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Reese Witherspoon as Bradley Jackson smiles big behind the anchor desk of a TV news show in Apple TV’s The Morning Show Image: Apple TV Plus

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You’re not gonna believe this, but The Morning Show went to space

This is a good thing, we think

It is generally a bad sign when a TV show or film franchise that has heretofore shown a complete lack of interest in space suddenly decides to go to space. This is one of the first things they teach you in screenwriting school, right after “enter late, leave early” and just before “you can always fix it in post, it’s no big deal.” It has been a little while since I was in school, but I’m pretty sure it was Dalton Trumbo himself that said, “Going to space will change the hierarchy of power in your story’s universe, and look at how well that worked for Black Adam or F9.” Space — it’s a bad idea! Unless you are The Morning Show. Then it’s when things really start to get good.

For those just joining us here in Morning Show land, the Apple TV Plus series has, for two whole seasons, basically not acknowledged space existed. It was mostly about The Issues, its first season tackling the fallout of a lead anchor’s sexual misconduct, and the second putting a wrap on that story while rolling into the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, the trip to space is part of this, as the show’s third season appears to take an interest in tech billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Former in-universe Morning Show star Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) is scheduled to go into orbit with wealthy tycoon Paul Marks (Jon Hamm) for a story that suddenly gets extremely complicated. This isn’t a fake-out, either: Despite a last minute change-up where Alex cedes her rocket seat to frenemy Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), The Morning Show really does go to space. And then it returns a very different kind of show.

Try as various showrunners have to steer The Morning Show into a relevant, ripped-from-the-headlines direction, the series has just never been very good at it. It has remained strangely compelling regardless, largely due to its all-star cast of very talented actors and consistently great performances in its shockingly cutthroat and ego-driven portrayal of the morning-news industrial complex. The most promising thing about season 3, then, is that it starts to lean into this, and away from its topical proclivities. The Morning Show has always had soapy leanings, but the latest season is the closest it has come to embracing a future as a prestige soap, and the show immediately feels freer for it.

Jon Hamm, playing entrepreneur Paul Marks, stands in front of a model of a rocket ship while talking to journalist Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) with her producer Charlie (Mark Duplass) and Tig Notaro (Tig Notaro). Image: Apple TV Plus

The transition, however, is an abrupt one. The first part of the two-episode premiere is the old Morning Show, frontloading heavy ideas about America and Bradley’s desire to be a crusading reporter covering a story at the intersection of abortion and immigration, adjusting poorly to the reality that she is now more like Alex — a media icon that might ultimately have more power behind the scenes than on the field. And there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, as network big boss Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup, playing an all-time great TV asshole) is courting Paul Marks into buying the network.

Episode 2 is so tonally different it almost feels like a second run at the premiere, one that’s more squarely focused on The Morning Show’s cast of impossibly big personalities as they face a sensational crisis: a cyberattack that locks them in a studio and threatens to expose every embarrassing and dark secret they might have.

While I mourn the version of The Morning Show that might have figured out how to become the compelling, relevant drama its creators spent two seasons trying, sometimes disastrously, to make, scandal and theatrics animate the show in such a palpable way that it’s hard to look back. The rest of the season may try and blend the two approaches, but The Morning Show would be better off just committing. It already went to space. There’s no going back.

The first two episodes of The Morning Show season 3 are now streaming, with new episodes weekly.

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