Thursday, April 23, 2020

TV Review: The Morning Show

During the lock-down, my wife and I wanted to sample some new shows.  Particularly we were interested in checking out the flagship show on Apple TV: The Morning Show.  The first two episodes were free.  After that, you had to sign up for a subscription trial.

We only made it to the first 10 minutes of the 4th episode.

The show was much ballyhooed as Jennifer Aniston's return to television.  And to be fair, her performance as well as all of the actors involved is actually quite good.  The problem is that they are giving their time to a show that is flawed down to its core.

Aniston plays Alex Levy, the co-host of a network news morning show.  The show begins with the breaking news that her longtime partner Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) has just been accused of sexual harassment.  This throws the show completely for a loop as executive producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) tries to hold everything together while the head of the news division Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup), the slick entertainment-minded executive, pushes him to shake things up.  Levy is being boxed into a corner while her own job is on the line.  Meanwhile, a low-level reporter Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) goes viral as she screeches at a man at a coal protest.  Ellison likes her no-nonsense style and brings her to The Morning Show.  Through circumstances that I will not spoil here, Jackson ends up as Mitch Kessler's replacement.

You can tell that a lot of care was given in the creation of the show.  All of the performances are good or at least interesting.  The filming makes the production of the news show and the behind-the-scenes an interesting affair.  The plot itself was interesting enough to keep us coming back to find out what happened next, even though the characters were incredibly flawed and difficult to like.  All of these things, while not great, was good enough.

Where the show failed was in the writing.

It isn't that there wasn't great skill evident in the writing, it was the strange, illogical fantasy element that takes you completely out of the story.  When I wrote my review for the Mindy Kaling movie Late Night, I noted that the filmmakers stray from reality by having their leads lean heavily into very divisive politics like abortion and coming out more popular on the other side.  As I've written before, the more politically divisive the entertainment becomes, the more accolades it receives from critics while audiences bleed away.  If you set out to insult half of your audience, why would they stay?  You can see this especially in comic books as well, where creators seem to actively hate their customers.  But in the realm of fiction, you can write things so that they go the way you want and not as they believably would.

This brings me to the character of Bradley Jackson.  She is so abrasive that I do not understand why she becomes so popular.  Her rant against the man in the viral video comes off a an unhinged screed rather than an explosion of righteous wisdom.  Later on, I began to give the character the benefit of the doubt because she said that she is apolitical and is only interested in the truth.  So she is set up as the inexperieneced idealist in the cynical world of broadcast news.

Then she says on live TV that she had an abortion at 15.

Now, I must place up front my perspective and you can judge if I am overreacting or not.  As a Catholic, I hold abortion to be one of the most horrific evils visited upon the world.  The killing of unborn children in such mass numbers in the name of emotional or material needs seems an unconscionable thing to do.  A number of years ago, movies like Juno and Knocked Up were attacked critics because the characters did not abort their unplanned pregnancies.  I remember reading an article which lamented the fact that studios were worried that audiences would lose sympathy for a character who has an elective abortion.

The thing is that this fear is well-founded.  I remember reading a comic series called Invincible, where I had gone back and collected the entire run of the series.  But then one of the main characters has an abortion and I could bring myself to buy another issue.  The same thing happened with the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic (though I believe it turned out later that things weren't exactly as they seemed).  But many in the entertainment industry don't WANT this to be the case.  This is why a number of TV shows depict women having abortions with no negative consequences.  Even in real life, celebrities like Alyssa Milano and Michelle Williams proudly proclaimed their abortions.

I could follow The Morning Show if it took a more realistic, even if sympathetic, view of Bradley's abortion.  But the entire issue is couched in her horrible home life and how brave she is to speak out.  On the show, high school girls march in protest in support for Bradley.  She becomes held up for her bravery and strength. 

But I just cannot buy it.

I'm sure that there would be some part of the population that would applaud Bradley.  It is probably the same group that is producing this show.  But outside of true believers, a character getting an abortion does much more to alienate rather than endear people in the audience, myself included.  Again, it isn't that a character who gets an abortion is irredeemable or uninteresting.  It is how the abortion is used in the story.  What galls me isn't even so much the abortion as it is the desire to mold this into some kind of heroic action that strikes a chord with millions of Americans.  It feels so fundamentally untruthful and ugly that I didn't care about the show anymore. 

And this is supposed to be the main attraction for purchasing an Apple TV subscription: a show that wallows in narcissism and celebrates the killing of unborn babies.  The makers of The Morning Show did the one thing that no show should ever do: it made me not want to watch it.

Someone tell me again how popular Apple TV is now?

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