The Morning Show season two review: Aniston and Witherspoon return – minus #MeToo

The Morning Show (Apple TV+) is back! Which is to say, the version of The Morning Show we knew and had an amused contempt for when it landed in 2019 is back. As season two gets under way, the dramatic, serious switcheroo it pulled at the end of its first run has receded from memory. It has re-established itself as a glossy, soapy, inessential indulgence – a TV show about a TV show, made by people who think TV shows are more fascinating than they are.

If all this is new, a recap: we began season one with Mitch (Steve Carell) – the co-anchor of the top-rated breakfast TV programme – losing his job over sexual misconduct claims. Beloved superstar Alex (Jennifer Aniston) was left to front a toxified entertainment brand alone, until mercurial news boss Cory (Billy Crudup) installed firebrand rookie Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) as the new co-host. A festival of scheming power plays and soul-searching crises followed.

For a time, The Morning Show sashayed uncertainly across the screen, powered by bravado and star power. Its speciality was grandstanding speeches that had all the superficial qualities of award-worthy acting, without ever deviating into areas such as character development, plot or believable relationships. You wouldn’t have been surprised if you had found out the leads had never actually met and the whole thing had been made with doubles and green screens. Dit is, until episode eight, when a flashback revealed Mitch to be not just the womanising sleaze we had him pegged as, but a Weinsteinian predator. The scene between Carell and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, as a vulnerable young colleague too intimidated and bewildered to vocalise her lack of consent, changed the whole series in an instant.

Skielik, The Morning Show was a coldly focused treatise on how abusers are fostered by workplace hierarchies with misogynists at the top, and monsters hiding in plain sight. As in so many of the real #MeToo cases that The Morning Show drew on, the answer to the question of who knew what was happening was, sadly, everyone. In the finale, the death of one of Mitch’s victims prompted Alex and Bradley to unite and speak up, calling out their male superiors in a thrilling on-air exposé.

What next? Vir nou, it seems all of that might as well have never happened. As soon as TV’s most skippable opening titles sequence – bland jazz and dancing abstract circles, as if to announce that nobody really knows what this show is – rolls, we reset. Exposition, elegantly concealed within the dialogue like spanners in a trifle, brings us up to speed: with New Year’s Eve 2019/2020 nader, it’s several months since Alex resigned and Cory was nearly sacked. The new-look TMS, hosted by Bradley and new guy Eric (Hasan Minhaj), is rating poorly. Mitch is out of the picture and Alex is snuggled up in a cabin in snowy Maine, writing her memoirs.

In the studio, people once again powerwalk through corridors and make tough decisions about news agendas, as runners toss them flat whites and gossip pings in on their iPhone or their Apple Watch. Bradley, intussen, still doesn’t have a personality beyond being vaguely forthright and idealistic, as if she’s been written by someone who has seen a couple of old Reese Witherspoon movies, but can’t quite recall the details.

That leaves the way clear – in season two, episode one – for Crudup to dominate the big monologues. He’s angry and righteous in the face of dinosaur executives. Then he’s untrustworthy but persuasive as he tries to convince Alex to come back to New York, which we know she will do because Jennifer Aniston isn’t paid $1m an episode to chop logs and wear big jumpers. Na dit, he’s frank and vulnerable as he deflects Bradley’s anger at once again being lied to about changes behind the scenes.

None of it feels real. Without the storyline that gave The Morning Show all its power and nuance, we are left with the old luxury fluff, reacquainting ourselves with characters who aren’t substantial enough to merely hang out with. Some sort of reflective reckoning might be in the wind: Steve Carell – absent in the season opener – will return, with Julianna Margulies also on her way as a reporter asking whether the right lessons have been learned. Egter, if the ostentatious shot of a crew member sneezing is anything to go by, Covid might instead prompt a less subtle working of real world events into the narrative.

This is a drama that demands we take it seriously – it needs to earn that right anew.

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