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Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) stands at the ready in a control room in the Apple TV Plus drama The Morning Show. Photo: Apple TV Plus

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How to decide if Apple’s chaotic drama The Morning Show is for you

Your guide to the latest messy show that lives for drama

Joshua Rivera (he/him) is an entertainment and culture journalist specializing in film, TV, and video game criticism, the latest stop in a decade-plus career as a critic.

The Morning Show, created by Jay Carson and inspired by a book by CNN reporter Brian Stelter, was one of the first hints that Apple TV Plus could become a thing: Not only did the backstage drama feature two of the biggest TV stars of sitcoms given new life in the streaming era — Jennifer Aniston of Friends and The Office’s Steve Carrel — playing opposite acclaimed actors like Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crudup, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, but it had awards clout, winning the streamer its first Emmy (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, to Billy Crudup). Now the show’s spearheading what’s looking like a promising lineup of fall premieres for the tech giant’s streaming service, with the hope of luring back fans of season 1 and piquing interest in Apple’s TV momentum.

The Morning Show is also among the most watchable disasters on television, a drama where immensely talented actors play characters that behave in inexplicable ways in a story that barely seems to have a handle on what it’s even about. Season 1 began as a post-#MeToo story about the fallout from a sexual misconduct scandal: When beloved morning news anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrel) is outed as an alleged predator, his co-anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) along with the entire cast and crew, must deal with the fallout. From there, things spiral — for both the characters and real-world viewers.

Do you want on that ride? Let’s find out with this Polygon-friendly survey.

The Morning Show is for you if… vibe with the phrase “chaos is the new cocaine”

Morning show correspondents Allison Namazi and Daniel Henderson report live from a New Year’s Eve party in season 2 of The Morning Show. Photo: Apple TV Plus

Here’s the biggest hook in The Morning Show’s arsenal: Things are always falling apart. Mitch Kessler’s scandal puts his entire show, and the network that hosts it, in a state of panic in which everyone tries to cover their ass and hopes they aren’t implicated as someone who enabled his behavior. There aren’t really heroes here, but there are heroic conflicts, as Alex Levy struggles for control of her show as the network wants to force her out — perhaps in favor of folksy local reporter Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), whose sudden viral fame catapults her into the co-anchor chair as Mitch’s replacement. like shows with a ridiculous spin on real-world events

The first season of The Morning Show is extremely concerned with telling a post-#MeToo story, and its premise has strong parallels with the real-world allegations against Today Show host Matt Lauer. But it’s also a show about people working in TV news, and the news they report is largely, stuff that actually happened. Episodes in season 1 saw the Morning Show team covering the California wildfires that devastated the state in the late 2010s, and season 2 is set in the opening months of 2020, as the world slowly learns the scope and severity of the coronavirus pandemic.

TV Dramas are not always good at this. Like Aaron Sorkin’s HBO series The Newsroom, The Morning Show often indulges in sanctimony while also being too concerned with melodrama to really make a compelling case for why these real-world events add to the story. To the series’ credit, it often leans on the latter more than the former. For all of its missteps and thematic messiness when it comes to referencing very recent history, The Morning Show is sublime when it comes to watching people implode — a trend season 2 continues as characters realize they haven’t moved on from last season’s events as much as they thought they have.

...Littlefinger is your favorite part of Game of Thrones

Cory Ellison oversees the reunion between Bradley Jackson and Alex Levy in season 2 of The Morning Show. Photo: Apple TV Plus

Perhaps it is unjust that Billy Crudup is, thus far, the only cast or crew member on The Morning Show to win an Emmy, but once you watch him, it’s hard to be mad. Crudup plays the scheming network executive Cory Ellison, newly in charge of the company’s news division after establishing himself on the entertainment side. Like Game of Thrones’ Littlefinger, Ellison is an opportunistic sleaze, taking advantage of a terrible crisis to improve his fortunes in the company and make the eponymous Morning Show an even bigger hit.

Unlike Littlefinger, Crudup plays Ellison as a man who is always dialed to 11, with every line delivered like he just did a three yards of coke and is trying to convince you to hand over a personal sex tape. It is magnetic.

…You don’t mind a show about the trials and travails of rich, not-great people

While the morning show is ostensibly about news and navigating the abuses of the powerful, it’s really about celebrity. Television morning news is a strange space to operate in, and The Morning Show makes that clear. Producers and talent foster a parasocial relationship with their audience, and threats to that relationship must be handled at any cost. The series is careful to show the human cost when said celebrity is abused, but in the long run, it is disproportionately focused on the anguish and difficulty of The Morning Show’s cast and crew as they face accountability and try to grasp their own complicity.

Reese Witherspoon as Bradley Jackson sits on a plush sofa in season 2 of The Morning Show. Photo: Apple TV Plus

Season 2 suggests that these characters aren’t doing a great job of that. Many early episodes try to rebuild the status quo The Morning Show blew up at the end of season 1, when Alex goes off-script during a broadcast to implicate the network in a cover-up of the Mitch Kessler scandal, costing her the job and shaking up the network hierarchy. This can make it feel like a drag: the show is no longer propulsive, a series of tiny hurricanes caught in the wake of a larger one. Instead, it looks backwards, tripping over itself to bring its characters back to where they were.

Maybe that’s the point: By the time it wraps, The Morning Show season 2 is a story about how the powerful try to cling to their power and relevance, and how fading away is a fate worse than death when one has achieved fame. The show talks a big game and swings at all sorts of issues: racism, the initial pandemic uncertainty and response, and cancel culture are all in there. But mostly it’s a show about selling your soul to be number one in your field, and the ghosts that haunt you if you stay in it long enough. You can’t put this shit behind you.

The Morning Show is available to stream on Apple TV Plus, with new episodes on Fridays.