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Environmental activism was at the forefront of Apple’s product announcement event on Sept. 12, as the company boasted about various degrees of carbon neutrality, as well as various components made out of recycled materials, including the band for the latest iteration of the Apple Watch, which is apparently 82 percent recycled yarn.
The third season of Apple TV+’s Emmy-winning The Morning Show is probably closer to 90 percent recycled yarn, as the star-studded, media-centric soap transitions from its established position as a second-rate The Newsroom — all the smug 20/20 hindsight, none of that pesky Sorkin dialogue — to a fresh approach that’s half Network (acknowledged) and half Billions (unacknowledged). (This was not going to be my lede before the Apple presentation. Thank you, Tim Cook!)
In this instance, narrative recycling works out fairly well for The Morning Show. If my standard is the number of times I visibly cringed or rolled my eyes watching my screeners, this could be the best, or at least the least overtly painful, Morning Show season yet. It is, of course, all relative. I had to stop watching the second season of The Morning Show after eight episodes — don’t worry, I eventually caught up — because the COVID-laced Italian rehabilitation of Mitch Kessler, and then his subsequent martyring, was too misguided for words. I watched all 10 episodes of the third season and never felt like an extended hiatus was required. Other than one episode — the flashback-laden fifth hour — and one key storyline that sprang from it, my show-directed anger was finite.
My fundamental opinion of The Morning Show is still identical, except for a matter of degrees, to what it was in each of the first two seasons: It’s an ostensibly intelligent show that is unable or unwilling to stop doing stupid things, but maybe there are fewer of those stupid things this season? Will that mean that the show’s many devoted fans are going to find it less compulsively entertaining, though? Maybe!
Season three picks up in March of 2022, and I can’t tell you the sigh of relief I let out when I saw that we weren’t going to get the show’s smug, 20/20-hindsight take on the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Ha. Foolish me.
I’m not going to spoil even the basics on where the characters find themselves except to say that Alex (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) are on stable professional footing and, at least on the surface, it appears that all is well at UBA.
Spoiler: All is not well at UBA.
CEO Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) is worried that the company is over-leveraged or hemorrhaging capital, or some other jargon that you’re never really convinced the show understands (I wouldn’t understand it, either). The crisis has something to do with the introduction of the UBA+ streaming platform, which was briefly saved by Alex’s live-streamed bout with COVID and cancel culture that closed last season, but only briefly.
Cory’s solution is to execute a major sale of the company to Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), a space-loving, NDA-obsessed billionaire whose character is cobbled together — more recycling! — from the biographies of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and others. Will it be a sale? A merger? A hostile takeover? Stay tuned! A big piece of this new partnership will be sealed by having Alex join Paul on a launch into suborbital space, but Alex is getting cold feet because she’s feeling generally under-appreciated at UBA — though given what we’ve seen of Alex’s insane apartment and lavish lifestyle, it’s challenging to empathize.
Many of the new season’s key threads involve women at UBA who are more genuinely under-appreciated. Greta Lee’s Stella is tired of being condescended to by Cory. Karen Pittman’s Mia is tired of being so committed to her job that she’s literally sleeping in the office. New addition Christine (Nicole Beharie), a former Olympic athlete now wedged uncomfortably alongside Yanko (Néstor Carbonell as the friendliest, worst person you know) at the Morning Show desk, gets to be a sounding board for hot-button racial and political issues.
Beharie, both effectively fiery and too frequently forgotten; supporting MVP Pittman, weathering a ludicrous love story opposite Clive Standen; and especially Lee, often adding grace notes of comedy that the series desperately needs, are all exceptional and benefit from this extra level of focus. That several scenes in season three take place in locations featured in Lee’s indie summer hit Past Lives isn’t a comparison that benefits The Morning Show, but at least somebody on the creative team recognized that Lee is an absolute star and gave her some material.
But when the show isn’t carrying the banner for women — especially women of color — being underused and mistreated in the workplace, it’s underusing many of its women, especially women of color. Sure, Witherspoon and Aniston are the show’s centerpieces and both have heightened drama to play, but they’re also stuck in familiar The Morning Show tropes. Bradley’s entirely reactive plot is based around an inexplicably dumb choice shoehorned into a ripped-from-the-headlines event, and Alex continues a series trend in which, across three seasons, nobody has slept with anybody personally or professionally appropriate for them.
Still, the season’s real throughline is driven completely by Cory and Paul, two white, male antiheroes doing familiar white, male antihero things, without any of the crackling dialogue or actual, tangible business savvy that Billions would bring to a similar clash of titans.
Fortunately, Crudup remains the piece of the show that I find to be most consistently compelling, even if the writers are wildly inconsistent in remembering if he’s supposed to be a hero or a villain. When Cory is treated as an eccentric sociopath, Crudup borders on brilliant as a man whose excessively enabled sense of confidence is being tested perhaps for the first time; like the borderline business Terminator he is, he begins to glitch. Crudup’s scenes with the great Lindsay Duncan, in a one-episode cameo as Cory’s mother, are my favorite of the season, a theater-trained duo sparring magically.
And if Crudup plays Cory as a robot programmed to be a media mogul, Hamm counters him well as a robot programmed to be a billionaire. He’s so cold and precise you can’t understand why anybody would trust Paul Marks, but Hamm pulls you into his gravity — space pun intended. When Hamm and Aniston are circling each other, there’s an Old Hollywood glamour and chemistry to it. They look like stars who should be featured in a perfectly lit two-shot, and nothing in The Morning Show is anything other than perfectly lit ever. Hair. Fashion. Real estate. Alarm clocks flashing at 3:30 a.m. This is a show full of awfulness that makes awfulness look awfully sexy.
What keeps me watching The Morning Show, other than the intrigue of which overqualified co-stars it will waste next (Tig Notaro gets the season three crown), is that the show is nothing if not willing to have big conversations — or at least to have conversations about the big conversations real people were having a year ago. From cancel culture to the overturning of Roe v. Wade to various issues in modern media to the aforementioned horrible storyline tied to Jan. 6, watching a Morning Show episode is like spending an hour in a Reddit forum, only with prettier people.
Only limited judgment from me if you think that sounds like a good thing.
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