Content warning: mentions of SA
“The Morning Show” was among Apple TV+’s first nine original series released on the platform in late 2019. Despite mixed critical responses, the show won a prime-time Emmy for Billy Crudup and a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Jennifer Aniston. Returning after an eventful two years and a halted production due to the pandemic, the never-dull second season of “The Morning Show” has started off great. On its way to the finish line, it just has to iron out a bit first.
Season two picks up in the same state season one left it — chaos. The aftermath of Alex’s (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley’s (Reese Witherspoon) impromptu expose on the “culture of silence” toward sexual misconduct in their workspace sent every character in a different direction. Some were fired, others disappeared to a secluded cottage in Maine or just left to put on a smile and act as if nothing changed. Now, with the first five episodes marking the halfway point, The Morning Show’s chaos extends past the lives of its characters and encapsulates the series as a whole.
The show is stuck in tonal limbo — not quite a soap nor a serious drama, not entirely satirical nor entirely genuine. In a captivating conversation with itself, it hasn’t reached a total conclusion yet. Overall, it doesn’t seem to be taking a clear stance one way or another, largely attributed to the deeply flawed and layered characters whose motivations are always muddled. They’re never malicious, but their greatest concern will almost always be themselves.
As a result, the storylines can get messy — both in subject and in practice. In just five episodes, so much has been covered, almost to a fault. Due to the show’s large cast, full of various characters with individual dreams and motivations, the focus is occasionally pulled from the main storyline and lost along the way. In addition, the lines become blurred on more than the character’s morals. Mitch (Steve Carell) is painted as sympathetic, almost suggesting the viewer should feel bad for him as an alleged perpetrator of sexual assault.
Near the midway point of the season, his ‘trauma’ as an abuser is put into the forefront of his subplot. Paired with his aggressive dismissal of Hannah’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) trauma at the end of last season right before her death, the pity Mitch is getting in writing and direction paints an ambiguous rhetoric on Mitch’s character as a whole.
The main thing preventing the show from diving into pure, soapy over-exaggeration are the actors stellar portrayals. With a cast boasting celebrities the likes of Aniston, Witherspoon and Carell, it would be easy to lose sight of the characters under the shadow of such big names. But each actor has truly transformed for their roles, delivering some heart-wrenching moments.
Crudup gives an especially noteworthy performance as the impossible to pin down Cory. In season one, his performance was always paired with a constant air of amusement, as if he was above all the season one drama. Season two dives deeper into the emotional side of the character as he grapples with the tragedy of Hannah’s death and the role his workplace played in it.
“The Morning Show” uses the setting of a news program to create the melancholy nostalgia of one of the oddest trips down memory lane. Just as season one was rewritten to better incorporate the #MeToo movement, parts of season two were rewritten to include the pandemic. Taking place before COVID-19 completely spread across the US, “The Morning Show” makes a point of commemorating the before times, as characters discuss the ‘new’ virus in Wuhan after sharing drinks and kissing on New Years. This leads to some unsettling foreshadowing where the current reality of humanity is the playground.
With an entire half of the season to go, dawn is still rising on season two of “The Morning Show,” and it is shaping up to be just as compelling as the first. The strong characterization and a plot that forces the audience to address their own morals grants leeway in the struggle for a clear focus, but until that focus is found, the show’s positives can only keep the sun from setting on what is overall a highly entertaining show.
Contact Afton Okwu at [email protected].