If in the aftermath of Matt Lauer’s 2017 termination from the Today show, your immediate thoughts went not to the women who bravely spoke out against his alleged predatory behavior but rather to how Savannah Guthrie was processing the revelation and whether perhaps Lauer wasn’t truly such a bad guy after all, and if, additionally, you really miss Sorkinesque walk-and-talks on TV, you are going to love The Morning Show.
Everyone else will likely find the crown jewel in Apple’s new streaming service an underwhelming misfire.
The Morning Show, which is loosely based on Brian Stelter’s nonfiction bestseller Top of the Morning and also the fantasia that everybody in 2019 America is deeply attached to morning TV, is surprisingly anonymous beneath its star-powered veneer (Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon, and Steve Carell lead a cast that includes Mark Duplass, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, and Billy Crudup). Despite the $15m-per-episode price tag, or perhaps because of it, the series feels as though it could live on any of the Big Four networks, during any year that begins with a 2—. This lack of identity shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that finding one’s voice as a network and/or streaming service is a slow, meticulous process that requires more effort than just throwing outlandish gobs of cash at a scattershot brochure of prestige projects and letting God sort them out.
Since Amazon and Hulu have found some success in challenging Netflix’s original programming dominance in the streaming space, more challengers were bound to follow. Apple is launching Apple TV+ on November 1, just 11 days before Disney aggressively launches its similarly titled streamer, Disney+. Both services may soon be joined by Jeffrey Katzenberg’s Quibi, which is threatening to launch next April, at which point viewers will be so consumed with content, we won’t know which way is up. (Interestingly, Hulu’s Difficult People and Netflix’s BoJack Horseman have both aired jokes about unlikely corporations pivoting to TV.)
As the marquee series for Apple TV+, The Morning Show bears the same coal mine canary burden that House of Cards did for Netflix back in 2013. (Reviews for the Jason Momoa-led dystopian See have been mixed but marginally better, and Variety described Hailee Steinfeld’s Dickinson as “glossy but confusing.”) Since the embargo for Apple TV+’s initial lineup lifted as of today, reviews for The Morning Show are pouring in. So far, they are . . . not great.
Here’s a quick roundup of what some top critics are saying:
Variety: “The Morning Show, in trying to sell all sides of its story without committing to telling a single one well, falls startlingly short. And, worst of all, there’s not a human worth caring about in sight.”
Rolling Stone: “It may think its stories are different than everyone else’s, but they aren’t. Nor are they told well enough to make up for that. The show, and the service, don’t need to exist, and thus far aren’t justifying that existence.”
Indiewire: “Watching The Morning Show is a bit like watching The Big Short, except nothing is said straight-to-camera and nearly everything is boring.”
Chicago Tribune: “The Morning Show pushes one excellent actor after another into misjudged shrillness and Big Moment fireworks, giving the various crises and machinations nowhere to go but sideways. The inconsistencies and false notes pile up.”
The Hollywood Reporter: “After a brutally dull pilot and a meandering second episode, there are distinct hints in the third hour of a more satisfying and confident The Morning Show, one that actually gets value out of leading ladies Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. But did the behemoths at Apple really get into the crowded original TV marketplace to become the latest perpetrator of ‘It eventually gets better!’ patience-testing?”
CNN: “The Morning Show isn’t bad, just generally unimpressive, all the more so given the talent involved and the imperative for these new streaming services (up next: Disney+) to make a good impression right out of the box.”
Paste: “The most damning thing I can say about The Morning Show, the star-studded drama that is part of Apple TV+’s big launch this Friday, is that it’s fine. Reminiscent of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip with its frenetic take on putting on live television, the show is like an old-school network drama—which again is perfectly fine, but not exactly what one would hope for when discussing the crown jewel of the streaming launch.”
The Daily Beast: “It’s a show that will piss off people allergic to earnestness as well as people allergic to showboating. And it will certainly piss off people susceptible to a certain kind of anaphylactic shock when those two approaches collide, like a toxic mixing of medication, in a discussion of #MeToo.”