Over the next few weeks both Disney and Apple are set to jump head first into the streaming wars, launching their own subscription services that they hope will be able to instantly compete with already established parties like Netflix and Amazon.
In order to do that they’ll need to prove that their output is distinctive and different. That’s relatively easy for Disney, as they have close to a century’s worth of films and shows to immediately offer up, which includes their classic animated cannon and pretty much everything Lucasfilm, Marvel, Pixar and 20th Century Fox have ever released, plus new and original shows and movies, too.
Apple don't have that luxury. Instead, they're instantly looking to appeal to an older, smarter and more sophisticated audience with their output, the prize jewel of which is The Morning Show, which is both led and produced by Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, and also boasts an all-star ensemble that includes Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nestor Carbonell and Bel Powley.
The first two episodes of The Morning Show, which The National were privy to earlier this month, predominantly revolve around Aniston's character Alex Levy, the anchor of the hugely popular titular news programme who is left blindsided when her co-host of 15 years Mitch Kessler, played by Steve Carell, is suddenly fired after he is accused of sexual misconduct.
Over the course of these episodes Levy fights to remain composed and in control of the story, while also battling for her job as she is currently in the midst of contract negotiations with the network. Levy's efforts are further complicated by the arrival of Reese Witherspoon's Bradley Jackson, an aspiring journalist that erupts into a viral sensation after a particularly passionate news segment and is then headhunted by The Morning Show.
As you could probably have guessed by the show's strong cast, there are several other plots and threads that are explored and teased over the course of the opening two episodes. And while not everything about The Morning Show lands as emphatically as it should, especially when you consider the monumental roster and acting talent it has at its disposal, by the end of the second episode the foundations have been set and you're able to get enough of an idea of its tone, humour and depth to want to see how all ten episodes of its first season actually play out.
It is Aniston that proves herself to be the most impressive and stand-out performer though, with her mesmeric, flawed but always captivating portrayal of Levy helping the show to overcome several moments where it verges into tedium.
Of course, as one of the most popular television actresses of all time and a bona-fide leading lady in film too, that shouldn't come as such a surprise. But the fact that she overpowers and even outperforms Academy Award nominee Carell and Best Actress Oscar winner Witherspoon shows just how much the former Friends star has raised her game for The Morning Show.
Audiences can only hope that Witherspoon can find her footing over the course of the first season, because even though she is given ample screen time she still doesn’t seem to have found the right balance of tenacity and comedy to make Jackson stand-out.
The only actor to actual rival the work of Aniston is Crudup, who has the walk, smile and cadence of network boss Cory Ellison down to a tee. You know you’re supposed to distrust and, at times, hate Ellison. Yet Crudup’s demeanour constantly reminds you that he’s just doing business. So much so that you can’t help but begrudgingly like him.
The one element that really doesn't work, and might even have waylaid The Morning Show before it can prove itself, is Steve Carell as the disgraced co-host embroiled in the sexual misconduct scandal. Not only does Carell feel miscast, as he is caught between making Kessler evil and just incredibly arrogant, but in the wake of the #MeToo scandal rightfully dominating the media landscape for the last two years it lacks any weight or genuine insight and just feels tiresome.
As such, The Morning Show needs to quickly move away from Carell's character. Instead it should focus on the dynamic between Witherspoon and Aniston, expand upon the vibrant supporting characters that its hugely impressive roster have already shown are developed and well-rounded, while also exploring the detail, conflict and lessons that can be learned from its depiction of workplace politics. If it does just that then not only will no other comedy drama come close to The Morning Show, but it should also help to set Apple apart from its many, many rivals.
The Morning Show and Apple TV+ launches on Friday, November 1