Roush Review: Peering Into ‘The Morning Show’s Fishbowl of Piranhas

Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon in The Morning Show
Review
Apple TV+

You’ve got to appreciate the moxie of a high-profile streaming series where a character blurts, “Another streaming service? It should be illegal.” That’s The Morning Show’s second season in a nutshell: having its cake while choking on it.

Slickly entertaining even when it’s so full of itself that you’re tempted to stuff a sock in these ego-driven media monsters’ motormouths, this is a sincere satire about insincerity, suffering from a galloping case of hyperverbal (Aaron) Sorkin-itis. The show tries hard to be The West Wing of television, albeit much more cynical, as divas forever blather on about becoming better versions of themselves while sticking knives in the first available back. It’s set behind the scenes of an embattled network’s morning show, where there’s a new scandal for every news cycle and the bad blood comes up to their knees. When the cameras go dark, the real show begins.

Center stage, as in Season 1, are those charismatic but combative coanchors Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston), the brittle veteran, and eager newbie Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), who bring out the beast in each other. They’re forced back together by circumstance, months after exposing their network’s toxic sexism and becoming unlikely feminist heroes. Whenever they hug, you’re surprised they don’t leave behind claw marks.

The brilliant casting extends to the corporate suite, where newly promoted CEO Cory Ellison (Emmy winner Billy Crudup) seems to truly believe “This is a battle for the soul of the universe” as he stands up to board chair Cybil Richards (the wonderfully caustic Holland Taylor) to defend his soon-to-launch UBA+ streamer. Meanwhile, he manipulates careers with reptilian iciness, lecturing one of his underlings, “Caring about other people limits your ability to make self-serving decisions.” And yet he’s on his own atonement journey, much like disgraced former anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), licking his wounds in a lakeside Italian villa—how awful for him!—and taking up with a fiery filmmaker (Valeria Golino, who’s destined to become your favorite new character).

Billy Crudup in The Morning Show

Apple TV+

Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife) adds yet another layer of cool glamour as Laura Peterson, a veteran anchor who’s survived the gossip mill and muddies the waters professionally and emotionally. Returning to this overexposed fishbowl of piranhas, she says, is “like Carrie being asked to speak at the high school reunion.”

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Plus, EP and director Mimi Leder teases the corporate shakeups and new additions.

With a timeline running roughly from New Year’s 2020 to the first wave of the pandemic, The Morning Show sprinkles wit amid overheated cascades of high melodrama. I admit I gasped when an exec crushes the hopes of a would-be news star by coldly pointing out, “Some people have to be Ringo.” Ouch.

The Morning Show, Season 2 Premiere, Friday, September 17, Apple TV+