The Morning Show throws a welcome sapphic curveball [Apple TV+ review]

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Reese Witherspoon and Julianna Margulies take each other for a ride on The Morning Show this week.
Reese Witherspoon and Julianna Margulies take each other for a ride on The Morning Show this week.
Photo: Apple TV+

This week on The Morning Show, COVID-19 is here and the newsroom is in shambles ahead of its rebranding. Bradley is jealous, claustrophobic and scheming. Alex is nervous. And everyone’s on the verge of a meltdown, and making very interesting choices indeed.

Can the Apple TV+ drama get out of its own way long enough to become as interesting as it threatens to be?

The Morning Show review: Season 2, episode 3: ‘Laura’

As the show-within-a-show’s rebranding approaches, upstart anchor Bradley (played Reese Witherspoon) feels moody. She doesn’t want former Morning show host Alex (Jennifer Aniston) to come back to the show. She doesn’t trust Alex. She doesn’t want to share her spotlight (which she considers richly deserved) with a woman who makes her uncomfortable.

Alex is due to sit down with talk show journalist Laura Peterson (Julianna Marguiles), who represents both a threat and an opportunity for both the Morning Show hosts.

Network exec Cory (Billy Crudup) thinks Laura can serve as a mentor for Bradley, who wants to branch out into more serious journalism as a defense mechanism. Bradley wants to compete with Alex and make herself invaluable to the network. Cory thinks Laura can help Bradley get there, uncertain as he is that Bradley is actually up to the task.

Alex herself is on the defensive during her interview with Laura. A book about the old days of The Morning Show, written by a journalist named Maggie Brener (Marcia Gay Harden — always good to see her), is coming out. The revelations it contains scare Alex into a panic, so she calls Bradley to warn her.

An interesting twist

Bradley’s on guard with Laura but they also get along. (There’s a clearly ad-libbed moment where Witherspoon spills coffee on Marguiles’ shoes that hints at a much cooler show than the one we’re getting.) They get along … very well indeed. Alex also sends her pet producer Chip (Mark Duplass) to see if he can fix the interview before it airs.

Daniel Henderson (Desean Terry), the Morning Show’s third anchor, is stuck in China reporting from ground zero of the COVID-19 crisis, but no one takes him as seriously as they should. He complains to the producers that they need to stop bumping his segments. Of course, we know how seriously everyone will take this story in a few days.

Finally, disgraced former Morning Show anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) is in the middle of a meeting with an Italian woman (Valeria Golino) who wants his input on a project of hers when he hears that Alex and Bradley are working together. He ends his evening and goes home. She says she can help him get his conviction overturned but he wants, at least for now, to just feel guilty for everything and suffer a little. We’ll see if that lasts.

Keep your voice down

The Morning Show review: Cory (played by Billy Crudup) and Laura (Julianna Margulies) scheme and plot!
Cory (played by Billy Crudup) and Laura (Julianna Margulies) scheme and plot!
Photo: Apple TV+

The Morning Show — the Apple TV+ series, not the fictional show it portrays — suffers from a serious identity crisis. Week after week, the richest people in the world throw tamper tantrums and then go sulk in their insanely expensive apartments. It proves extremely difficult to conjure an ounce of sympathy for their problems.

It’s kind of interesting to see the behind-the-scenes drama of Alex versus Bradley have to compete with the impending COVID-19 pandemic because that’s still a problem in the real world, and the fake news show theatrics weren’t all that interesting to begin with. Now that people are fake dying by the real millions, it’s especially petty watching Bradley pout about the direction her puff morning show is taking while the Iowa caucus crashes and burns behind her.

I’m not really sure what to make of this week’s last-minute sapphic curveball, but I like the idea of Bradley outmaneuvering a skilled operator like Laura. I’m not sure this show’s really grounded this development, but it’s fun so I’ll allow it. This episode is mostly all business and thus can be its best self. Whenever The Morning Show is distracted and/or trying to be clever, it never quite finds its footing. But by just digging into Alex and Bradley’s angst bouncing off each other, the series makes good dramatic headway.

This week in bad current events

Eric (Hasan Minhaj) and Bradley have a long little chuckle about the concept of “social distancing.” It’s funny because … it’s still happening … and remember? When uhh? We all uhh? No, it’s not funny. The Morning Show’s almost never funny. Also, Yanko the weatherman is mad that he can’t say “spirit animal” anymore. Wokeness! It’s not just for your facebook friends to complain about.

The Morning Show on Apple TV+

New episodes of The Morning Show arrive on Apple TV+ on Fridays.

Rated: TV-MA

Watch on: Apple TV+

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.