If you watched Season 1 of AppleTV+’s The Morning Show, you may associate it with the word “batshit.” The star-studded soap opera trainwreck about television, news, and cancel culture has ripped off whatever threads remain of its gloves for a relentless and harrowing second season.
Season 2 picks up several months after its predecessor, in which the titular daytime program’s cohost Mitch (Steve Carell) was ousted for allegations of sexual misconduct. Mitch was replaced by Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) and survived by cohost Alex (Jennifer Aniston), who struggle to keep the ship afloat along with too many network personalities whose roles aren’t any clearer now than before.
The Morning Show Season 2 has absolutely zero interest in refreshing viewers on its dense debut season, particularly the finale that ended with Hannah’s (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) death. Instead we’re inundated with constant, clunky exposition about the months that followed, a time period this show could easily have shown in earnest instead of jumping ahead. Alas, the purpose of this becomes clear quickly, as The Morning Show Season 2 promises — nay, threatens — to build up to the coronavirus outbreak.
As a result, we’re treated to a tortuous crawl toward reliving some of the most traumatic months in global memory, complete with cringeworthy jokes about masks and social distancing, and characters awkwardly placed in China and Italy so they can watch history unfold in what the show surely thinks is elegant and serendipitous fashion (it is not). It recalls the now notorious twist in 2010’s Remember Me and a handful of international films that insert fictional characters into real events that are just too damn fresh. Filmmakers want to feel close to the action — even when the action is trauma — but needn’t follow that impulse.
The main story of the season, if you can shake the looming dread of when and how COVID will be addressed, is that Alex is back at “The Morning Show” after a hiatus — again, a hiatus we never saw and which is explained countless times, by countless people, through dialogue and dialogue alone. If only there were some sort of narrative device, a way of…flashing back…something to help viewers picture those tumultuous months after Alex resigned (then again, Witherspoon’s Season 1 wig is best left in the past).
All respect to Aniston, but The Morning Show fails to convince us why Alex is the hinge upon which its world swings. Stella (Greta Lee) notes the redundancy of two cis white female anchors and gets no satisfying counterpoint. Cory (Billy Crudup) can’t stop tripping over his own two feet to bring Alex back and give her the world, while signs point to him being very much in love with Bradley.
There is a vague, hand-waved notion that this woman is beloved by the millions of Americans who watch “TMS” every day, but The Morning Show does not have one second to spare giving screen time to ordinary people and building that relationship for its actual audience. Alex herself is a constant ball of nerves, forcing Aniston into an extremely one-note performance sure to set many a tooth on edge. If you’re tempted to start a drinking game based on how many times she and others panic about being “canceled” — with little to no interrogation of what that entails and why — don’t.
Meanwhile, Carell is still cashing checks part of the show, in an unhinged B plot that first roasts the #MeToo movement and political correctness and goes on to insert him into a tenuous quarantine in Italy. A parade of guest stars whose faces just blur into identical dollar signs after a while pop up as a temporary anchor (Hasan Minhaj), a competing host (Julianna Margulies), Alex’s book editor (Kathy Najimy), and more. Holland Taylor is also in this, a fact that both you and the producers will forget for large swathes of time and need a moment to adjust to whenever she returns. Everyone is still chewing the heck out of their scenes, but it can’t make up for the material.
The Morning Show handles coronavirus and racism about as well as it handles feminism, which is to say clumsily at best. It’s clear that whoever is writing the loaded conversations between these characters has never participated in one of their own to learn that this is simply not how we talk about any of it. The Morning Show‘s chosen hill is still that society is too sensitive and the people being canceled, shunned, or given millions of dollars to return to their TV jobs are people too. They deserve empathy as much as the girl who died as a result of Mitch and the network’s actions, a girl who the season forgets about long before it’s done soliloquizing her abuser. The Morning Show probably thinks I’m canceling it for another season of unbridled chaos — but we both know who has the power here.
The Morning Show Season 2 premieres Friday on AppleTV+.