Sunday, May 26, 2024

Apple Comes Out Swinging Big with Jennifer Aniston-Reese Witherspoon “Morning Show,” A Delectable Soap Opera with Top Notch Performances


Apple TV joins HBO, Netflix, and all the other non-broadcast platforms with “The Morning Show,” and it’s a major hit. A delectable soap opera, “The Morning Show” — with faint echoes of “Veep” — is the what/if re-telling of Matt Lauer’s #MeToo expulsion from the “Today” show. Reviewers have the first three episodes, with expected plot twists coming: it could be the Lauer character, Mitch Kessler, played by Steve Carell, is heading for redemption.

But first:

“The Morning Show” co-stars and is co-produced by Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston. It’s written and developed by the terrific Kerry Ehrin. They appear to know what they’re doing. Two big, big stars means the show costs a lot. Who would have the money to produce 10 full hours of cinematic-like TV with them, and Carell? Only Apple, I guess. You’re a little skeptical at first. But as “The Morning Show” unfurled, I was absorbed by it. The main trio is as good as it gets but there’s a nice surprise– well, not a surprise, but a fantastic extra I didn’t see coming: Billy Crudup steals the show as the new news chief at the TV Network. He will win every supporting actor award there is in TV once this show is up and running.

So the story: Aniston’s Alex Levy and Carell’s Kessler are co-hosts of “The Morning Show” for 15 years on the UBA Network. They are Lauer and Savannah/Katie/Meredith. They’re called “America’s mom and dad.” But it turns out Dad has been cheating a lot. Two years after the #MeToo scandals break, Kessler is abruptly fired for sexual impropriety– not rape, but for sleeping with employees.

Overnight, “The Morning Show” loses a famous co-host. Alex must go on and explain it to the viewers. Alone. There’s no Hoda to help her. She’s 50, semi-divorced, and mother of a college age daughter. Her whole life has been devoted to the show. She’s rich as Croeses because of it, with an East River apartment we’d all die for. Mitch is, too, with a Park Avenue apartment, Hamptons house, ski chalet in Aspen, etc.

Meanwhile, Reese’s Bradley Jackson is single, a local reporter in Virginia with a self-destructive streak, a brother in rehab, and a mother played by Brett Butler. She’s had lots of jobs, can’t catch a break, always covering local disasters. At a rally to close a coal mine she loses it during a break. The resulting video goes viral on Twitter and catches the eye of “The Morning Show” producers. She’s brought to New York for an interview just as Crudup’s new news chief has to replace Mitch. And there you go.

No one takes umbrage like Aniston. Even though Witherspoon is equally billed, so far this is Alex’s–Jennifer’s– show. With just a bit Selina Meyer in the air, Alex is a tough cookie. Unlike Selina, she is not off center. She’s smart, a survivor, and determined to overcome this latest speed bump. Aniston is on fire. This is her best work since “Friends,” excluding maybe “The Good Girl.” I could watch her play Alex all day. Don’t get me wrong– Reese is just as good as Bradley. And we still have a lot to learn about her character. When the 3rd episode ends, Bradley is just starting a new job at UBA.

What works about “The Morning Show” is that it’s built like a classic TV drama/soap. It takes its time. “Desperate Housewives,” “Empire,” most of the shows like this over the last decade have burned off story with no pacing. “The Morning Show” feels like Steve Bochco and Michael Filerman (each sadly in heaven now) wrote this together. Unlike “The Newsroom,” it’s also not pedantic. There’s talk about the importance of journalism, and journalist ethics, etc, but Jeff Daniels isn’t stuffing it down our throats in Sorkinesque rhythms. We are not learning a lesson.

Crudup, as I said, is beyond sublime. His line, “Chaos is the new cocaine!” is a T shirt I want. There’s a strong supporting cast starting with Mark Duplass as the show’s EP, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Adina Porter, and a few more (it’s a huge freaking cast). Some excellent guest stars in the first three episodes: Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden, Mindy Kaling, Martin Short, Oscar nominee Embeth Davidtz, and Fred Melamed. Director Mimi Leder’s daughter plays Lizzy, Aniston’s kid, she’s a natural. Jennifer’s real life BFF Andrea Bendewald is the make up lady, Ian Gomez (from Cougar Town) is a producer. Let me tell you, this show cost a fortune. It’s like a Dream Team.

PS Starting with Episode 2 we get a theme song, “Nemesis,” sung by Benjamin Clementine, a UK Pop guy who hasn’t broken through. He will now. Big time.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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