The Morning Show was always supposed to star Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, in their first on-screen reunion since they played sisters on Friends, but it wasn’t always supposed to be about #MeToo. The series, which was announced in late 2018, is based on the book Top of the Morning, by journalist Brian Selter, which documents the behind-the-scenes lives of morning show hosts. The Today Show took in nearly $500 million in 2011, when it featured co-hosts Matt Lauer and Ann Curry, according to a write-up in the New York Times about the book. And though I haven’t yet read the book, many reviews refer to cluttered information about the private lives of broadcast anchors across different networks, as they struggle to achieve the enviable status of the most-watched morning show in America. Stelter’s biggest scoop exposed the offscreen tension between Curry and Lauer — the dynamic the first iteration of Apple+’s The Morning Show was supposed to mimic.
That idea is supported in a recent interview with the show’s screenwriter Kerry Ehrin, who was brought on to rewrite the script, and incorporate a #MeToo plot line around a Lauer-esque character. It’s because of Hollywood’s reckoning that The Morning Show went from workplace drama to Time’s Up tale. In this iteration, the show and its A-list cast (Witherspoon, Aniston, Steve Carrel, Billy Crudup, and Mark Duplass), are tasked with creating a story that combines a lot of (and at times too many) buzzy topics. There’s women fighting for their survival in the shallow world of television as they start to age, a man defending his right to sleep with interns and PAs because he can, combined with the non-stop hilarity of a workplace that runs on little sleep. As entertaining that sounds, it’s a lot to undertake. Still the show’s premiere, “In the Dark Night of the Soul It's Always 3:30 in the Morning” manages to wrangle it all together and package it as a #MeToo story that will have you both laughing and squirming.
Right away, viewers dive into the dark (literally, since this entire episode takes place either before 9 a.m., or after 9 p.m.) and restless world of broadcast journalism when the New York Times drops a damning exposé on Mitch Kessler (Carell), one half of The Morning Show’s duo. The ensuing game of phone tag, kicked off by a wrinkled and stressed Colin ‘Chip’ Black (Mark Duplass), ends with an in-person delivery of the shocking news. “Who died?” Alex Levy (Aniston) demands when Chip greets her outside the entrance to UBA’s corporate office. That’s a sentiment shared throughout the premiere episode, as Mitch’s reputation and relationships have indeed been killed off due to the multiple accusations of sexual misconduct at the workplace. As my mom always said when I begged to break curfew, "Nothing good happens after midnight."
The allegations against Mitch are met around the office with sighs, not gasps. In fact, Chip knew about them. (How much did he know? Hard to tell, but he had been working with HR, and he was the only one awake when the phone rang, as if...waiting for it go off.) There’s been a whisper network about Mitch for years, and the staff of TMS seem more agitated by the disturbance than comforted by the news that he’s off the air and out of their office.
Ironically, one of the last people in the inner-circle to hear about Mitch is Alex. The two are the yin to each other’s yang, up there every day at the crack of dawn. After hearing the allegations, she demands she be the one to tell their loyal viewers the news, in a move eerily similar to the one made by Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, ushering in Lauer’s own public downfall. Alex offers a calculated, and, according to her team, overly compassionate statement regarding Mitch being #MeTooed. Her strengths as a news anchor (determined, resilient), are at odds with her inner-conflict. Mitch was her friend, her companion, and a part of her hard-earned success as a morning show news anchor. His downfall might also mean herso, and she doesn’t know what the fuck to do about it.
Carell doesn’t play Mitch as a villain; rather, he plays him for laughs. He’s proud of his workplace trysts, and barely shrugs when his wife announces she’s divorcing him in the wake of the accusations. The script and Carell’s ability to make this predator more likable than The Office’s Michael Scott is something that will evolve as the season goes on, according to a recent Paleyfest panel, where Ehrin spoke about writing his character. Executive producers Aniston and Witherspoon have said the show was reworked and repositioned in response to the #MeToo movement, but we don’t see or hear from a victim once in the entire episode. Ehrin says there are later episodes and dialogues giving voice to the women who come forward, but for now, we get Mitch slamming a fireplace poker at his TV.
So far, the villain of this show appears to be Crudup’s Cory Ellison, a network executive who wants to replace Alex, and sees this scandal as the ideal way to kill two birds with one stone. Unfortunately for her, the potential second villain is Chip, the same man Alex tasks with saving her job. Little does she know that he has been working behind-the-scenes to find her replacement alongside Cory. He’s playing both sides of the team, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s changing his tune to keep Alex around because of some history between the two?
The last major player of the show is Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), who goes viral after she publicly and epically drags an uninformed male protester at a coal mine. The video of her outburst garners more than one million views, and she is asked to come be filler on the Mitch-less morning show as the network attempts to highlight women’s voices. On air, she becomes Alex’s punching bag as the two exchange thinly-veiled insults about each other’s style of journalism and reporting. Bradley works for a conservative broadcast channel, but says she only wants to tell human stories. The two spar so subtly that only the producers on the set notice that they’re getting a rise out of each other, before they both manage to shut it down. Alex brushes off Bradley, showing her iciness, but the two clearly make an impression on each other. I wonder if they will ever meet again?! (Ha.)
Their quarrel inspires Cory to call on Bradley in the final scene of the premiere to talk to her about… a role at the company? The possibility of being Alex’s co-host despite a lack of experience (she’s an investigative journalist out of West Virginia who’s been fired for saying “fuck” on air, twice)? His interest in sleeping with her? When the episode ends it’s unclear what his intentions are, both in the short and long term. He’s from the entertainment division of the network, and it’s obvious no one in the news department takes him seriously, so he’s itching to make a statement.
So far, I love Witherspoon embracing her unfiltered Southern roots, Aniston finally leaning into being a know-it-all who loves an icy glass of Grey Goose, and Duplass channeling a male Liz Lemon. I am excited to see the show take on some higher stakes, though. I want to know more about Alex’s plan to keep her seat at the Morning Show table, and how the network will create a safer workplace for women, which is ultimately what Mitch’s firing is about, despite Alex making it all about herself and her tantrums. She says as much when she sneaks over to Mitch’s house in the pouring rain. She doesn’t care that he fucked other women — she cares that he fucked her over.
Water Cooler Gossip:
-There’s nothing I enjoy more than seeing how a successful woman gets *it* done. Alex’s “get ready” segment was one of my favorite parts of the premiere. It showed the reality of her daily routine: Wake up 3 a.m., make a bleary-eyed espresso, half-assedly work out, slap on under eye masks, read her daily scripts, etc.
-It’s interesting to see the same scene told from such different perspectives. When Bradley and Alex spar, we see the conversation from America’s eyes, as it would have aired on the network, through Chip’s eyes, as he freaks out over Alex’s insults, and then from each of the women’s point-of-view, as the size each other up and realize they’re two sides of the same coin. I look forward to director Mimi Leder’s varied perspective in these deeply layered scenes.
-Can more people yell at Mitch? I know we need systematic change on this show, and in real life, but I quite enjoy watching Carell be screamed at for being a creep.