A college professor, trying to motivate our class to get out and find stories, once told us “there’s no news in the newsroom.” Apple+’s The Morning Show begs to differ. The nascent streamer’s star packed anchor show is taking on the Me Too era from the perspective of a national news show, a proxy for the dark underbelly that was exposed on NBC’s Today show.
Start Spreading the News
The show in the series, also called The Morning Show, faces an existential crisis when popular morning anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell as a proxy for Matt Lauer) is called out as a workplace sexual predator. He’s summarily fired, and in a bid to survive by maximizing her power, co-anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) goes rogue and picks Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), a regional reporter with serious social media cred, to fill his seat.
The show lacks the zippy writing of Aaron Sorkin’s self-indulgent The Newsroom, but is much, much more real. The 3:30am alarms. Getting rid of black circles under the eyes and looking perky by 7am. Stealing guests. Making big decisions on the fly and going live with them minutes later. I’ve spent 25 years doing daily, live television, albeit at a local level. I’m here to tell you: The Challenges Are Real!
Also real: the sexual politics. Workplace romances aren’t new. Neither are workplace power plays. Both go under the microscope in The Morning Show. We see Mitch try to justify his actions in the most tone deaf way possible. Another anchor is getting it on with a production assistant, but that has a very different power dynamic. It’s really interesting television, and I’m especially critical of shows that try to show what TV is “really” like. This isn’t perfect, but it’s not outrageously egregious.
Jen and Reese talked with me about the issues at play. First, their names. Both have names that are often (usually?) associated with men. I wanted to know if that was to show that they needed strong names to play in a male dominated corporate world. Jen was quick to answer. “No, just that just happened.” Then she took a moment to consider it. “Or is it? I say no so quickly. My name is actually Alexandra. But we just call her Alex.”
The fact is, from the name on her door to character listing on IMDb, she is exclusively referred to as Alex. “I don’t know how Bradley came about.” Then Reese took up the idea of her character’s name. “I don’t either.” “I think it’s just a cool name.”
But Ms. Aniston started coming around to my way of thinking. “Maybe I’m sure there must be something about that, giving them stronger names.”
There’s another homage to a strong woman knowing her power, the boardroom scene in Mommie Dearest. Alex sits at the end of a table in a room of almost exclusively middle aged white males, chastising her for going rogue. She’s not having it. Jen and Reese didn’t see it. Instead Jen related to something slightly more recent. “That reminded me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men. Where he’s like ‘you live under the blanket of freedom that I provide, and then question the way in which I provide it.’ I thougth that was very similar moment. But I’m just a big Jack Nicholson fan.”
But she does say that is one of the crucial early scenes in the series. “It was one of those scenes that was so energizing and fulfilling and gratifying to play. I think a lot of it resonated with a lot of women across the world who wanted to have that kind of a moment. She’s a character of such experience and wisdom and not given the opportunity to be in control of her own life.”
A Little Goes A Long Way
Making a ten episode season is a very alluring proposition for stars that don’t want to make a year long commitment to a 22 episode season. Weekly TV, year after year, is hard. But Reese has been able to find amazing roles. Big Little Lies did two seasons, a couple years apart, with an amazing cast of strong actresses playing strong but vulnerable characters. Reese embraces the opportunity. “Yeah. The exciting thing about making premium TV is that you get to work with artists you haven’t really gotten to collaborate with. Like Nicole, or Laura Dern or you.” “Great women, by the way,” Jen chimed in.
Reese continued “And I think there’s a real movement for women to be supporting each other, and create great work together. I feel that.”
And adding to the allure, is that the characters offer fresh perspectives. “Yeah and there’s so many stories to tell. There’s not just the wife, the girlfriend, the girl next door, the runaway bride. There’s so many more beautiful layers to women and stories to tell. And it’s an exciting, exciting time.”
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Morning news requires lots of coffee. I’m recommending coffee. Black. With a shot of whiskey. I’m not gonna say that ever happened when I worked mornings. But I’m not gonna say it didn’t!