October 24, 2021

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‘The Morning Show Season 2’ Review: Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon Anchor The Show Riddled With Plots


The Morning Show season 2 starts off right where it left! In fact, the Apple TV+ drama starring Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and others is back with more scandals in a pandemic-inflicted world which is also bearing the loss of fallen heroes. While the first season kicked off a storm in a post-MeToo world, the second season opens a can of worms in determining complicity, the aftermath of the cancel culture and more. Including documenting the spread of Coronavirus that is bound to give viewers an out of body experience. It also touches on topics like racism, sexism and ageism in the world of media and how lines get blurry when nothing is private anymore. Oh, and before I forget a Friends reference that can be deemed as the ultimate fan-service. Yes, it packs all that. Alas, it is more contrived than convincing. Riddled with one too many subplots and story branches, the voice of the show gets lost in the packaging. Having said that, both Anniston and Witherspoon reprise their roles in a way only seasoned actors can. But is it worth the watch? Find out in the review below.

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The Morning Show has a lot to ride on. Be it on the face value of its star-studded cast or awards including Emmy, SAG and Critics Choice Award, the Apple TV+ show builds on it and how! Having said that, there is a lot at stake too. The reputation of the said cast and the credibility which the show received after opening with mixed reviews. It is safe to say that the world somehow woke up to The Morning Show, episode by episode, because the few episodes in the screener didn’t do justice to the names involved. So, this time around, the screener came with the entire package and as fate would have it, it divulges more than it should. Make no mistake; the second season goes deep with bigger stakes and layered treatment that makes them arrive at their own takeaway. But nothing changes the fact that the big picture lacks clarity, muddled with varied takes.

Developed by Kerry Ehrin, who serves as showrunner and is an executive producer, The Morning Show is executive produced by Michael Ellenberg through Media Res, which also serves as the studio, along with Aniston and Kristin Hahn through Echo Films; Witherspoon and Lauren Neustadter through Hello Sunshine; and Mimi Leder, who also directs several episodes. And together, the formidable team puts up a show like no other. It is engaging, it is gripping and it delivers drama in spades. Only problem is that sometimes it over delivers and makes it overdramatic. It begins with another prize-winning but shorter rant/riff by Billy Crudup’s Cory Ellison who is trying to convince the chairs above about the way ahead. Even the team is emerging from the wreckage of Alex Levy (Aniston) and Bradley Jackson’s (Witherspoon) actions, because it is the beginning of a new UBA even when they are dealing with the ramifications of Mitch Kessler (Carell) and his exit from the show. That and the tragic death of Hannah Shoenfeld which was played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

Now, while we are in 2021, the show’s world is still in 2020; TMS obviously doesn’t know that a pandemic is about to plague our lives, but they have enough drama to deal with. Another chip from the old block is up to be axed and it seems like the drill is about to begin again. But can it really stay afloat without Alex? I’m not supposed to give you that answer and any other word from the spoilerville but it is difficult to talk about it without giving away much. Just know that while the world has moved on, Alex is still picking up the pieces of the explosive events that made her quit TV. But you can see – she is restless, she is carrying a ‘paralyzing amount of grief’ and she is missing her purpose. She is also chopping wood and working on a book, her book that is poised to break down the events of her past. Minus the chapter about malicious bits revolving around Mitch that still makes her skin crawl. But hey, the sh*t show has just begun!

Let’s talk about the crackling cast and their performance because how can you not? Now, while many remember Jen for her comedic parts in shows like Friends–which comes up like a reference and makes one smile naively–I feel her ability to deliver drama triumphs everything else. And just from her face alone. The way she takes one along with a nervous energy that keeps one their edge of their seats. She is predictable and unpredictable at the same time; one moment she is telling someone off with the wrath of a thousand suns and the rest of the period she is as vulnerable as one can be. There is a particular scene where she is down in the dumps and Aniston manages to scare the hell out of the viewer. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that she anchors the show both literally and figuratively and it’s a shame because she is complete amiss in not one but a few episodes.

Meanwhile Bradley is herself, trying to fill in the gap that Alex left when she did what she did. Witherspoon’s character arc might not have been the most realized but she tries her best and uses her experience to alleviate the material with her act. She makes do with whatever she has available and it’s registers. More than anything it is Alex-Bradley, it is their relationship that is basically the glue that holds the entire drama together, at least for me. It’s complex, it’s layered and it’s flawed. They’re not good friends but they are important ones and we all have those. Yes, a few of their decisions seem arbitrary and without consideration but we will get to that. Jen and Reese’s act is supported by Cudrup who is his amazing self. I’ve got to admit, even his arc gets compromised by somehow being aware of everything unique it was bringing to the table. But he manages to rise above it by sticking to his guns.

While that is that, one sees more of Mitch and everything that makes the character what it is. His life in a far off land plays out in a montage and it’s ironic. He is also crippled by guilt and Carell does a fine job of portraying remorse. You know of the horrible things he has done but you want to hear him repeat how sorry he is. And one didn’t think it was possible, especially after he burst out breaking TVs the last time he was confronted. In fact he has another project one his hands, while eating gelato and drinking and singing being a goof, and it’s difficult to imagine he was ever part of the chaos. But in the post-MeToo world, he finally realizes how replaceable he is..

The show also gives him a chance to present his side of the story but that doesn’t absolve him of anything. And the treatment isn’t as problematic because there are consequences to his actions but waking up to the view of a beautiful lake, in a beautiful villa doesn’t exactly read punishment. Having said that, the storyline does explore the bond between Alex and Mitch and the chemistry that we have heard so much about.

The list can’t end without the mention of Greta Lee, who plays Stella Bak, the non-confirming and young Asian president of the new age empire and Julianna Margulies as Laura Peterson, a UBA news anchor. Both Lee and Marguiles make their presence felt, with a restraint and delivery that is rare to find. Again, their characters don’t define author-backed roles but they sure exhibit power moves. One where women don’t let mediocre men patronize them. I mean, if only women had the confidence of mediocre men.

BTW, the show packs a lot. It begins with the advent of Covid-19 in Wuhan and documents the spread to the entire world. With due diligence, it nods its head to Asian hate that stemmed from it. It showcases the plight of the medical professional, doctors and their helplessness in the packed hospital corridors. And it grows throughout the duration of the show. And it is not easy to watch. At the same time, one can’t look anywhere else because it is almost cathartic. What else? A commentary on Instagram activism makes a great spectacle. It leaves one both cringing and gasping at the same time. Even politically, it makes one wonder. There are several instances where Donal Trump takes the beating and rightly so. Now, this could be just me but when they speak about Trump and his impeachment, it’s hard to imagine the same candour in the show’s Indian counterparts. And can you blame them? With boycotts and bans being the order of the day, makers don’t want to risk their work. But nothing can take away from the fact that it compromises authenticity. Thankfully, the West is more vocal and hence they have their politics in place.

It also breaks down the workings of a busy and often ruthless news room. A ruthless newsroom in the age of the Internet. The politics, the sexism, the ageism, the corporate shake downs, the power hierarchy, the complex friendships, the back stabs.. The list is endless. This is nothing that wasn’t already covered but it goes deeper, bigger. Lastly, it offers a glimpse of the post-MeToo era, where the can of worms is open and things get only messy for its characters who often get chastised for their actions.

Technically speaking, the cinematography gives plenty of money shots that stare right in the face of the viewer and isn’t apologetic. A must for any TV network drama. A close up of Stella standing up to Cory and her naysayers will shake you up when it is coupled with a resounding background score. Even the fashion is on point with characters like Stella stealing the show with their attire and everything they represent. It translates and how!

Unfortunately, something else that also makes it to the mix are writing inconsistencies and pacing problems. The narrative is often indulgent and loaded with sub-plots storylines so tying all of them together without hiccups doesn’t happen as smoothly as the makers would have wanted. In fact at times, it starts at one end and forgets to tie up, leaving one with follow up questions. It’s equally dramatic but another thing that is similar to the first season is the creative liberties the writers have taken to make the material more appetizing, to make the characters more memorable. However, in doing so, it also makes it seem contrived and impractical at times. It’s also where it starts losing its grip and edge, with more fillers and sequences that are preachy. And straight up absurd even. There is a scene when Alex and Chip get into a screaming match in a car. It is not unusual but the circumstances in which it happens is right up there. And the dramatic scene somehow turns comical and loses its tenacity towards the end.

It also makes light of the whole Covid scare, the same health crisis it covers throughout, by somehow glamorizing the act of risking one’s health and exposing themselves to the virus because news (?) Like I said earlier, TMS has a distinct voice. Alas, it gets lost in the noise and packaging.

Verdict.

Watch it for Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s solid act that glues the drama together. That and Billy Crudup’s signature and infectious screen presence along with note-worthy acts from a crackling star cast. The Morning Show is a good example of how a good star cast can dish out a good show even with writing inconsistencies among other things.

The second season of The Morning Show makes its return today, on September 17 on Apple TV+. The 10-episode second season will premiere with the first episode, followed by one new episode weekly, every Friday through November 19.

SEE ALSO: Apple TV+ ‘The Morning Show’ Review: Murky Scandal-ridden Show You’ll Only Watch For Jennifer Aniston And Reese Witherspoon

Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India





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