Where to Watch: Apple TV+
Premiere: Nov. 1
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Reese Witherspoon, Billy Crudup, Brett Butler
En español | The Morning Show could hardly feel more ripped from the headlines. In the highest-profile offering from the new streaming service Apple TV+, which launches Nov. 1, the beloved male anchor (Steve Carell, 57) of a top-rated a.m. news program suddenly gets fired following sexual-misconduct allegations. Before you can say “the Today show,” the program carries on with a pair of female hosts, played by Jennifer Aniston, 50, and Reese Witherspoon, 43.
Aniston shines in her first TV-series role since Friends (which Witherspoon guest-starred on as her sister). She exudes the gravitas of a small-screen stalwart like Diane Sawyer, yet also allows us to see her character's vulnerability as she's forced to deal with a potential career cataclysm in real time, live on morning TV.
Witherspoon's character seems more muddled at first. She's a local correspondent for a Fox News Channel-like network whose confrontation with a protester at a coal mine goes viral, launching her onto the national stage. It's an unlikely plot twist, but Witherspoon ultimately sells it with her plucky charisma.
Carell brings surprising shades of sympathy to his Matt Lauer-like character. In the three episodes made available for review (Apple has ordered two 10-episode seasons), we're never quite sure how much of a creep he is. That's especially the case when Martin Short, 69, guest-stars as a movie director who, by contrast, is a genuine predator. The SCTV alum, who won an Emmy in 2010 for Damages and hosted the last AARP Movies for Grownups Awards on PBS's Masterpiece, continues to excel as a dramatic actor.
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The overstuffed ensemble doesn't leave much room for Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Motherless Brooklyn), 36, to distinguish her character, the show's talent booker, out of the gate. But Mark Duplass (The League), 42, makes a strong impression as the show's beleaguered executive producer, and Billy Crudup (Almost Famous), 51, creates a convincingly Machiavellian network exec. (In real life, the actor's brother Tommy Crudup has worked behind the scenes on Rosie O'Donnell's and Rachael Ray's daytime shows.)
The Morning Show's most surprising performance comes from Brett Butler, 61 — who hasn't been seen much since she flamed out as the star of the hit sitcom Grace Under Fire in 1998 — as Witherspoon's steel-magnolia mother. She steals her scenes in the pilot, and we can only hope that's not the last we'll see of her.
Aniston and Witherspoon also serve as executive producers, along with such diverse talents as former House of Cards political consultant Jay Carson, Bates Motel showrunner Kerry Ehrin and ER director Mimi Leder. The initial episodes have a too-many-cooks feel, as the tone veers uneasily between soap opera, dark drama, showbiz satire and Broadcast News-like workplace comedy.
But like the show within The Morning Show, this unsteady ship makes for compelling entertainment. And you don't have to wake up at 7 a.m. to watch it.