Apple TV+’s flagship drama The Morning Show returns today for another season of broadcast news back-stabbing after a truly disastrous second season. The show adds a new character — a tech exec played by Mad Men star Jon Hamm — to the toxic mix this time around.
But can the showrunners right The Morning Show’s course? And, perhaps more importantly, does it matter? The show, about a news network and its star executives and anchors, finds itself dealing with contemporary politics a day late and a dollar short.
The Morning Show season 3 opener
Season 3, episodes 1 and 2: As The Morning Show’s third season starts, the year is 2022 and COVID-19 has more or less abated as a crisis in America (not for lack of death toll). And in the years since the show within a show has been shooting, upstart anchor Bradley Jackson (played by Reese Witherspoon) has become the host of the nightly news at UBA — which is now called UBA+.
She’s being handled by the head of the network’s news division, Stella Bak (Greta Lee), and Bradley hates it. As always, she wants to make a difference, but feels like she’s flailing. She can’t keep a relationship alive. And a run-in with old girlfriend Laura Peterson (Juliana Margulies) just reminds her of that sad fact.
Alex wants to make a power move
Meanwhile, veteran anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) has become a beloved sensation all over, ever since her famous COVID broadcast, produced by her long-suffering handler Chip (Mark Duplass). Now Alex has been given her own show, and she’s basically become the second coming of Oprah.
Still, she wants more — and she lets Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) know it. So, to raise her profile, she’s agreed to go up with Cory in a rocket, courtesy of tech giant Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), to be covered by Morning Show host Yanko Flores (Nestor Carbonell).
Cory wants to sell UBA to Marks and save his flagging numbers at the helm. And that’s bad news for Alex, who was hoping to get a seat on the board at UBA and have a say in the company’s future. If Cory gets his way and Paul takes over, she’ll have even less control than she does now.
However, all of that falls into jeopardy when a cyberattack hits UBA. The hack exposes inside info about the company and its hundreds of employees, making a gigantic mess on the internet.
What’s wrong with The Morning Show?
The problems with The Morning Show, which I’ve documented extensively here at Cult of Mac, have not been mitigated by the introduction of the great Jon Hamm to the cast. If anything, his character is a perplexing new wrinkle in an already care-worn suit.
Paul Marks is meant to be a combination of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, with his black wardrobe, antisocial demeanor and interest in buying a media company. And then there’s his rocket flight in the season opener, which fuels one of the silliest cliffhangers I’ve ever seen on TV.
Why does the Morning Show want to paint a billionaire plutocrat as a suave wheeler-dealer with Hamm’s good looks? No clue. It’s a weird choice in a show made up of little else. However, it’s extremely funny that in order to walk backward from “martyring a sex pest,” the show went with, “What if Elon Musk was hot and smart?”
Still, despite the rest of The Morning Show’s faults, it’s nice to spend time with Hamm. At least the actor makes big, demonstrative character choices that free him from the gang of nervous wrecks who otherwise anchor the drama.
Good actors stuck with bad scripts
In season three, Billy Crudup still does his best to make Cory into a human being and largely succeeds. Unfortunately, they’ve given the actor less to work with in the first two episodes than he usually gets.
Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon are still tasked with being sullen yet manic. Their characters treat every challenge as the tipping point of a breakdown. That must wear thin quickly when that’s the only solution the writers come up with for your character.
For example, when Aniston finds out Chip and her assistant are in a relationship, she throws her back against the door of her apartment, screams and almost cries. Then, 30 seconds later, she’s congratulating them and offering to take them to dinner.
Do broadcast news stars really live like this?
It’s possible high-profile television personalities are really like this (I met Maria Menounos once, though, and she seemed pretty calm). But when you’re always at 11, there’s nowhere else to go. The Morning Show went to space and then lost all its data to a cyberterrorist, and it still doesn’t feel like the business of running a TV studio is as important as the show would have us believe.
All this sound and fury and what does it signify? If you guessed “nothing,” congratulations. Now change the channel. That’s what I’m doing.
Watch The Morning Show on Apple TV+
New episodes of The Morning Show season three arrive Wednesdays 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 author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper and But God Made Him A Poet: Watching John Ford in the 21st Century, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.