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.
The Morning Show Loves Mess. So Much Mess.
There is a moment in the first few episodes of season two of The Morning Show that had me screaming louder than I think I ever have in reaction to a TV show ever. I grabbed my face like Kevin in Home Alone. My jaw dropped through the floor into my building’s basement like I was a goddamn cartoon character.
I looked around to see if everyone else was seeing what I was seeing, like when you’re in a movie theater watching something crazy happen on screen and require validation that this is actual reality. You need witnesses. But obviously I was alone, so no one could corroborate if this was all real or if the scene—if The Morning Show as a whole—was a mad delusion and I had accidentally confused my gummy vitamins and my melatonin again.
My heart rate spiked like Paul Bunyan had just swung a hammer on it during a carnival game. After 30 seconds or so of my eyes darting back and forth like they had just short circuited, I realized I had involuntarily gotten up off my couch and started pacing. I was smiling, and grimacing, and cringing, and giddy, all at the same time. I have never before witnessed a more aggressive pivot point in a television series.
It was the narrative equivalent of Shania Twain purring, “Let’s go, girls,” at the start of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” You only have until the end of the ensuing guitar lick to decide. Are you going to go along with her, and maybe have a blast, get in the action, and feel the attraction, oh-oh-oh? Or are you going to shake your head because this is not for you? And, oh my god, this is so not for so many of you.
I will not reveal what happens in that moment.
Throw tomatoes at me. Boo. Hiss. Call me the names that I call myself every morning in the mirror. (I really do have to work on my self-esteem.) It doesn’t behoove me to ruin that moment for you. It’s a biological, spiritual, metaphysical turning point in any TV viewer’s life, and everyone deserves to have that experience unscathed and pure. This is a scene of television that woke me up to a higher plane of existence, it is so outrageous.
It is also, like just about every single plot point in season two of The Morning Show, considered a spoiler that is under embargo. It’s incredibly frustrating to try to talk about a show and whether or not the creative team successfully executes its big swings when you cannot actually talk about what any of those swings are.
But I can say this: When I vaguely alluded on social media earlier this week that I had just lost my mind watching a wild TV scene from an upcoming series, several TV critic friends and colleagues messaged me privately correctly guessing I was referring to The Morning Show. The kicker, however, is that they weren’t certain which scene I was talking about.
I was dumbfounded. Surely, if they had watched the screeners they knew which scene. THE SCENE. The crazy scene. But no, they cautioned, that is just the beginning.
It turns out that the rest of the season amounts to a conveyor belt of narrative Jack-in-the-boxes, waiting to spring out and surprise/delight/terrify/dumbfound you at any given moment. It is an aggressive, maybe even unexpected pivot for the prestige series starring blindingly famous stars that, in its first season and its bold reckoning of #MeToo stories in TV news, projected seriousness.
I’m not sure I would call season two of The Morning Show “good.” In fact, I am certain that I would not. But, my God, I loved it. I can’t remember the last time I watched 10 hour-long episodes of a show so quickly, and had so much fun.
The Apple TV+ series returns Friday, picking up where the explosive season finale—one of my favorite episodes of TV in 2019, legitimately—left off. The two female anchors of a morning news program modeled after the Today show, rivals-frenemies-partners Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) had just gone rogue on air.
They went off-script to expose the ways in which their network, UBA, had been complicit in enabling, excusing, and covering up incidents of sexual harassment and assault from high-level male employees. It had come to light that the show’s disgraced former “Matt Lauer” stand-in, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), had raped a female producer, who then died of an overdose.
It’s a shocking on-air manifesto from Alex and Bradley that damns the entire network, a career-risking move that ends when panicked executives finally break into the control room and cut the feed.
Now, Bradley and Alex—and everyone at UBA—are dealing with the aftermath. In a broad sense that doesn’t reveal anything too spoilery, even a move so altruistic and brave is adopted cynically by the suits on the top floor as a rebranding opportunity and tool to attract more viewers. Accountability and change, filtered through capitalism.
The game of chess that ensues makes just about as much sense as any game of chess does if you are me and do not understand what the hell is ever going on when people are playing chess. But then there’s the dual backdrop for that game, two buzzwords that, at this point, send chills up a TV critic’s spine that then exorcise as banshee-screams into the void: COVID and cancel culture.
If you thought season one of The Morning Show was a mess, then hearing that those are the two driving narrative arcs won’t inspire much confidence. But in my opinion, this series is a mess to marvel at. It is the way that COVID and cancel culture are explored in this show that must be seen to be believed, and then disbelieved, and then spellbound by, and, ultimately, entertained through.
Even more than in the first season, the dialogue is packed with whiplash banter and long, dramatic sermons that play as if someone attempting to impersonate Aaron Sorkin’s voice had just finished a steroid regimen with the cast of MTV’s The Challenge and then took three bumps of cocaine before writing.
It is three-and-half minutes into the premiere when Billy Crudup, playing UBA executive Cory Ellison, delivers this monologue about change coming to the network: “I cannot drag you idiots kicking and screaming into the 21st century. You’re just so caught up in ruling your rotten little fiefdom that you don’t even see the world that has sprouted up all around you. Enjoy broadcasting your cave paintings to the last remaining savages who are still watching over-the-air broadcasting. The rest of the world, they’ve moved to the cloud and it is fucking gorgeous up there.”
You can practically see his ego manifest with a raging boner as he finishes: “You think that’s what this is about, your little television network? This is a battle for the soul of the universe.”
People say “fuck you” to each other at a rate second only maybe to Succession, only here there’s no sinister whimsy involved. Just ugliness and unpleasantness. Not one character genuinely likes each other, but they all need each other, which is a fascinating—if nihilistic—study in workplace sociology.
There is something fascinating about some of the biggest stars in Hollywood doing this Mad Libs condemnation of shitty studios, executives, and networks. And they’re all acting their asses off, too.
Aniston’s performance as a buttoned-up star unraveling is electric, and, whatever else there is to say about the show, she deserves accolades for it. They finally calibrated the Bradley character in a way that atones for how miscast Witherspoon originally was (the wig is gone!), and Witherspoon meets the material head on. Julianna Margulies joins the cast and is, obviously, spectacular—if in a humdinger of a role. Holland Taylor? Fantastic, duh. As is Marcia Gay Harden and newcomer Greta Lee. Rumors are that Crudup still has some scenery stuck in his teeth all of these months after shooting, and we’re into it.
I liked that season one was a little campy. This season, however, summoned the ghosts of Joan Crawford, the cast of Grease 2, and Lady Gaga’s Artpop era. Then it set up a cauldron and tossed in the wire hanger from Mommie Dearest, fibers on the staircase from Krystle’s dress when she was thrown down the stairs in that episode of Dynasty, and the remnants of Mr. Schuester’s fedora in those unfortunate episodes of Glee. Together, they awakened a version of camp more powerful, more outrageous, more discourse-inducing (that’s how you know the magic is real) than any series ever before.
We will all be shaking our heads at it and maybe even laughing our way through it. But we will do it together, and it will be a glorious experience. For that, I am thankful.