The Morning Show’s season-one finale blew up in a spectacular fashion in 2019. Season two kicks off with New Year’s Eve 2020 (in an episode titled “My Least Favorite Year”), so it appears that the TMS crew will not get a break from the series’ typical overload of drama and conflict. Executive producer Mimi Leder recently told The A.V. Club that while they were preparing for the season, COVID hit, and they decided to go all in on the pandemic “because we are a news show reflecting the world and we felt we could tell the story of the three months leading into COVID because we all lived it and experienced it.”
Perhaps Leder and her team hoped that the darkest days would be behind us by the time The Morning Show’s second season aired, so that this collection of episodes would serve as a chronicle of such a pivotal moment in global history. The problem is that we’re still in the thick of the pandemic, so reliving the moments when it was revealed that Tom Hanks had COVID or that the NBA was shutting down for the season seems redundant at best and painful at worst. Freaking out about contact tracing sounds downright quaint at this point, and overcrowded ERs are unfortunately still overly familiar. None of this can be blamed on The Morning Show, of course, but it also doesn’t really make for appointment viewing in this overstuffed age.
Still, people might tune in just to see the star-studded cast, whose already overwhelming supply of talent expands this season. The All About Eve dynamic between Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) that fueled season one fizzles out in season two, as both characters are off on independent plot paths. While Witherspoon could play “plucky upstart” in her sleep at this point, her character is granted more dimension this season, thanks to a close relationship with her new mentor, UBA nighttime news star Laura Peterson (a welcome Julianna Margulies). As her troubled home life merges with her successful professional one, Bradley learns the painful lesson of how hard it is to keep anything under wraps once you’re an actual celebrity.
Aniston appears determined to win a post-Friends Emmy as Alex, the narcissist with a heart of gold. (It’s hard to imagine a show where the catchphrase of Jennifer Aniston’s character appears to be “Fuck you!”, but here we are.) TMS obliges by pummeling her with a cruel streak of physical ailments, as well as an abundance of emotional showdowns. The actor never fails to rise to the occasion. Crudup continues to masterfully pull strings as likable Machiavellian network exec Cory, but even his velvet MasterCard voice can’t quite sell the increasingly outlandish metaphors The Morning Show gives him to spin as life lessons, from space shuttles to pinball machines.
The show also remains committed to Carell’s disgraced character Mitch, now exiled in paradise, although you have to wonder if that devotion would exist if anyone but Steve Carell was playing him (and doing such an amazing job at it). Season two attempts to explore whether someone as outright deplorable and destructive as the sexually predatory Mitch can try to educate and redeem himself enough to become worthy of forgiveness, even though the knee-jerk audience reaction is likely to be a resounding “nope.” (And also, “why?”) Valeria Golino is wasted as Mitch’s admiring new acquaintance who is for some reason determined to overlook his famous, egregiously long list of transgressions.
The Morning Show could probably chug along just fine as is, an award-worthy series that despite focusing on the ins and outs of its central morning show is a soap opera at heart. But the series seems determined to make Valuable Statements—which, granted, did work well in season one, with the focus on several aspects of the #MeToo movement. Season two is less successful in this arena: Beyond the unfortunate COVID slant, it also unwisely delves into “cancel culture.” Mitch is ostensibly cancelled, but as he’s a multimillionaire wiling away on an opulent estate, the phrase “cry me a river” comes to mind. Alex is worried that she herself will be besieged by pitchforks after a tell-all book by journalist Maggie Brener (Marcia Gay Harden) comes out, but she has more than a golden parachute; she has a golden penthouse.
It’s interesting to see how much their personal and professional value rises and falls with their Twitter feeds, but these are people who don’t even procure their own water bottles or aspirin tablets, and haven’t for years. This level of privilege automatically makes them less-than-sympathetic characters, “cancelled” or not.
Fortunately, The Morning Show boasts an abundance of intriguing characters—and appealing actors. It’s easier to relate to someone like hardworking Mia (Karen Pittman), who has been thrust into a position of leadership and immense responsibility due to all of The Morning Show’s turmoil, even as she still grapples with the fallout after her affair with Mitch was revealed last season. Or Stella (the excellent Greta Lee), a millennial executive dealing with agism and racism as she tries to drag this relic of a show into the 21st century (who actually gets their information from the national morning news anymore?). Even hapless producer Chip (Mark Duplass), who has been at Alex’s beck and call for 15 years, may have finally reached his breaking point. In the glittery world of morning news TV, these more approachable characters—and the exemplary performances by the actors who portray them—help keep The Morning Show (relatively) down to earth. Compelling performers and their interpersonal storylines make The Morning Show watchable, even as the series’ lecturing threatens to push the audience out of reach.