This week’s installment of The Morning Show is all about the needle drops. We open on The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” as Cory (Billy Crudup) swaggers into UBA’s big upfront presentation. Get it? Because UBA is trying to stay alive after a huge racism scandal rocked the media company and exiled a big legacy exec. They’re going to need some sort of miracle to convince advertisers to buy in after a botched deal with billionaire Paul Marks (Jon Hamm) and the huge hack targeting the company.
As with most traditional upfronts—which, if you didn’t know, are big gatherings held by networks that introduce its new slate of programming as a way to convince ad folks to toss money at the channels—a big comedian is hosting. Retta, playing herself, makes the whole racism scandal (which the show is now calling #JemimaGate) look like a joke. It’s no problem! At the same time, she also makes Cory out to be a complete fool.
“Some call him captain of the Titanic, others, Napoleon at Waterloo,” Retta booms, introducing the man of the hour. “I call him the man who definitely did not cut the brake lines in Mitch Kessler’s car.”
Remember when now-deceased Mitch (Steve Carrell) was the entire story of The Morning Show? Now, he’s a mere punchline.
At least a part of his manipulatory spirit lives on in Alex (Jennifer Aniston), who flirts with Paul in an attempt to win him back over to Team UBA, thereby saving the company from financial despair. Alex had promised Cory she’d woo some ad people into giving money to UBA. She didn’t, however, come clean about her plan to take Paul to Coney Island for a romantic summer date with water guns and roller coasters. This tacky date makes no sense—but hey, pretty people doing things together. I’ll take it.
The date is a whole lot more interesting than whatever Mia (Karen Pittman) is conspiring about. There’s been a bombing in Mariupol and UBA wants exclusive pictures. Mia phones a freelancer friend (with benefits?) in the area, André (Clive Standen), who agrees to shoot exclusive footage for UBA. After he files his incredible photography, Mia refuses to show it on the news. Why? It could put André in danger in Ukraine. Stella (Greta Lee) overpowers the producer and demands she get the images on the news, stat.
Obviously, The Morning Show is teeing up a new storyline between Mia and André, so presumably we’re going to learn more about these two later. But in this episode, the debacle between the couple (?) feels like an extended advertisement for Apple. They communicate exclusively through FaceTime, their high tech Apple iPhones more in focus than their actual faces.
Stella is on her game this episode. She meets a pair of ad guys from a company called Sloan—the company’s name is, indeed, important to remember—for a boozy lunch at a seafood joint. Three dirty martinis in, Stella folds. She asks the waitress to start serving her water so she can keep up. The ad guys are impressed, if suspicious that such a “petite” woman would be able to hold the same amount of liquor as they can.
The ad guys agree to Stella’s deal—with a twist. (Pun intended, because this plotline needs some levity.) Stella will have to convince the waitress, who is also an Asian woman, to lick her spilled drink off the table. Then, they’ll sign. Stella bends to their racist demand, tips $20,000, and the poor service worker bends over the table, her tongue pressed against the marble top. Who are these freaks, a duo of Roman Roys?
Then we’re off to Cory’s place in the Hamptons, where dozens of ad investors run rampant around his glass-to-ceiling-lit interiors. Again: I don’t care about the plot, just give me pretty things at which I can gawk. Everyone is a pawn. Cory grows infuriated with Bradley (Reese Witherspoon), who is too busy flouncing around with ex Laura (Julianna Margulies) to schmooze with the ad people. Or perhaps the anger is of a more personal, romantic type.
Board exec Leonard (Stephen Fry) tells anchor Chris (Nicole Beharie) that her job is to convince these investors that UBA has new values following Cybil’s (Holland Taylor) Aunt Jemima comment. Chris bites back—does the company really have new values? The board needs to raise the salaries of its POC employees if they really want her to play their diversity card. Leonard offers to raise Chris’ salary. Chris rejects his offer. He’s going to need to raise all the salaries if he wants to use her.
Yanko (Néstor Campbell) warns Chris about becoming too woke, because Yanko is a fool, and he always says the wrong thing. Chris shouldn’t start a mob on social media, he warns. She shouldn’t engage in the so-called “culture wars” because, eventually, they’ll come after her. Yanko makes no sense, but perhaps he does if this is supposed to be foreshadowing. Chris brushes off his advice.
UBA’s ex-president and antagonist Fred Micklen (Tom Irwin) returns, banging down Cory’s door to say: “I own you, you fool!” That deal with Sloan? I told you to remember that name. Fred just bought Sloan, so he now has a stake in UBA. If your company exposes you on the national news for being a complete villainous nitwit, like UBA did to Fred, why would you want anything to do with them ever again? Just run to Fox News, at that point. They’d accept Fred with open arms. But this is a revenge move; by having a stake in UBA, Cory and company now have to answer to him and he can make their lives miserable.
But here comes our knights in shining armor, Alex and Paul, coupled with our second needle drop: “Truth Hurts” by the newly infamous Lizzo. Is this more foreshadowing—is Paul and/or Alex evil? Or is this a bad coincidence?
Either way, Alex is able to convince Paul to re-enter conversations about buying UBA. She only had to bat her eyes and offer up a sob story to so. If we’re comparing these two to real life people, which The Morning Show loves—see also: Matt Lauer—this would be like if Katie Couric and Elon Musk became a rumored item.
Queue a quirky reaction from UBA’s resident dork, Cory: “Un-fucking-believable.”