The Morning Show is back after two years — even though only one of the characters is still hosting the titular programme, and only part-time. While the second season was set in 2020 and focused on the early days of the pandemic, season three shifts to 2022 (with the exception of a mid-season flashback episode, but more on that later). Alex (Jennifer Aniston) has long recovered from COVID-19 and is now more popular than ever, leading a popular UBA+ interview series called Alex Unfiltered.
Despite a break-up with Laura (Julianna Margulies), Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) is prospering on the nightly news desk and receiving widespread recognition for his coverage of the January 6th insurgency from inside the Capitol. Everything appears to be going nicely for everyone involved. But that doesn’t last long – after all, this is The Morning Show.
The biggest conflict derives from UBA’s inability to keep the lights on. Cory (Billy Crudup) believes he has discovered an answer in Paul Marks (Jon Hamm), the CEO of space exploration corporation Hyperion who resembles Elon Musk, but not everyone approves of him or his idea. As a result, a season-long battle for control of the organisation and its future ensues.
There are backdoor deals and backstabbing, snooping and smooching, and moments that will make your eyes water mixed in with a handful that will make you roll your eyes. There are still just too many narratives going on — a frequent criticism of the previous two seasons — but it feels like it’s getting closer to finding its feet and concentration, and although it’s still trying to do too much, none of it is dull.
The Morning Show has long been regarded for accurately representing everyday life. Season 1 focused on the #MeToo movement, while Season 2 focused on the outbreak of the epidemic. And, while it has always had its finger on the pulse of current events, its efficacy in dealing with such concerns has been varied.
The Morning Show Season 3 takes on a lot, but it does a wonderful job eating it all up, and the themes are brought up in a natural way. (In contrast to the perplexing Mitch in Italy plot that dominated the sophomore season.) Bradley is once again divided between her devotion to her conservative family and the affection she still has for Laura as a result of the political situation.
She and the other women, particularly new anchor Chris (Nicole Beharie), must painstakingly battle with how to cover abortion stories – a chore that will become even more difficult after Roe v. Wade is decisively repealed.
Speaking of Chris, she and Mia (Karen Pittman) are both affected by the BLM protests, as well as workplace misogynoir and wage inequalities. The situation in Ukraine hits home for Mia in an unexpected way, and it’s fantastic to see Pittman — who has always been one of the show’s greatest aspects — get to go further into Mia’s personal life.
The season’s overall themes, which impact every character in some manner, couldn’t be more topical. Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter/X is frighteningly similar to the menace of Big Tech and the power of billionaires to buy and deconstruct firms. With both the WGA and SAG on strike, the topic of the future of legacy media, the corruption of the UBC board, and the crew’s dissatisfaction with their working circumstances could not be more timely.
The most powerful of them, though, may be a continuation of where The Morning Show began with the #MeToo campaign. This season delves further into it by giving powerful emerging star Greta Lee’s Stella a more meaty plot in which she must continually balance doing what’s best for the company and herself.
One of the most memorable and horrifying scenes occurs when Stella is forced to choose between sticking to her morals and closing an important deal with two powerful, sexist advertisers — a choice that affects her deeply and has repercussions when she is put in similar situations again and again.
When Alex becomes connected with a prominent guy, she, too, must negotiate her tenuous feeling of power. There are several complexities and double standards, and The Morning Show does an excellent job of delving into them in a nuanced and intriguing manner.
The tangled connection between Alex and Bradley was the Morning Show’s major draw and emphasis in Season 1. The continual ups and downs between the rivals were captivating, and witnessing Aniston and Witherspoon go head-to-head and find common ground was a treat to see. It’s perplexing, though, that The Morning Show seemed set about underutilizing what first sold the show.
Just as in the second season, they spend a lot of time apart, which is irritating. It’s a shame, because when they do connect in a meaningful manner — in the debut, one episode in the middle of the season, and the end — it’s electrifying and a reminder of what made the programme successful in the first place.
Fortunately, The Morning Show spends this season diving deeply into newer, equally compelling relationships. The bond between Mia and Stella is maybe the most surprising and enjoyable. It’s refreshing to see this nuanced and supportive relationship unfold between two characters who have been disappointingly relegated to the background up until this point, from talking out issues facing the company to giving each other advice in more vulnerable moments to an absolute blast of a scene that sees them getting drunk at a pub to blow off steam.
Bradley discovering her sexuality and falling in love with brilliant fellow journalist Laura Peterson was arguably one of the most thrilling twists of Season 2. Laura, who is calm, reasonable, and a huge proponent of therapy, is opposed to Bradley, and their opposites-attract dynamic provides for a wonderful, albeit problematic, romance. One of the best episodes of season three takes us back to 2020 to explore how and why their relationship deteriorated under quarantine.
It’s a dangerous approach since committing a whole hour to go backwards might easily stall momentum, but the two are so compelling and entertaining to watch interact that it pays off in spades. It also provides significant context for the audience, which becomes crucial following a surprising discovery that alters the direction of the season’s second half.
Another season highlight is Episode 3, which centres on a crisis after a hack has revealed an email from board member Cybil (Holland Taylor) making a racial joke about Chris. Beharie offers a masterclass in balancing sticking up for herself and holding Cybil and the network accountable but not giving the public any excuse to pigeonhole her as the angry Black woman.
From the beginning, it’s easy to cheer for Chris, as Beharie offers her a wealth of layers and consistently pulls forth a nuanced, vivacious, and often devastating performance. Cybil is given depth by Taylor as well, making for a cautionary character study of a broken lady hopelessly clinging to her family’s history.
The Morning Show has a tremendous cast, which is both a benefit and a burden because there just isn’t enough time to do every character justice, despite its bloated tendency to have each episode last over an hour. After spotlighting Chris at the start of the season, she gradually slips into the background alongside Yanko (Nestor Carbonell), who is once again given nothing to do. Paul, who is new this season, is a wise inclusion since his plot is solid and surprising while also adding colour and providing history on more familiar characters like Stella and Cory.
But I can’t help but wonder if we need this much information on Cory — or if we need any Cory at all. At times, particularly at the start of the season, he becomes the main character – a strange and disappointing decision for a programme that begins with two female leads. Crudup is a fantastic performer, but characters like Cory have had their story told several times. The Morning Show’s fixation on focusing on him as much as it focuses on other more intriguing personalities is lazy. The layers that the programme tries to give him wind up sounding artificial and hollow, and his relationship with Bradley is now monotonous and played out.
Too many characters have been an issue for The Morning Show from its inception, and although it does not appear to have learnt from its failures, it also does not appear to have lost the characteristics that made it great. There are still occasional zingers that give the programme great comic and witty rhythms, demonstrating that, despite its elegant façade and difficult issues, it doesn’t always take itself too seriously.
In addition to the new supporting characters, we have June Diane Raphael in a recurring role as the feisty anchor of a conservative news programme. The needle drops are also flawless – St. Vincent’s “Pay Your Way in Pain” and David Bowie’s “Lazarus” are particularly memorable and effective at punctuating significant moments.
This season, The Morning Show takes on a lot, but it succeeds at the most of it. It provides the majority of its characters their opportunities to shine by combining issues in a natural way and presenting compelling friendships, romantic connections, and power battles. While the core themes have changed over time and most of the characters have gone on from the fictional morning show featured in the series, this is still The Morning Show we fell in love with.