12:15pm PT by Kirsten Chuba
Apple's 'The Morning Show': What the Critics Are Saying
The reviews are in for Apple TV+'s first wave of original shows, headlined by its A-list tentpole The Morning Show.
Starring Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell, the 10-episode drama follows a morning news program thrown into disarray after lead anchor Mitch Kessler (Carell) is accused of sexual assault and fired from the show, leaving his longtime partner Alex Levy (Aniston) to pick up the pieces and fight to remain in her position. Witherspoon, who executive produced along with Aniston, stars as Bradley Jackson, a small-town conservative news reporter fighting for her own role on the show. The series, which also stars Mark Duplass and Billy Crudup, has drawn comparisons to the Matt Lauer scandal and his firing from the Today show.
At $15 million an episode — a total of $300 million for its two ordered seasons — The Morning Show represents a major investment for Apple's new streamer, which is set to launch Friday at $4.99 per month. As reviews were released on Monday morning, the series received a Metacritic score of 60 and a 71 percent on Rotten Tomatoes.
The Hollywood Reporter's TV critic Daniel Feinberg says viewers needn't be familiar with the show's bumpy creative history — created by Jay Carson and later replaced by showrunner Kerry Ehrin — "to be aware of the series struggling and floundering to find its focus, tone and attitude toward its main characters," calling the first episode "brutally dull," the second "meandering" and not until the third does it become "more satisfying and confident," asking, "[D]id the behemoths at Apple really get into the crowded original TV marketplace to become the latest perpetrator of 'It eventually gets better!' patience-testing?"
Feinberg adds that "the Mitch stuff, rendered toothless by reality, is hard to buy, and Alex's reaction, cribbed liberally from The Good Wife, is a bore. The incident that makes Bradley famous is ridiculous and implausible." He concludes that "the third episode points to a series in which Aniston, Witherspoon and Crudup could make this backdrop fun to watch. But for what is allegedly one of the most expensive shows in TV history, and for what is certainly a pivotal show in the burgeoning Streaming Wars, one out of three isn't good enough for a recommendation yet."
Rolling Stone's Alan Sepinwall says The Morning Show "feels like it could have aired on broadcast TV anytime in the last 15 to 20 years, so long as the profanity got cut," drawing comparisons to The Newsroom, but that "it's Sorkin without Sorkin, lacking the snappy dialogue, the soaring rhetoric, or any attempt whatsoever to argue for why anyone should care about the future of this show-within-the-show."
While commending Crudup's performance and the dynamic between Aniston and Witherspoon, Sepinwall says that the series, and Apple TV+ as a whole, "may think its stories are different than everyone else's, but they aren't. Nor are they told well enough to make up for that. The show, and the service, don't need to exist, and thus far aren't justifying that existence."
IndieWire's Ben Travers calls watching The Morning Show "a bit like watching The Big Short, except nothing is said straight-to-camera and nearly everything is boring," and notes that its problem is that "it trusts its story without knowing what it's trying to say. All the pretty people in the world can't keep you hooked when the purpose is this muddled."
Travers credits director Mimi Leder for the show's "beautiful" look and pacing, and Aniston for "an engaging conviction to her performance," but questions the decision to sympathize with men accused of sexual misconduct: "Are we supposed to laugh at this privileged rich dude's ineptitude? Are we supposed to feel sorry for him? More often that not, it seems like the latter, and even after the third episode steers Mitch's story toward the edification of an ignorant predator blinded by power, it doesn't give us any reason to care about a guy who, at best, cheated on his wife all the time and, at worst, raped women."
CNN's Brian Lowry says that if The Morning Show is "Apple's way of sounding the alarm for its new service, feel safe to hit the 'snooze' button." He notes that the show's star power works against itself, as "Carell still comes across as a bit too likable as Mitch pushes back against his career implosion while the viewer is treated to aerial shots of his mansion — insisting that he's a philanderer, yes, but not a predator" and the same with "Witherspoon, who radiates a little too much movie-star vibe to be wholly convincing."
Vulture's Jen Chaney points out the series' try-hard energy, in that "it is a serious show that, in every frame and every performance, announces that it wants to be taken seriously," but at the same time, it is also "a well-executed work of television that never lets you forget you're watching a work of television."
Chaney also questions Apple's repeated instance that Carell is not playing a Lauer-inspired character, when he's fired for sexual misconduct, left by his younger, model-esque wife and has a button under his desk that closes and locks his door. "If you can absorb all that and not be reminded of Matt Lauer, then either you were just born five minutes ago — in which case, welcome to the world! — or you have somehow never heard of Matt Lauer," she says, while also celebrating "a superb cast whose performances remain grounded even when the material threatens to veer off course."
Paste's Amy Amatangelo writes that The Morning Show "is perfectly fine, but not exactly what one would hope for when discussing the crown jewel of the streaming launch" and calls out Apple's heavy product placement, particularly when it comes to iPhones.
She adds, "[W]hen launching a streaming platform you expect people to pay for, you need more than fine. You need to break the mold and give us a TV show we didn't even know we needed but cannot live without. The Morning Show is not that."
Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson takes a more optimistic approach than some of his fellow critics, writing, "I find it hard to complain about a project that involves so many good actors happily talking themselves into storms, even if some of what they're saying has the tinny clang of the trite or over-generalized," although he points out that the series doesn't have much insight into how news media really works.
By the end of the third episode, adds Lawson, there is "at least something soapily effective, an entertaining knot of contemporary babble that manages at times to emit a ring of truth. Aniston and Witherspoon are strong complements to one another, earning their enormous paychecks by riding this voluminous wave with confident precision."
The AV Club's Alex McLevy also gives positive notes, calling The Morning Show "a hell of a lot of fun" and "funny, biting, and with just the right dose of trashy zing, this is high-gloss soap — Broadcast News meets L.A. Law." McLevy calls Crudup's smirking, supercilious network exec the best part of the show, just passing Aniston, who "seizes command of the entire enterprise anyway, walking away with it through the sheer grit of her performance, one of the finest she's ever given."
Entertainment Weekly's Kristen Baldwin cheers Aniston's performance — her post-Friends return to TV — as well, saying that she "gives a forceful performance, literally — she pounds tables, rage-slams her phone onto counters, and yanks out hair extensions with such violent contempt, you'd think they owe her money." As for the series itself, Baldwin contends that it's "an intriguing, if imperfect, entry into the content wars" that she will keep watching, because "if we can all forgive the turgid early episodes of Succession — a primetime soap about aggrieved rich white men — surely we can power through some growing pains for this ambitious drama about aggrieved women who are putting their anger to work."
The Morning Show's first three episodes drop Friday, with the remaining seven to be released weekly.