I recently binged The Morning Show on Apple+, and I’m still processing how I feel about the characters and the storyline. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely recommend it. There’s just so much to unpack.
TMS opens with the news that their beloved anchor Mitch is actually a poster villain for #metoo and we spend two seasons with Alex, his partner (in crime?), and all her cohorts in the complicated aftermath.
Though it may feel otherwise, it’s based on the aptly titled book Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter, not on Matt Lauer and Katie Couric.
Here are five themes from TMS that are still resonating with me:
All jobs are f***ed up. You do things you don’t necessarily choose to do in exchange for relevance and money, and you cannot let it kill you.—Alex Levy
Alex, played by Jennifer Anniston, is not a nice person; she’s not kind or cuddly unless the red light is on. You don’t get to be America’s A.M. sweetheart by being a sweetheart. Hello. She’s been getting up at 3:30 for 15 years, and she’s not being pushed off her pedestal without a fight.
It’s celebration worthy to see a woman maintain such a lofty position because you know she had to constantly battle the patriarchal system to reach it. Ambition has no gender! But at this level, the costs are similar – the loss of close relationships, empathy, integrity… you know. The whole exchanging “relevance and money for principles” thing.
And when the desire and determination to achieve success becomes hubris? And your own family is aware of how low they are on your call sheet of priorities? And you wake up one day with everything you wanted and nothing meaningful to show for it.
Relentless ambition has no gender, but it does have consequences, as we see on TMS.
The world is unfair and sad. It’s ugly. And we hide from it in our wealth.—Mitch Kessler
The opulence of what fame is worth, real estate wise, is casually displayed throughout the show and it’s a lot to take in, when you think about it. Alex’s Manhattan penthouse where she rails at her husband about perceived slights, Mitch’s borrowed villa where he goes to ground – they’re all a glimpse into how comfortable the world is for those with money.
Not once is there an indication of gratitude, appreciation or even attention paid to the surroundings. They just are what they are.
Meanwhile, the audience is at the window peering in, living vicariously through their luxury. It’s not enough that we worship these celebrities because they entertain us; we want to see what they have so we can worship their taste and lifestyle as well.
Even when Mitch’s life implodes, his standard of living stays the same, therefore his suffering comes with a cliffside view of Lake Como.
It’s icky, when you think about it.
He stole my confidence, my self-worth, and then I was drowning and there was no one to throw me a lifeline. No one.—Ashley Brown
I didn’t invent extracurricular sex.—Mitch Kessler
The main premise of TMS is what takes place after Mitch, played by Steve Carell, is accused of sexual misconduct and abuse of power. Different episodes highlight different versions of the same bombshell, showing how difficult it is to stand up or speak up when it’s happening to you. I’m not gonna lie – watching this can be very triggering if you’ve ever experienced any kind of male coercion – and honestly, what woman hasn’t?
At first, Mitch is agog at the perception of his behaviour. His take? “Of course you want to f**k me. Who wouldn’t? You’re welcome.” Intimidation cloaked in privilege – it’s the well-known predator’s calling card.
Of course, the biggest rhetorical question is “Did Alex know?” And what did she barter within herself to not know it out loud?
She said, he said. And those quotes above say it all.
The part you guys never seem to realize is that you don’t have the power anymore. The news division is held up by my show. And the only thing keeping us afloat is me. Because guess what? America loves me. And therefore, I own America.—Alex Levy
In the morning arena of infotainment, the talking heads are royalty because of viewers. Every 100,000 of the most valuable demographic who watch the show (adults 25-54 yo) represents more than 10 million dollars in ad revenue yearly.
According to Top of the Morning, the demo is the only number that matters, profit wise. Therefore, these AM anchors are rewarded everything – except enough sleep – until they’re not. Like Eminem says: we made you.
So when the downfall comes and we’re judging them, hard, don’t forget how they got up there in the first place. We chose them. We’re the reason they’re the cool kids in school. For that, we expect them to be more than human; when they tumble, we punish them for being only human.
But remember, they wouldn’t exist without us. With our celebrity culture, we empowered them to want and take anything they want to take.
We are culpable too.
Do you really think that’s what all this is about? Your little television network? This is a battle for the soul of the universe.—Cory Ellison
Cancel culture. All it takes is a suggestion of a spark. A word. A trending hashtag.
There’s no fact checking, it’s all about the optics, and the more popular you are when you’re caught, the more vicious the backlash because of human nature. It’s brutal. No one likes to be made a fool of and this is your just dessert, a la 21st century.
Do the Harvey Weinsteins of the world deserve to be branded forever toxic? Again, rhetorical question. But what if you’re canceled unfairly? Can you be “uncanceled”? Or will you be a humiliating meme forever?
Journalism 101: if it bleeds, it ledes. Where’s the blood if you’re not actually guilty? What’s the click bait in that?
As I said, this is less of a review and more of a think piece.
If you’ve seen The Morning Show, how do you feel about the characters played by Jenn and Steve, not to mention Reese Witherspoon and Billy Crudup? How did the storyline trigger you? What did you think about the main tenets presented? About Mitch’s arc? About #metoo and #cancelcuture? Please share. I would love to hear from you. I am still thinking about it all.