On Friday, Apple debuted Apple TV Plus, its new streaming platform, the first of a slew of new services hitting the market in an attempt to compete with Netflix. Later this month, Disney+ arrives, followed by Peacock (from NBC/Universal) in April 2020 and HBO Max in May 2020.
As the only platform that isn’t backed by a massive library of previously released movies and shows, Apple is banking on a small handful of high-profile new projects to entice users to shell out $4.99 a month for the service.
Perhaps the highest-profile show to hit the platform is “The Morning Show,” a drama starring three A-listers in Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Acton native Steve Carell. Originally inspired by CNN anchor Brian Stelter’s book “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV” — though the show’s plot was later retooled somewhat — the show centers around morning show anchor Alex Levy (Aniston), who is left reeling after her broadcast partner of 15 years Mitch Kessler (Carell) is enveloped in a sexual misconduct scandal and fired. Meanwhile, Alex must also contend with hard-charging journalist Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon), who is gunning for her job.
Apple has already committed massive resources to the show, renewing it for a second season before the first one debuted, and spending $15 million per episode for a total of $300 million, according to The Hollywood Reporter. But is the show worth watching?
Critics have been decidedly divided on “The Morning Show,” with the series earning a 58 percent freshness rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this article’s publication. That said, a single number can’t adequately capture the range of critical response, and many of the reviews coded as “fresh” or “rotten” by the critical aggregation site have a bit more nuance. To help you judge whether to shell out $4.99 to binge-watch the new series this weekend, here’s what critics are saying, both good and bad about “The Morning Show.”
Lucy Mangan, of The Guardian, loved “The Morning Show,” giving it five out of five stars and proclaiming that rival streaming companies should be looking over their shoulders.
“Aniston is flawless – wholly convincing as a woman both broken by and rightfully raging at Mitch’s betrayal, a force to be reckoned with and a person who has had it up to here with a lifetime of negotiating other people’s whims, needs and prejudices. Everyone else — especially Billy Crudup as the network suit playing seven-dimensional chess with everyone — matches her point for point. The script has depth and endless torque and the whole thing is an exhilarating rush that makes room for nuance, thought and — though it’s definitely a drama — humour.”
The AV Club’s Alex McLevy praised the majority of the cast, highlighting the work of Aniston as well as Billy Crudup as the backstabbing morning show executive.
“Once it gets going, ‘The Morning Show’ has the addictive rush of great old-school TV dramas. Funny, biting, and with just the right dose of trashy zing, this is high-gloss soap — ‘Broadcast News’ meets ‘L.A. Law.’ Bringing together this level of talent (both in front of and behind the camera, with superlative director Mimi Leder helming the majority of the first season) must have cost Apple a bundle, but when it results in television this appealing, it sure feels worth it.”
Jen Chaney, of Vulture, wrote that the show’s ripped-from-the-headlines plot and its focus on high-stakes drama were good choices by showrunner Kerry Ehrin.
“Plunging the audience directly into this crisis situation is one of the smartest decisions ‘The Morning Show’ makes. This in medias res approach immediately draws us into what’s happening and naturally establishes the high-stress, fast-paced environment where much of the story will unfold. … There’s a strong sense of momentum and controlled chaos in ‘The Morning Show’ that engages from the jump.”
Matthew Gilbert, of The Boston Globe, praised Aniston for her performance, but called the show “just OK,” and questioned whether the show’s “hazy point of view” would improve beyond the three episodes Apple made available to critics.
“Perhaps the mixed signals of the first three episodes will resolve as the season — and the second season, already ordered — proceed. With a sharper point of view, ‘The Morning Show’ could be more than a murky showcase for Aniston and Witherspoon, and it could be more than just OK.”
Rolling Stone’s Alan Sepinwall gave “The Morning Show” two-and-a-half stars out of five, conceding that the show had standout moments and individual performances, but found it to be ultimately less than the sum of its parts”
“The Morning Show isn’t terrible. It has several excellent performances beyond Crudup’s, including Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy, a longtime morning TV anchor struggling in the aftermath of the #MeToo scandal that got her co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) fired. … But the series is a well-polished snore, a prime example of how throwing money at a problem — in this case, Apple’s need to dive into the streaming wars now that Netflix and company have killed off the revenue stream from buying individual TV episodes — isn’t inherently the best way to solve it.”
James Poniewozik, of The New York Times, felt that the show’s late re-write to include a #MeToo storyline didn’t mesh with the original plot, leading to a clunky, albeit polished, experience.
“After three episodes, this tech company’s first venture into TV is good only at appearing to be good. It’s like something assembled in a cleanroom out of good-show parts from incompatible suppliers. Under the gleaming surface, as sleek and anodyne as an Apple Store, it is a kludge.”
Hank Stuever, of The Washington Post, was unsparing in his criticism, writing that the show was a “conspicuous fender bender, in which ambition has been rear-ended by self-importance, causing it to bump into a dump truck full of cliches.”
“Here’s one reason to fork over $4.99 for a subscription to Apple’s new streaming TV network: so you can join those of us already trying to figure out how they spent all that effort and money ($15 million per episode, I read) and got two of Hollywood’s most powerful women to sign on, co-produce and co-star in a #MeToo-inspired drama series that is somehow so implausibly overblown and poorly envisioned that the one character you wind up relating to — even sympathizing with — is the predatory creep.”