Before the blissful delight of Ted Lasso, there was the weight of The Morning Show, which kicks off its second season Friday.
In 2019, Apple committed a reported $300 million for two 10-episode seasons of the heavyweight #MeToo-era drama, which is produced by Reese Witherspoon’s just sold Hello Sunshine, and stars Witherspoon alongside Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Mark Duplass and Billy Crudup in a fictionally loose adaptation of the scandal that consumed NBC Today Show host Matt Lauer several years earlier.
Apple touted a small number of big name stars and big projects in the run-up to the November 2019 launch of subscription streaming service Apple TV Plus—the Jason Momma-led See and the Steven Spielberg-produced Amazon Stories, among them. But it was usually collateral from The Morning Show you’d see first and most often every time Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage to tout his company’s splashy new entry into the “streaming wars.”
Despite all of the aspirations and star-power backing, the series didn’t take off with critics, many of whom felt The Morning Show was a little overwrought for first thing in the Apple TV Plus morning—Season 1 scored a 61% aggregation rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
The series did provide Apple TV Plus with its first Emmy, via Crudup, who garnered a 2020 Supporting Actor trophy for his portrayal of fast-talking, pompous—and ultimately, complicit—executive producer, Cory Ellison. (That was, of course, only a small taste of the TV Academy lovefest that would come later for Ted Lasso.)
Whether or not the general public watched or liked The Morning Show is debatable—and perhaps even unknowable, based on how little information Apple releases about its SVOD service’s audience, even to this day.
Since its first day on Apple TV Plus, anyone using the widely distributed free Apple TV app could see the first two episodes of The Morning Show for at no charge before being asked to sign up for the subscription platform’s seven-day free trial. And up until recently, if you owned or purchased Apple hardware, there was a year-long free trial for Apple TV Plus.
According to a report in paywalled insider site The Information last week, Apple TV Plus now has around 40 million signups and about 20 million regular users. But this seems, to a degree, well informed guesswork—perhaps not too different from the anecdotal gut instinct that tells us that there just weren’t that many people watching Apple TV Plus 21 months ago, when the first season of The Morning Show hit the ol’ WiFi router.
And if The Information’s data is right, much of that audience only truly began coalescing in August 2020, when the first true Apple TV Plus watercooler hit, Ted Lasso, emerged, ultimately becoming the kind of Emmy darling and app download driver that Cook and his team originally hoped The Morning Show would be.
But now, after a COVID-induced hiatus, the sophomore season of The Morning Show is finally here. Based on Apple’s "California Streaming" event earlier this week, Apple executives haven’t given up hope that the series will fulfill their original ambitions for it.
Taking a break from his biggest agenda item--hyping the new iPhone 13--Cook prominently included Season 2 TMS clips in a video montage highlighting Apple TV Plus’ Lasso-led 35 Emmy nominations this year.
With Apple TV Plus only featuring a very finite number of premium original shows at launch—a limitation that was compounded when COVID-19 locked down TV and film production—The Morning Show production team, led by creators Jay Carson and Kerry Ehrin, not to mention the cast, undoubtedly felt the pressure to carry the entire platform.
According to The Information report, Apple plans to double the amount of original shows devoted to Apple TV Plus in 2022.
More content—and an already established hit—means that less is riding on the second installment of The Morning Show, which narratively picks up nine months after anchor Alex Levy (Aniston) had her own on-air Network-esque “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” moment, following sleazy scandal that took down her ex co-anchor, Mitch Kessler (Carell)
That said, there's always pressure to perform, especially now that Apple TV Plus is no longer free. (Apple downgraded the one-year free trial for gadget buyers to just three months at the beginning of the summer.)
Maybe this time around, a bigger cohort of Apple TV Plus watchers will find that the excessive sweetness of Ted Lasso has jacked their blood sugar levels a little too, and they need some topical, relevant dramatic protein to balance things out.
Reviewing all 10 Season 2 episodes of The Morning Show, it can be safely stated that the series remains feel-good free. It’s still layered and loaded with subtext, covering topics including the pandemic, racial inequality, and of course, narcissistic egomaniacs. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep the finite number of Season 1 fans happy, while perhaps enticing a much larger audience of later adopters.
Plot twists aside, the show is just plain fun to watch, primarily due to Aniston and Crudup’s performances. Watching Aniston transform from America’s “girl next door” to a manipulative, insecure, businesswoman is pure joy—almost as much fun as watching Crudup as as the increasingly desperate Ellison.
The new season also introduces more can't-take-my-eyes-off-them characters like network executive Stella Bak, played perfectly by Greta Lee, and Julianna Margulies as news anchor Laura Peterson.
While The Morning Show is not aspirational like Ted Lasso, it’s arguably more compelling. Watching a show about characters who are unapologetically human—fearful, proud, insecure and who don't always end up doing the right thing—may not warm the heart.
But perhaps, in the end, it'll lead to an even more lasting watercooler discussion for Apple TV Plus.
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