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Apple TV Sends The Morning Show Into Even More Craziness in Season Three

"The Morning Show” is, simply put, the wildest show on television right now. When Kerry Ehrin and Jay Carson’s showbiz drama premiered in 2019 on the then-nascent Apple TV+, it positioned itself as one of its flagship shows, a star-studded prestige series tackling the biggest issues of the day—#MeToo, cancel culture, then later COVD-19 in the second season. But in practice, “The Morning Show” plays out much like one of Aaron Sorkin’s didactic told-you-so screeds, most notably “The Newsroom.” Which, like this show, perpetually set itself a year or two in the past so the writers could always neatly position their self-righteous characters on the right side of history.

Season Three, which just hit the streamer, is no different, even as it scrambles for a new purpose after the death of one of its central figures—Steve Carell’s manipulative, sexually abusive anchor Mitch Kessler—in a nighttime car crash late last season. Now, “The Morning Show” has moved onto slightly fresher (well, less stale) material, though it approaches it with the same contrivance for which the show is known. 

After a time skip to a post-vaccine world of 2022, “The Morning Show” sets up its newest foil in the form of Jon Hamm’s Paul Marks, a slick, eccentric billionaire who spends every waking hour working on space rockets. He’s everything Elon Musk wishes he were: handsome, charismatic, charming, actually interested in bettering the world rather than frittering his time away slowly killing a social media site. Of course, now, he’s interested in buying UBA, and the company’s slick middle manager Cory (Billy Crudup) is courting him to purchase and send him (and his pet-project streaming service) into the stratosphere. (Fittingly, they literally do that, as Marks takes him on the maiden voyage of his phallic, Blue Origin-y spaceship in the season premiere.) 

The sale has seismic implications for the careers of both Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), the former of which is clamoring for a senior-level board position she’s long been denied, the latter riding high off the success of her recent graduation to the evening news slot. But Marks’ intrusion into their lives sets off a chain reaction of events that threaten to undo everything they’ve worked for—to say nothing of avoiding potential jail time. 

All of this is more fodder for “The Morning Show”’s signature brand of ridiculous melodrama, one that flies in the face of good taste, good filmmaking, and any semblance of narrative sense. The trouble is in its very premise: Is a puff-piece morning show really the best venue for big speeches about speaking honesty, truth, and justice? Can the show still claim a bold truth-teller stance when it regurgitates the same points about systemic racism, vulture capitalism, and our canyon-wide social divisions three seasons in? 

This manifests in both the big issues being explored—in addition to more about COVID and Black Lives Matter, we touch ever-tastelessly on the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the war in Ukraine, and the insurrection on January 6th—and how the show navigates its characters through those events. 

If that wasn’t enough, "The Morning Show" throws one twist after another at its cast of bewildered characters, who respond to such crises in absolutely nonsensical ways. Take Alex, who spent the last two seasons raked over the coals for her inappropriate dynamic with Carell’s predatory Mitch, only to turn around and contemplate a similarly risky relationship with another character who holds her fate in his hands. Or Bradley, who makes baffling choices during January 6th (as we see in a mid-season flashback to deep COVID times) that alienate her from her own family and her girlfriend (Julianna Margulies, the conscience of the season). Nicole Beharie joins the cast as a former Olympian-turned-morning show host who learns through an ill-timed corporate hack early in the season that one of the senior execs called her “Aunt Jemima” in an email. (Beharie’s character later refers to the event as “Jemimagate,” a phrase she utters with the straightest of faces.) 

Sometimes, this soapy silliness ends up entertaining: characters rant impotently about Roe in the bathroom of a Valentino event or ghost their partners for seemingly no reason after being presumed killed in Ukraine. Get ready to hear lines like, “He lied to the FBI. For you. That’s love.” Tig Notaro shows up as Hamm’s fixer, there to do little besides crack deadpan one-liners every couple of episodes.

The only cast member holding any of this together is Crudup, who continues his hot streak as a reptilian network exec hissing writerly bons mot through his too-tight skin suit. As the season progresses, Cory’s business-bro swagger starts to crumble under the immense pressure of the acquisition, leading to some delicious scenery-chewing late in the season. In a season full of agonizing needle drops (get ready for weepy covers of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and an honest-to-God “Stayin’ Alive” moment), it’s Cory’s response to The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” that almost makes the sinful musical choices worth it. He’s a genuine weirdo in a room full of pretenders, and he’s the one thing saving this show from the trash bin.

“The Morning Show” tries to be many things—camp comedy, workplace drama, and hard-hitting treatise on the wobbly intersection of politics and show business. The trouble is that each of those conflicting modes collide at any given moment, so you’re never sure what side of the line the writers and performers are on. Do they know the show is ridiculous? Are they aware the script reads like a chatbot regurgitating @OccupyDemocrats tweets mixed with the showbiz politicking of “Sports Night”? Do they think gauzy, R&B-fueled love scenes with Jennifer Aniston fit snugly next to pictures of bombed-out buildings in Ukraine and board meetings about stock prices? 

As an exercise in determining the exact wrong decision for a character or story beat to take, “The Morning Show” is a triumph. But don’t confuse it for a political experiment with any sense of meaning or weight or a stellar showcase for its overqualified leads. If it stuck to the petty machinations of privileged, self-destructive media folks trying to screw each other over to clamber just one more rung up the ladder of success, “Succession”-style, it would at least steer clear of its gaping political blind spots. Instead, it’s just a mess. 

All of Season Three was screened for review. “The Morning Show” just premiered its first two episodes of its third season, with further episodes airing weekly on Apple TV+.

Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is a Chicago-based film/TV critic and podcaster. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as a Senior Staff Writer for Consequence. He is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and Critics Choice Association. You can also find his byline at RogerEbert.com, Vulture, The Companion, FOX Digital, and elsewhere. 

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