Written by Erica Lipez & Adam Milch and Kerry Ehrin
Directed by Mimi Leder
Release Date: 17th September, 2021
There is a subtle but genuinely unnerving sense that the walls might just be closing in during the season two premiere of The Morning Show. While the spectre of Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) is still on the periphery of the story, particularly with the fallout over Hannah’s death at the end of season one, just to show how unnervingly committed Kerry Ehrin and her writers are when it comes to throwing their classily made and glossily enjoyable soap opera into the realm of real-world horrors, Covid is on the horizon.
The all too real fallout of a pandemic that has changed the fabric of our lives for the foreseeable future has left television in a bind; do our fictional serials integrate it into their stories or do they just pretend that these fictional universes are exactly that.
The newest addition to the Law and Order universe has thrown itself into plotlines involving stolen vaccines and characters wearing masks while in public, while the recent David Tennant/Michael Sheen comedy Staged places its two actors into twisted versions of themselves having to converse over video chat while waiting to get back to their play which has been postponed due to the lockdown.
Given that The Morning Show threw its oar into a story that deal with #MeToo, it’s perhaps not too big of a surprise that for season two, Covid is set to feature prominently.
Opening with a stunning drone shot that sweeps through the streets of a creepily empty New York (it’s so sweeping that the only thing missing from it is a CGI Spider-Man showing up in the middle of the frame), the series goes back three months to New Year’s Eve 2019, just a few weeks before the virus made its mark and with it the eradication of whatever hopes and dreams anyone had.
It adds a layer of tension to the already nervy layers of The Morning Show which has always been willing to go further than you might have expected it to, especially given that it comes with this cast, on this big a streaming service budget, not to mention its glossy production values.
The ending montage features characters hugging and embracing each other, even one having their face licked in a New Year celebration where social distancing wasn’t part of the language or daily vernacular. A new plot twist rears its head as Hannah’s family announce their intention to sue the network, a sneeze in the background hinting at further chaos and where this season is being placed against.
It’s a brilliant end to a great opening for the season which pitches its pace perfectly, catching us up with our key cast of characters (Carell is missing this hour but one assumes he’ll show up like a bad penny soon enough), showing us how things changed after the tumultuous conclusion to season one, and the direction the series wants to go forward with.
Running for fifty-five minutes, this marks one of the first episodes of the series to run for under an hour and as great as season one was, there were times the sixty-minute plus running time of season one’s episodes threatened to make the series somewhat uneven in terms of pace, despite doing great work with its storytelling and characters development which helped make the series such a compulsively watchable one.
This runs at a perfect speed; fast but never overbearingly so, all the while unafraid to stop and let its cast deliver the goods, especially when the dialogue is as well written as this. The series has always occupied a similar ground to the works of Aaron Sorkin and Michelle & Robert King, unafraid to offer glossy escapism while having something to say about the world. There is perhaps more of the cynicism of the Kings here than there is with Sorkin who has always had unabashed sentimentalism coursing throughout his works that while offering a wonderful escape, is in no way how the world works.
At the same time, this maybe doesn’t quite have the same bite as The Good Wife or The Good Fight, but it occupies that park more than more optimistic workings of The West Wing or The Newsroom, although like the latter and The Good Fight, it’s unafraid to step into the real world as opposed to holding a mirror up to it.
If it maybe doesn’t quite have the vicious bite of The Good Fight, it still showed considerable teeth in dealing with #MeToo and the complicity of toxic work environments that allow abuse to happen, and the same looks to be true of how it’s set to deal with COVID. There’s a near perverse and dark sense of humour as the characters express how they think things are set to be better in 2020 than they were in 2019, and yet those empty New York Streets in the opening scene and the knowledge of just how bad 2020 can get hover around like a bad penny that you know the series is going to mine for maximum effect.
There is always drama to be had, especially when you think things are turning the corner for the better. The episode offers Cory who is trying his best to bring Alex back to the UBA fold while at the same time trying to keep Bradley in his good graces (there is a brilliantly scripted and performed argument that Witherspoon and Crudup deliver brilliantly), and while he might achieve his goal of bringing Alex back, he has new dramas to contend with that reveal themselves by the episode’s end, all the while the sneezing extra behind him carries even more dire possibilities.
It’s a darkly witty final scene, but it also indicates just how much The Morning Show isn’t willing to rest on its laurels, even at this early stage in its second season. It’s been two years since the first run of episodes, and so much has happened in the world. On the basis of this, The Morning Show isn’t going to shy away from those challenges.