The Morning Show Season 2 review: As bingeable and divisive as its predecessor

Season 2 sees the show tackling COVID-19, racism at the workplace, and several other red-button issues, with characteristic verve and energy. However, the old ‘both-sideism’ problem continues to affect The Morning Show.

Aditya Mani Jha September 17, 2021 12:30:57 IST
The Morning Show Season 2 review: As bingeable and divisive as its predecessor

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show Season 2

Language: English

In the first episode of The Morning Show Season 2, UBA executive Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) is about to be fired by the UBA Board of Directors after the events of the season finale, in which Cory had a big part to play. The generally cool-headed and manipulative Cory, one of the most intriguing characters on the show, responds with the kind of dramatic monologue that was in vogue from the late '90s to the late 2000s or so, back when Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) and David E Kelley (The Practice, Boston Legal) ruled primetime television.  

“This really is the land that time forgot. I did my best but I cannot drag you idiots kicking and screaming into the 21st century. You are so caught up in ruling over your rotten little fiefdom that you don’t even see the world that has sprouted up all around you. Well, enjoy broadcasting your cave paintings to the last remaining savages who’re still watching over-the-air broadcasting! The rest of the world has moved to the cloud, and it’s fucking gorgeous up there.”

If you liked Crudup’s “Chaos, it’s the new cocaine!” line from season one, odds are you will love his performance here. This monologue was at par with anything dished out by James Spader or Martin Sheen in the above mentioned Boston Legal/The West Wing era, thanks to Crudup’s sheer energy and his character’s unshakeable convictions in the face of stiff opposition from the old-school board (“This was pirate television, and it has no place in our network,” a board member tells Cory). 

The Morning Show has always been a divisive show for fans and critics alike. Most viewers appreciate the ambition as well as the unwavering focus on gender dynamics at the workplace. No other streaming show has devoted as much screentime to the MeToo movement, it has to be said. 

And yet, the quality of the dialogue has always been a bit of a problem for The Morning Show; scattered throughout the first season are dozens of lines that feel like they were borrowed wholesale from blatantly false or misleading conservative talking points. In Season 1, Chip (Mark Duplass) tells the recently-fired Mitch Kessler (who engaged in sexual misconduct at UBA with several female employees, most of whom worked directly for him) this: “I’ll say it – we’re being too fast to judge men in the court of public opinion. I agree with you. The whole #MeToo movement is probably an overcorrection for centuries of bad behaviour that more enlightened men like you and me had nothing to do with.”

This was a cop-out, plain and simple. It was both-sideism of the worst kind, and it put off a section of viewers off The Morning Show, despite the brilliance of the protagonists Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon). Luckily for Apple, Season 2 features Aniston and Witherspoon in top form again. Levy, after quitting UBA during the Season 1 finale, writes a memoir while cooling her heels in Maine. 

Aniston is terrific here, especially in a phone conversation with her publisher wherein the latter nudges Levy to dish out more gossip about Kessler (Steve Carell) and his sexual misdemeanours (“It’s what sells books!”). Crucially, she begins with some very earnest-sounding praise which Levy refuses to fall for. Having worked for a large publishing house myself, I can attest that this scene had the undeniable ring of truth; this is precisely how commissioning editors at publishing houses give back-handed compliments, and gently steer authors around to their point of view. By the end of the phone call, Levy promises more gossip "to keep the sharks fed." 

Witherspoon, Crudup, and Duplass are similarly brilliant in their respective roles. Jackson is as stubborn and combative as ever and it’s delightful, the way she goes up against Levy to fight for what she believes is inequitable treatment. Her protean relationship with Ellison is also well-written; executives and talents at a broadcast network are in an adversarial system, as The Morning Show takes pains to remind us. This makes for some very entertaining hijinks, like the time Jackson reminds Ellison that she “got him un-fired” (we are not shown the full sequence of events onscreen until much later in the season) after his little monologue. 

Duplass’s character Chip, meanwhile, finds health and happiness in a new job, and with his new fiancé. The stumbling, cautious happiness in his voice as he describes his new life to Bradley over the phone is pitch-perfect. Chip is one of the few characters ‘allowed’ to be publicly vulnerable (unless it is on-camera) in the world of The Morning Show, and Duplass makes the most of this advantage. 

Season 2 sees the show tackling COVID-19, racism at the workplace, and several other red-button issues, with characteristic verve and energy. However, the old ‘both-sideism’ problem continues to affect The Morning Show.

I would have dearly loved to cite a scene from the second episode in this context, but I cannot discuss specifics because of an embargo till the episode airs on 24 September. Suffice it to say that this scene is set in Italy, where Kessler is in exile after Season 1. And it takes a borderline offensive view of millennial/Gen-Z women and #MeToo, using things as disparate as second-wave feminism, tech-paranoia, and the Italian Fascist anthem ‘Giovinezza’ (the unofficial national anthem of Italy during Benito Mussolini’s reign) to make a super-convoluted, wholly unnecessary point. There are ways to criticise Twitter activism without pitting one generation of feminists against another.

Stunts like that one really do The Morning Show a grave disservice because the show is often well-intentioned and always chock-full of superb acting. If only it could resist the temptation to play to the ‘edgy’ gallery.

The Morning Show Season 2 is streaming on Apple TV+.

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