What to Watch Verdict
As Bradley's private life becomes public, 'The Morning Show' continues flying away from the real world into utter mania.
This show's perverse ability to be compellingly terrible is unflagging
Reese Witherspoon does her able best handling Bradley's innate terror at having her personal details revealed
Dave Foley is a welcome presence in his guest appearance
This show is just absolutely demented in its inability to balance humor and sadness
The arrival of Bradley's brother leans heavily on stereotypes
It's impossible to care about Mitch and his storyline
What is The Morning Show’s connection to the real world? Yes, I’m starting today’s recap of “A Private Person,” the sixth episode of the Apple TV Plus prestige drama’s second season with a nice and heady question. I can’t help but wondering, because this show’s connection to anything outside of its extremely insular bubble seems tenuous at best.
In past weeks, it’s been worth wondering how this show connects to the audience that apparently watches Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) talk through the day’s news in the morning-show environment. But this week, the question is worth asking because of a specific cameo at the very start.
Bradley was just about to moderate the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas in mid-February 2020 when the last episode wrapped up. It’s no surprise — and frankly, more than a small relief — that this episode doesn’t feature any of that moderation, as it opts to begin with the debate recap. Bradley gives a brief report, alongside her fellow pundit whose name is apparently Carl. I say “apparently” because if you have a passing awareness of the modern political news spectrum, you will recognize that Carl, who goes out of his way to congratulate Bradley on her moderating duties, is played by Brian Stelter, who is a real-life CNN news anchor, a consulting producer on this very program and wrote a book that inspired this very program. But of course, Stelter can’t play himself, because if he did, he’d be playing a CNN anchor, and not some random UBA guy, and if he was playing a CNN anchor, we would have to wonder how CNN exists in this show’s reality, but not the rest of the WarnerMedia conglomerate and hey, look, I’ve gone cross-eyed.
Anyway. Leaving that nonsense aside, The Morning Show kicks things up with two separate stories. One follows in the wake of last week, where UBA CEO Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) was becoming desperate to quash the smear campaign against the dead Hannah Shoenfeld (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and essentially asked Bradley’s permission to reveal her relationship with Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) without actually saying he was going to do that, just that he would do whatever was necessary. As long as he’s able to provide photos, which Cory is willing to do, he can get Hannah’s stories squashed.
Meanwhile, on The Morning Show itself, Daniel (Desean K. Terry) begins an interview with a UBA comic-turned-longform interviewer, Peter Bullard (guest star Dave Foley) by calling him out for having dubbed Daniel “mincing” in the past, all while ostensibly promoting Peter’s new streaming show on UBA+, which is set to go live on March 13, 2020. Hey, that’s a date with no serious significance to real-world events, such as a global pandemic, right? Right?
Again, anyway. Bullard — who no doubt did say what Daniel alleges, though we don’t see any footage — is displeased. Before too much can happen between the two of them, the question remains: where is Alex?
The previous episode concluded with Alex on the plane away from Vegas, but she either holed up in her apartment or went ... somewhere else. For whatever reason, both Mia (Karen Pittman) and Stella (Greta Lee) seem to think the only person who could possibly know the answer to Alex’s whereabouts is Chip (Mark Duplass), as opposed to her assistant Isabella (Hannah Leder) or her agent Doug (Will Arnett) or, really, anyone aside from the producer who just got rehired to the program.
Chip is clearly unaware of where Alex is, a lie he is barely able to keep together from them or Cory, before he offers up a way to solve the issue: what if Laura Peterson returned to The Morning Show to co-anchor with Bradley? Cory is onboard, even as Stella and Mia are quite clearly not.
The scene with these four is visually charged, thanks to director Rachel Morrison, as both Stella and Mia communicate a lot with their glares. But again, why is Chip the only one expected to know where Alex is?
Bradley and Laura seem pretty pleased, at first, with Laura even essentially inviting Bradley to move her things into Laura’s place — they’re going to have the same work schedule after all. But then Bradley goes back to her apartment to get some things and finds none other than her slacker brother Hal (Joe Tippett), returning from last season. This is where there’s a big challenge with The Morning Show. Bradley’s conservative family was a recurring part of the first season, but that happened before the pandemic. It’s hard to recall these details when the first half of the season avoided acknowledging her family. “There’s got to be a Cracker Barrel within walking distance, right?” Hal asks, in case you were wondering how deft the writing can be on this show in communicating how worldly Bradley’s family continues to be.
Laura, meanwhile, is all business; if she’s going to be the co-anchor of a morning show, she wants to get her feet wet by visiting the office. There, she encounters Chip (who she calls “Chuck”), and who she inadvertently informs about Alex having visited Maggie Brener (Marcia Gay Harden). Chip is dismayed and bad at hiding it, so he calls Alex after Laura leaves, putting a frustrated voicemail on her machine as we see that the apartment is entirely deserted. So if Alex left Vegas and didn’t go home, where did she go? And how did she manage to effectively hide herself from the prying eyes of the world?
The next morning, Laura continues being all business, politely laughing as she rejects the chance to wear fake glasses and a mustache to honor the 130th birthday of Groucho Marx on The Morning Show. No, you’re not misreading that, and no, I’m not joking. Now, listen, I love Groucho Marx, but it’s truly baffling for a show to do a Marx Brothers tie-in and then, five minutes later, have a young executive (Stella, in this case) act understandably confused at a reference to Frick and Frack from UBA board member Cybil (Holland Taylor). Why would this network do a Groucho Marx retrospective when it’s trying to cater to young audience, who sadly (but realistically) do not know who Groucho Marx is?
I only ask because the fake glasses and mustache lead to one of the weirdest, unintentionally hilarious scenes of the year: Bradley on The Morning Show, live, wearing a Groucho mustache and glasses (but not even a realistic greasepaint mustache), just after seeing the tabloid story about her and Laura (It’s shared to her by her clearly disdainful brother Hal.) Laura takes the story in stride, but Bradley is horrified and barely able to speak on camera. She’s reading through this setup on Groucho, all while acting like she’s shell-shocked.
I honestly don’t know if this show thinks it’s being funny on purpose, but if so ... uh, why? I say this as a cisgender straight white man, but I would imagine that being outed publicly without your consent is horrifying beyond belief. It would seem strange to play that outing as even dark humor. “I think it’s horrible and painful to be outed, and it’s nobody’s fucking business,” Daniel snaps to the replacement weatherman, and I agree! Why is this being played for humor!
Speaking of weathermen, let’s talk briefly about Yanko. After beating up a racist in public last week, he’s been on leave, and now it’s on Stella to deal with him. Though she appreciates his valiant act, and they briefly bond over having been the “weird” non-white kid growing up, she still has to suspend him, which infuriates Yanko.
On one hand, I am enjoying Nestor Carbonell this season (and as a longtime fan of Lost, I am always onboard for in-jokes about how Carbonell looks like he’s wearing eyeliner, which this scene includes). But portraying a frustrated middle-aged man trying to figure out how to move in a more progressive society is no less baffling even when said middle-aged man is not white himself. There’s a story to be told here, but one that would place characters like Yanko — or even the more progressive, but no less frustrated, Daniel — at the center, not the periphery.
Instead, we get to hear Bradley grousing about her outing to Laura, whose cool exterior doesn’t help the younger woman as she spirals through a series of neuroses. “I don’t want anyone knowing my business, especially my family,” she says, and while I sympathize, she’s, y’know, the anchor for a nationally televised program, and keeping things private gets a lot more challenging when you make that choice.
Mia, meanwhile, gets some troubling news. Early in the episode, while dealing with the frustration of seeing Laura arrive at UBA in spite of her presence being unwelcome, Mia tries to get some information from an off-screen Vanity Fair reporter about an excerpt from Maggie’s new book. Eventually, the reporter comes through, sharing a headline that says Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) sexually targeted Black women while at UBA. And Mia — who you may recall from last season was involved with Mitch years ago — is dumbstruck at the no-less-true allegation. If that wasn’t enough, she overhears Chip admitting to having no idea where Alex is, leading to a big argument between the two of them that accomplishes exceedingly little aside from being another thing co-starring Steve Carell where he might as well walk in and shout “Loud noises!!!”
There’s a slightly less loud conversation for Bradley and Laura to have, as Bradley remains in her dressing room as opposed to facing the world. It is here that I want to single out praise for Margulies, whose steely gaze and confident demeanor carry over here from her phenomenal work on The Good Wife. I can’t tell how much of it is that Laura is being written as the sane voice of reason here and how much is just Margulies and her aura, but she’s a breath of fresh air. Her clear-cut advice is for Bradley to get her head right, after which they can reunite. That’s after Bradley gets defensive and attacks Laura for implying that her public outing was traumatic for both of them (which it no doubt was!).
Chip, meanwhile, goes to the source and visits Alex’s apartment, only to find it empty excluding her assistant Isabella. Said assistant enigmatically states that Alex isn’t there and that’s that. Chip tries to argue that only he can rescue Alex (“not a gender thing!” he nearly shouts), before Isabella lays into “you people,” meaning “mediocre white men!”
This little tirade is frustrating for a couple reasons. First, it is unavoidably clear that The Morning Show is trying to have its cake and eat it too when criticizing such men, who Isabella rightly points out are always first in line for second chances. It’s not that she’s wrong. But why is she saying this? Why don’t we hear it from Stella or Mia, characters who are more clearly living through that anger?
And more to the point: whatever else is true of Chip, Alex (who herself is getting a second chance with this job, it should be noted) just disappeared and no one at UBA seems capable of figuring out her whereabouts, or willing to share. Chip is an obnoxious character all by himself, but trying to figure out where Alex is seems like a logical thing to do at the moment.
But hey, more shouting! That’s why we cut to Bradley returning to her apartment to see Hal, who chews her out because he’s had to deal with their offscreen mom all day, talking about Bradley’s outing. That leads into what Hal is really there for: he’s been using drugs again and had to get away from their mother. “I don’t care if I live,” Hal says angrily, presuming that if he’s around Bradley, he’s better off. Bradley points out, not unwisely, that the best course of action for Hal is going to rehab, which he rejects furiously, as if taking charity from her is bad even though that’s kind of what he’s doing by staying with her. When Cory stops by, the argument ends (primarily with sister and brother telling each other to fuck off, because that’s fun!). “Why do I care what those horrible people feel about me?” Bradley asks, clarifying that she means her family, not the larger public. And yet talking through it ends up giving her clarity, which clearly bothers Cory, who spends most of the episode looking sad and (I guess?) lovelorn, even more so now that his outing didn’t work. Bradley ends the episode by informing her brother to leave by the next day, and I’m sure that will be that. Right?
Well, I won’t bet on it, but we’ll see next week.
Josh Spiegel is a freelance cultural critic who has been published in Slashfilm, SyFy, ScreenCrush, The A.V. Club, The Hollywood Reporter, The Washington Post and others. His favorite films include Singin’ in the Rain, The Rocketeer, Pinocchio and A Matter of Life and Death. His favorite TV shows include Ted Lasso, Only Murders in the Building, Deadwood and Lost. He lives in Phoenix with his wife, two sons and too many cats.