“We created this space for Jen to play,” Morning Show director and executive producer Mimi Leder tells Refinery29 from a prime perch in a West Hollywood hotel. Leder is talking about her Apple TV+ series’ commanding lead, Jennifer Aniston, now eons beyond the sitcom cheeriness of Friends’ Rachel Green. Space, play, — these are all words that keep coming up when you talk to both the minds behind the new streaming series and the faces you’ll see in front of it.
In the hurricane of content the streaming wars have wrought, it’s impossible to know why you should watch a Netflix show over a Hulu one, or an Apple TV+ series over either of those. But if you ask the cast and crew of The Morning Show, they’ll assure you it's that dedication to quality time with characters — and the complicated conversations that focus creates — that will keep you coming back to Apple TV+ for more.
“An Apple show is a show that is thoughtful, that has an aspect of humanity to it, that is culturally posing questions,” Kerry Ehrin, who created The Morning Show, says from another corner of the hotel. The first question of The Morning Show — which revolves around a show-within-a-show of the same name — is what happens after a #MeToo scandal rocks a cultural institution. In the talk show drama’s case, Steve Carell’s veteran Morning Show anchor Mitch Kessler is the one who is outed as a behind-the-scenes predator.
The way Morning Show handles the aftermath of Mitch’s misconduct goes down some unexpectedly thorny roads.
“The show is about humanity at its core. It’s not just about, ‘Oh, is this person a goodie? Is this person a baddie?’” Morning Show actress Bel Powley says, echoing the sentiments of her show’s creator. Powley’s co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw nods in agreement next to her. “It’s exploring the complications within real people going through a very real situation,” Powley continues.
The early journey for Powley and Mbatha-Raw’s characters proves just how true those words are. Powley plays Claire Conway, a production assistant on The Morning Show. Powley’s Claire will shed light on a perspective in the #MeToo conversation that will likely shock audiences. Mbatha-Raw, perhaps best known for playing Kelly in Black Mirror’s “San Junipero,” is Morning Show booker Hannah Shoenfeld. Hannah leads a morally dubious scene that will look very familiar to anyone who watched HBO’s biggest cult favorite over the summer.
Neither Claire nor Hannah is an unimpeachable angel — and that’s the point. Morning Show’s co-lead Alex Levy (Aniston) may be the shadiest character of all. Alex gives viewers venom, rage, vulnerability, kindness, and calculated kindness over the first three episodes made available to critics. Or, as director Leder gleefully says, “Jen Aniston’s mean! It is fantastic.”
Aniston is so mean as Alex that you may not want her to win at the beginning of this story. Ehrin confirms that is exactly how you should feel. But is there anyone viewers should root for out of the gate? “No, it’s too early. You’re supposed to wonder,” the writer says with a smile. “There are 10 episodes, and that’s a lot about the peeling of onions and pulling back the layers of these people.”
Janina Gavankar, who plays on-the-rise Morning Show anchor Alison Namazi, appreciates how much time Apple gave Ehrin to investigate who these characters are at their core. Especially since the True Blood and Sleepy Hollow alum hasn’t always been so lucky. “I worked on a show once where I literally had to ask the showrunner, I need you to describe my character, because there is no character here. I was already on the show for six episodes,” Gavankar recalls. The response was that her character was “really badass” and nothing else. “That is not a person. That is a catchphrase. And it’s not a great one,” Gavankar sighs.
“That is not a problem here,” she explains of The Morning Show, which waits until its second episode for a splashy surprise. “That tells you Apple has allowed these writers to take time with this story. In most situations that ‘Plot twist — what’s it gonna be?’ moment always has to be at the end of the pilot. Apple has given us a lot of runway to find the legs of this show.”