a beloved morning show anchor for the last 15 years. Aniston lives and breathes it — she also yells it. Alex is pissed. Not only did she have no idea there was an internal investigation going on, and not only is her job in jeopardy given that half of her chemistry-based duo just got fired, but now she has to go on air and explain it to the nation with the perfect combination of condemnation and mourning…
And our girl naaaaails it.
Staring down the barrel of the camera, sitting at a desk built for two, Alex tells the viewing nation her partner of 15 years has been fired for sexual misconduct: “First and foremost, I want to offer our sympathy and support to the women; we are devastated that this happened on our watch, and our hearts are with you.” Alex continues, saying that Mitch was a part of their Morning Show family, but there are consequences in life: “And while I will miss the Mitch I thought I knew with all of my heart, I’m proud to work at a network, and live in a country, that upholds consequences.”
And just as the monologue has done exactly what it’s supposed to do — create an emotional response with sweeping rhetoric that doesn’t technically have a lot to say — the scene cuts straight to another reporter in West Virginia played by Reese Witherspoon, rolling her eyes as she watches: “What a load.”
The righteous anger that has welled up in Alex over in New York City seems to always be right at the surface for Bradley Jackson, a reporter at the conservative-leaning South East News Network who’s known for being unyielding, screaming, “I am f—ing agreeable” when her producer suggests she could possibly be a little more agreeable. They’re on their way to report from a coal mine protest, and Bradley hopes they can use the interviews to talk about the benefits of carbon capture, which she insists isn’t her own personal agenda; it’s simply the truth.
But things end up a little more personal when Bradley gets a call that her mom has taken her brother out of rehab early just before they go live. Then some little jerk who’s counter-protesting the protest knocks her cameraman down and calls her a “fake news bitch”…
Cue Bradley taking the kid by the collar, and demanding that he name five facts about the coal he loves so much or she’ll get him arrested for assault. As he frantically tries to say that coal is cheap and creates jobs, Bradley buzzes, “AH, wrong,” and revs her engines for a talkin’ to (as she might say, Witherspoon’s twang ringing out louder and sassier than it has since Sweet Home Alabama).
“Do you know how many jobs have been lost in the last ten years? THOUSANDS!” Bradley screams right in his face. “Thousands of f—ing families knocked on their asses, and it’s just a big wheel that goes round — liberals add sanctions, conservatives remove those sanctions, and they just keep fighting because all they wanna do is hear themselves talk, and they all wanna be right, and they all wanna win, and that’s all they f—ing care about, AND THERE’S A HUMAN COST, AND IT’S EXHAUSTIIIIIIING!”
It’s clear in these rousing moments why Aniston and Witherspoon would have jumped at these roles. It’s still a little unclear what these rousing moments are ultimately trying to say about the characters who deliver them. Most concerning though, is that a portion of the episode’s bountiful indignation quota is dedicated to Mitch, who’s definitely not based on Matt Lauer, but is a sexual predator who abused his power for decades, and once asked to face the consequences of abusing his power, complains that he is the victim.
“I didn’t rape anybody,” Mitch screams at his team of agents and managers in his palatial estate somewhere outside New York City after the news of his firing has spread. “I didn’t jizz into a plant in front of anybody! If I f—ed a couple of PAs and assistants, big f—ing deal — they liked it!” And finally: “Since the dawn of time, men have used their power to attract women and now let’s bust Mitch Kessler’s head over it!”
These certainly sound like things someone like Mitch Kessler might say in private…and now we’ve gotten to hear someone like him say them, I guess? It is quite gratifying to hear Mitch’s wife come in and tell him matter-of-factly that she hasn’t liked him for a while now, so this seems like a good time to divorce him. And Carrell is a perfect choice to portray this particularly detrimental combination of charm, narcissism, and power. But if that’s really a point of view that needs to be highlighted remains to be seen. I definitely know I won’t be able to stand more than two episodes of Mitch whining, “It’s not my fauuuuult, they were consensual affaaaaairs.”
Much more interesting is Alex’s complicated feelings of anger at Mitch, while also mourning the loss of what they had together…which was basically the job security of being America’s mom and dad. But now America’s dad is a sexual predator, and America’s mom has to deal with the fallout. Namely, the new president of UBA’s News division, Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup bringing all the smirky sinister weirdness), showing up at The Morning Show and assuring Chip that he’ll be there every step of the way as they clean up this mess.
Cory came over to news from the entertainment division and he has some very specific thoughts about how to make his new home more entertaining. “It’s kind of funny, how the entire world of broadcast could just fall off a cliff in the next few years — like, boom, lights out — unless we reinvent it,” Cory smarms to Chip over a dinner where Alex’s absence is palpable. Chip has assured Alex he’ll keep her informed about who the network is going after to replace Mitch, but when Chip makes it clear that he’d like the reboot the whole damn thing and bring in a new titillating duo, Chip just nods right along. “Alex is like Mitch’s widow now,” Cory tells Chip. “And no one wants to watch a widow get f—ed.”
But soon, Cory looks intrigued by a different, perhaps equally entertaining direction: less titillation, more confrontation. See, someone filmed Bradley’s blow up at the coal protest, and it’s gone mega-viral. The Morning Show‘s booker Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) flies all the way to West Virginia to tell Bradley that her words have spoken to America, and they want her on the show the next day.
When Alex comes to the next morning after stumbling around the studio drunk the night before, she watches Bradley’s video from the protest and sneers, “Yeah, there’s no way she didn’t know she was being filmed.” There’s something about Bradley’s outburst that seems to particularly gnaw at Alex, but her producer advises her to just get through the day and do a “pleasant little interview that will make America happy.” So…
Alex gets onstage with Bradley, rolls the clip, and then asks, “Why exactly were you so exhausted?” Bradley holds strong and tries to relate to Alex, saying that sometimes as reporters they just want to educate people so they can stop spinning around in circles. “Parties have created a good side and a bad side for their own purposes,” Bradley says. “And once you villainize someone, there is nothing left to do but go to war with them.” Alex points out that Bradley works at a conservative news outlet, so what side does she personally fall on.
“The human side,” Bradley replies. Alex says it doesn’t really work like that; decisions have to be made eventually. Bradley says that all she’s ever wanted to do is deliver the news to America because the truth matters to her. So Alex lobs her biggest hit yet, calling out the reporter’s sacred creed to never let the story become about them, and suggesting that some cynical people out there might think Bradley’s viral video was set up. “To what end?” Bradley asks, genuinely confused.
“You’re here,” Alex says pointedly as Chip looks on in horror. But Cory…
Cory smiles. It may not be the sexual tension he was thinking of, but there’s something happening on this stage. My greatest dream is that Alex and Bradley eventually work through whatever that something is, and turn Cory’s skeevy smile upside down. And there may just be hope yet, because Bradley’s got bite, yes, but she has a barometer for who’s on the receiving end. She tells Alex that she knows there are non-cynical people out there who believe the news can change “because the people who deliver the news, who show themselves as honest and decent and trustworthy, have in quite a few cases, proven themselves to be untruthful.” Suck it, Mitch.
Bradley thinks people want more transparency in their journalism: “I think they want to trust that the person who is telling them the truth about the world is an honest person…like you.”
Mimi Leder’s direction in this premiere carries more than its fair share of storytelling, and the crisp close-up of Alex’s frozen face after Bradley says “like you” is the only suggestion we get all episode that Alex might have any doubts that she’s an honest person…that she says the things she means on-air, and not just saying the things that sound right. I want more of those moments from The Morning Show…
Moments that show us not just the world that Alex and Bradley exist in, but how Alex and Bradley exist within that world. In this premiere, The Morning Show comes off a bit like a real morning show: compulsively watchable, polished as hell, but maybe a little self-important about what it’s doing. But for now, perhaps the fun is in the self-importance. After all, I would happily watch 10 episodes of Jennifer Aniston enacting a 10-step skincare routine at 3:30 in the morning and Reese Witherspoon screaming twangy f-bombs (I would more readily watch her do so sans wig, but of course we all understand that serious, truth-telling journalist mustn’t be blonde).
But I also know that there is validity and nuance within Alex and Bradley’s bubbling anger in this premiere, and I do hope we explore it in the next nine episodes. In the final scenes, Alex sneaks over to Mitch’s house to tell him how mad she is at him for doing this and leaving her all alone in a lonely life that he was the sole person who could understand. And in return, Mitch tells her that the show was planning to replace her before this all happened…because, as a reminder, Mitch is a narcissist who sucks. It’s almost definitely true, but it’s not helpful.
So the question is: when Cory calls Bradley in the episode’s final moment to “talk about [her] future,” does that future include Alex Levy or not?