Our favourite dysfunctional TV presenters are back on our screens and the stakes are higher than ever.
Warning: plotlines (but no major spoilers) from The Morning Show season two are referenced in this review. Proceed with caution.
We return to Manhattan for the second season of The Morning Show to a desolate sight. We pan across deadly quiet, empty streets and abandoned landmarks. It’s broad daylight, so it can’t be the ungodly hour that our favourite, secret-riddled presenters have to get up to read the news.
No, the streets are empty because we’ve gone back in time to 2020. The Covid-19 lockdowns of 2020, to be exact. Season two forces us to revisit this tumultuous time, to look at it again – the outbreak of a pandemic, a shift in modern society – with the benefit of hindsight, and through the eyes of the show’s protagonists.
After filming for the show itself was delayed in early 2020, the season was rewritten to incorporate all that we encountered last year, and it’s richer for it.
When the first episode kicks off, The Morning Show itself is still in action, months prior to the scenes of isolation. Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley is still on the air, Jennifer Aniston’s broadcasting icon Alex Levy has taken flight somewhere snowy and remote to recuperate and make sense of the first season’s explosive events.
Meanwhile, Billy Crudup’s Cory becomes CEO, citing his mission of the “battle for the soul of the universe” early on, which gives a completely fitting insight into the heights of drama that The Morning Show hits in its second outing.
Though the season manages a truly masterful showcase of the complexities of female shame, it is Alex’s that we contend with most closely during this season – we become acquainted with it from the very first episode. At a party far from New York’s skyscrapers, an initially hokey-sounding psychic tells her “you are carrying around a paralysing amount of grief”, which simultaneously touches a chord in Alex and sets up her journey for the rest of the season.
She is forced to contend with her feelings about the #MeToo movement (“I destroyed my career over the fucking movement”) and her musings on whether she was complicit in it, the job she struggles to leave behind and – above all – her relationship with disgraced man Mitch, played incredibly once again by Steve Carrell. The chapter she is specifically struggling to write is the one about him, and her difficulty – and shame – in accepting her connection, and professional association, with him.
This is an interesting and important type of shame to tackle in the aftermath of a sex abuse scandal. Carrell’s character’s actions are undeniably awful and arguably irredeemable, but what remains after the stormy demands for his retribution is even more complicated. He’s still a father, a friend, a person. Except he’s not. What happens to the people that must leave him behind if they are to continue with their lives as before? Can they even live their life as before? Alex deals with this throughout season two and it’s extremely compelling – and thought provoking – to witness her struggle.
“Alex sort of became a feminist hero and I think she has this secret guilt that she isn’t, she has this history with Mitch that she’s ashamed of,” The Morning Show’s executive producer and writer, Kerry Ehrin, has previously told People.
“But something about her still needs to feel relevant and there’s obviously still more for her to excavate,” Aniston added in the same interview.
The family of the show’s former booker, the late Hannah Shoenfeld (played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are pressing charges against the show’s network for a wrongful death lawsuit, after she died from an overdose at the end of the first season. Cory spends a large amount of his screen time crusading on her behalf, not just trying to protect the reputation of the show but Hannah’s, too.
Media outlets threaten to apply their own poisonous form of shame to her tragic death by painting her as a drug addict and more, so he finds himself in his own battle to prevent public shaming of the late Hannah. But, as always, things get complicated.
New additions to the cast include the iconic Holland Taylor (who plays self-proclaimed “cockroach” Cybil, the chairwoman of The Morning Show’s broadcaster, UBA) and Julianna Marguilies, who plays Laura Peterson, a veteran TV presenter who used to work on the show.
Laura is a breath of self-assured, non-chaotic fresh air amongst the drama that encircles the other main characters, but is also open about her own shame that she encountered earlier in life and how it affected her career.
Bradley is going from strength to strength on the air, but is facing her own experiences of shame herself. Laura becomes a mentor to her, helping her continue to build her thriving career. “The energy between Reese’s character and my character is really interesting to watch because you really see Reese’s character grow just by being in Laura’s orbit,” Margulies tells People of Bradley’s “hero worship” of her character. We see Bradley come to terms with her shame, and in doing so considers what this might mean for her future.
As many of our principal characters are grappling with their own experiences of shame, there are other issues at play. Newcomer Stella Bak (played by Greta Lee), who has stepped in to run the show and take it to higher levels of inclusivity and lower levels of scandal, encounters racial slurs in the street. Daniel (played by Daniel Henderson) grows increasingly disillusioned when he feels underused as a black, gay reporter. Weatherman Yanko (played by Nestor Carbonell), meanwhile, tussles with cultural appropriation.
We watch these characters grapple with the Covid-19 pandemic, racism and the US election and we are reminded just how much has changed since March 2020. It makes us question whether we – or The Morning Show crew – were ever going to be ready for it.
Above all, this season goes deep on female shame, along with the journey that comes with redemption and self-acceptance. Like 2020, it’s an absolutely wild ride.
Images: Apple TV