Apple+ ‘Morning Show’ Starts With a Splash. Unfortunately, Then It Sinks.
Apple loves taking the big swing. Sometimes it misses.
This Friday Apple launches its pay streaming service, Apple+, with The Morning Show, an original drama about, yes, a television morning show.
Apple didn’t cheap out on the stars. It lured Jennifer Aniston back to television and paired her with Reese Witherspoon, hot off the recent HBO hit Big Little Lies.
It dropped them into a story that tackles two of the most difficult, nuanced and contentious matters plaguing real-life television news today: what to do about high-profile personalities charged with sexual harassment, and whether “news” shows can survive without becoming thinly disguised entertainment shows.
That gives The Morning Show a lot to work with. Unfortunately, after hiring Aniston, Witherspoon and Steve Carell, Apple+ seems to have run out of money before it could hire someone to glance over the script and rewrite the too-many parts where it stumbles and takes the characters down with it.
Aniston plays Alex Levy, cohost of a national show much like Today or GMA. For the past 15 years her cohost has been Mitch Kessler (Carell).
As Alex explains it in one of her several over-the-top monologues, she has sacrificed everything else in her life, including her husband and daughter, to reach this summit and remain there, holding her turf against the many others who wish they were Alex Levy.
Then early one morning her producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) greets her with the news that Mitch has been fired in the wake of allegations that he had inappropriate sexual relations with multiple female staff members.
Alex goes on the air and tries to walk a line. She will miss “the person I knew,” she says. She also says she stands behind a network that will not sweep sexual misconduct charges under the rug.
Viewers are free at this point to extrapolate Mitch Kessler as Matt Lauer, and Alex as the rest of the real-life Today show team after Lauer was fired for multiple sexual indiscretions with staffers. Second choice: Charlie Rose and the CBS morning show staff.
In any case, the real drama on The Morning Show has just begun.
Seems the network already had some concerns that Alex and Mitch had slipped from the top of their game, a concern openly voiced by the person best positioned to do something about it, network director of news operations Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup).
Until a year ago Ellison worked in the entertainment division, and he’s convinced the future of network news shows lies in providing more entertainment and fewer dry, boring facts — which, he says, viewers can get anywhere.
This signals, not subtly, that Ellison may have a twofer in mind, replacing Alex as well as Mitch.
Enter Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), an ambitious, emotional and somewhat jaded reporter for a local TV station in the Midwest. She gets the attention of Ellison — we won’t spoil how, though it’s professional — and, well, you do the math.
Jackson simmers with anger, frustration and impulsive energy that she struggles to tame because in the past it has crippled her career. She still seems coiled, capable of exploding, and that would be good news for The Morning Show if she were given better words to explode with.
Alas, she isn’t, and Jackson does not face this challenge alone. Characters who nominally make their living with words speak as if they’re recycling lines we’ve all been hearing for years. Their arguments too often lack bite and focus, veering off into exchanges that seem written more to advance the plot than reflect what those characters likely would have said.
The Morning Show then lathers these characters with layers of soapy personal minidramas, a development we realize is no accident somewhere around the 10th or 15th lingering closeup of Aniston.
Stars over story. Got it.
It’s true that in the TV star biz, Aniston’s return to TV is a big deal. Facing her off against Witherspoon gives Apple+ a high-profile kickoff that should draw eyeballs, as they say in the TV biz. But absent a better-told story, Apple+ may find those eyeballs drifting away.
After scoring points for raising substantial issues, The Morning Show gives them back for not dealing with those issues in a more perceptive way.
Apple+ isn’t betting everything on The Morning Show. It’s rolling out another half dozen programs on opening day. But The Morning Show is the one Apple+ most hopes viewers will discover, love and start paying for.
So it’s not good that too often this Morning Show makes you want to roll over and go back to sleep.