I have a small apology to make. A few weeks ago, when it fell to me to review the launch offerings of the new Apple TV+ service, I wasn’t impressed with The Morning Show. It was all too deliberate to truly embrace. It was so gleaming and impersonal that it could have been designed by Jony Ive himself. With its fleet of A-list stars and big, expensive sets, it felt as if Apple was simply burning a pile of cash in the pursuit of critical acclaim; as if it had spray painted the word “PRESTIGE” on the side of a wall, and then driven an armoured truck at it.
But first impressions don’t always count for much, and I would like to amend my appraisal. So far, six episodes of The Morning Show have aired on Apple TV+, and in that time it has blossomed into something quite special. It is funnier than it should be. It is more kinetic than it should be. It is much, much weirder than it has any right to be. Hand on heart, I have fallen for The Morning Show – and I have fallen hard.
For me, the turning point came in episode four. Until then, The Morning Show had spent its time laboriously setting out its stall – it’s essentially a dramatic retelling of Matt Lauer’s #MeToo-fuelled fall from grace on NBC’s Today show – but by episode four, everything had clicked into place. The episode, directed by Lynn Shelton, climaxed with an on-air interview that crackled with such absurd tension that I hadn’t realised I’d been holding my breath until the end credits kicked in. It had been impressive to that point, but this was a masterpiece.
The stars, so easy to write off as chequebook casting, are all playing out of their skins, too. Reese Witherspoon, we know, is a tremendous television actor, but Jennifer Aniston is a revelation here. Her career was in danger of hitting the skids, as she seemed content to sleepwalk through a series of middling comedies. But on The Morning Show she is transformed into a powerhouse. As the co-anchor who may or may not have been complicit in the #MeToo scandal on her show, Aniston is asked to do a lot. She has to be sincere and insincere, furious and insecure, aloof and needy – and she hits every single note. To watch Aniston on The Morning Show is to resent Friends for robbing us of a truly incredible dramatic actor.
The Morning Show is so addictive, I ended up trashing a full day’s work to wolf down previews of the entire series. And I think I’ve identified the cause: Billy Crudup. Initially presented as a one-note grasping network executive, his character quickly becomes something far more interesting. He slides through his scenes with a singsong malevolence, lobbing metaphorical bombs at all the characters just to see what happens. He has no real morality, and doesn’t seem interested in the traditional self-interest of a man in his position. He is like Puck, or Loki; he functions as an audience representative, kicking everything over whenever it starts to get too earnest. In one episode, he performs, out of the blue, a Sweeney Todd number in its entirety. He may well be the single best television character of the year.
Speaking of bests, I have seen The Morning Show finale, and it is astonishing. I won’t spoil it, but it is operatic, slamming from dramatic high to dramatic high until you think it has nowhere else to go, and then it finally strains for a grace note so audacious that it floors you. It is one of the most impressive season finales of the decade, and I’m desperate for everyone to watch it, just so I can talk about it.
So, The Morning Show, I am sorry. I got you all wrong. You are a phenomenal television series, and worth the Apple TV+ subscription alone. But, for the sake of balance, I’d just like to point out that See is still terrible.