The Morning Show Review: This Is Jennifer Aniston & Reese Witherspoon’s World. We’re Just Living In It
“It’s exhausting! I’m exhausted!” Reese Witherspoon screams in the first 15 minutes of The Morning Show as Bradley Jackson, a Southern broadcast journalist fed up with the status quo. Bradley is at a coal mine protest that is on the verge of becoming a riot. When she's done screaming, Bradley shoves a belligerent protester, terrifying him into polite behavior. It is in that moment you realize Bradley is more than a spiky Witherspoon role like Big Little Lies’ Madeline Martha Mackenzie or Election’s Tracy Flick. Witherspoon has been simmering with rage on screen for decades. Bradley is the ultimate, boisterous evolution of all that whispered anger.
Then The Morning Show tosses Bradley into a show-within-a-show studio with Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy, the most fearsome woman in the fictional daytime TV world. It’s a perfect pressure cooker of drama — and the reason anyone would tune into The Morning Show, launching Apple's entire prestige TV venture on November 1 with its reported $15-million-an-episode budget.
The premiere of Morning Show — about a television institution like the Today Show called The Morning Show — pushes you into the deep end of its world without any floaties. We quickly find out anchor Mitch Kessler (The Office’s Steve Carrell) has been outed as a workplace sexual predator. He is the show’s Matt Lauer stand-in. Morning Show follows Aniston’s Alex as she learns the talk show-shattering news and attempts to pick up the pieces. This is a story we’ve watched from the outside countless times since #MeToo became a trending topic in October 2017. The Morning Show, which is based on CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s book Top of the Morning, attempts to show us how such scandals are metabolized from the inside.
Oftentimes, it's chillingly cynical work led by men trying to avoid the critical eye of feminist scrutiny turning towards them. The Morning Show producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) consistently seems as if he may drown in the stress of the post-Mitch firestorm. Chip’s boss on the other hand, brand-new network news executive Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), smirks and revels in the chaos of the moment. For Cory, that mayhem leaves a vacuum for reinvention. The network suit should be your least favorite person on this show. But Crudup is having so much fun, he may just become one of your favorites. It’s a dark moral quandary to grapple with.
The Morning Show spends its first hour giving you a painstakingly detailed spin through the perspectives of insiders like Alex, Chip, Cory, and Mitch. We learn more about their morning routines and secret conversations than one of the show’s main characters, Bradley Jackson, could ever dream of understanding. While Alex hardens over the Mitch news and Mitch blames everyone but himself for his ousting, Bradley rolls her eyes at the story from hundreds of miles away in her small coal town. For Bradley, all of these Morning Show power players are big name phonies totally disconnected from the real struggles of America. It’s a reminder of viewers’ own usual remove from disasters like these.
Everything changes when Bradley’s “exhausted!” meltdown goes viral, pulling her into The Morning Show orbit. It is here, when Bradley and Alex are put in the same room, that Morning Show reveals when it truly shines. This isn’t a drama about rhetorically questioning who is a winner and a loser in the #MeToo movement. It’s about seeing how two impressive women — who are complicated and fascinating in vastly different and usually opposing ways — can adapt to succeed in one of media’s messiest moments.
That premise reaches genuine exhilaration when Alex is rude, impulsive, and demanding — Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) in a Michael Kors power suit. It is even better when Bradley calls her new colleague on her B.S. That is why the ending of second installment “A Seat at the Table” and subsequent chapter “Chaos Is the New Cocaine” is the most promising portion of the three episodes made available to critics (Morning Show will debut with a trio of episodes and then release one per week).
Since it takes The Morning Show a little while to realize where it sparkles most, viewers also spend a lot of time with Mitch as he attempts to dig his way out of disgrace. The series uses these out-of-studio interludes to give the audience a harsh look at how previously powerful men felled by their own predatory behavior react. It is easy to feel like the series empathizes with Mitch more than any show made in 2019 should. Particularly since early episodes give Mitch far more screen time than his victims. However, third chapter “Chaos” suggests The Morning Show finds Mitch's actions just as infuriating as the audience does.
As Alex and Bradley try to tell us — that fury isn’t a handicap. It’s fuel.