This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by senior entertainment reporter Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
Over the past few weeks, many people have asked me if The Morning Show is good, as people tend to inquire about TV shows when they’re making small talk with a person who watches them for a living. Honestly, though...hell if I know.
I would pause, consider. Stammer and stutter. Blow a raspberry with my lips. I couldn’t answer.
The Morning Show is good, but it also kind of really isn’t. It certainly became compelling as it went along. It was incredibly watchable, which is to say it had a pleasurable energy that propelled things along at a nice clip—a rarity in the age of streaming-era slogs. When watched as a soap opera, which I don’t think the show ever intended to be, it was quite easy to enjoy. But also, wow, what a mess it was sometimes.
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon starred in the series as morning news program anchors at a network dealing with the fallout of sexual misconduct allegations against a fired anchor played by Steve Carell. It made a lot of noise when it premiered, owed to the fact that it was the flagship launching program for Apple TV+’s charge into the streaming wars, not to mention that its first episodes featured a blistering takedown of Matt Lauer, in the form of Carell’s fictional stand-in.
That noise has dampened to little more than a whisper as the glimmer of Apple TV+ as the shiny new thing has dulled and the series quietly soldiered on to its season finale, which premiered Friday on the service.
But you know what? Go ahead and ask me if, at least, The Morning Show finale is good, because I can finally answer. It is incredible! It’s definitely the best episode of the series, at times absolutely insane and, in turn, utterly compelling. It also sharpens its indictment of Lauer’s behavior to condemn the way an institution like NBC News is complicit.
In interviews around the time the show premiered, the creative team kept insisting that Carell’s character, Mitch, wasn’t actually based on Matt Lauer, which like, sure, Jan, but there was literally a button under Mitch’s desk that locked the door, Lauer style. Other episodes over the season did not as overtly borrow from details of investigations into Lauer, but did dramatize, in horrifying fashion, several incidents that feel eerily familiar to reports about the former Today show star.
There was one episode that flashes back to when The Morning Show team was sent on-location to cover the Las Vegas shooting. Mitch invites a young booker, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, back to his hotel room after a long, trying day to cheer up by watching old movies. She’s appreciative of the kind gesture. When he makes a pass at her, she’s taken by surprise.
As his advances escalate, she freezes, paralyzed by the power dynamics at hand—the most famous news anchor in the world and, in essence, her boss, and her lack of agency despite not wanting this to happen. They have sex and when she goes to report him, she’s offered a promotion in exchange for her silence.
Later, Mitch attempts to enlist her in his defense after he’s fired from the network. His justification were those three ugly words we keep hearing from men implicated like this, Lauer included: “You liked it.”
It’s not hard to draw parallels between the plot point and the disgusting report from earlier this year in which a former Today show employee detailed how Lauer initiated what she alleges was nonconsensual sex while they were on-location covering the Olympics. Lauer’s response accused her of attempting to shun “shared responsibility” in an extramarital affair, claiming “she was a fully enthusiastic and willing partner.”
The final episodes of The Morning Show’s first season explore with more depth the roles that news division executives and network heads had in fostering an unsafe environment for its employees, having full knowledge of Mitch’s behavior, turning a blind eye towards it, and, in some cases, silencing accusers and concealing evidence of misconduct.
There’s a seismic event that happens in the finale, the aftershocks of which trigger an on-air event led by Aniston and Witherspoon’s news anchors that is thrilling, an exposing of systemic, institutionalized behavior—naming names and counting sins—that the #MeToo movement has still been constrained from doing.
In that way, it’s invigorating and cathartic, a release of pent-up anger and exasperation that we’re still clamoring for. It’s the show’s first Network, “mad as hell” moment that the series actually earns, and Aniston and Witherspoon’s best work of the season. That a series with this much star power and potential reach took on this cause with such specificity is still quite surprising to me.
Congrats to The Morning Show for successfully convincing me to watch season two!