An episode with a major plot development is still an episode of 'The Morning Show,' with nonsensical choices, bad writing and painful acting.
- -Limiting the focus to Mitch's storyline allows for a more patient pace throughout
- Steve Carell is his typically charismatic self
- Spending an hour locked in a mansion with two of the most obnoxious characters in modern American television is a horrible experience
- This show's grandiosity is unmatched and truly unearned
- Making Mitch a sympathetic character to the very end is jaw-droppingly misguided
Putting it simply, there are times when The Morning Show is face-meltingly stupid in some of its creative decisions. That’s the line that I’m drawing for “La Amara Vita,” an episode that is arguably going to be very important in the context of the show’s second season, but which is so wildly misguided in its attempt to build sympathy for a character who is almost entirely unsympathetic, save for the fact that he’s being played by someone who engenders sympathy thanks to a previous role.
It would be easy to bemoan the fact that The Morning Show has chosen to make Mitch Kessler, as portrayed by Steve Carell, into a more pitiable figure than one who deserves all the scorn in the world. But the show has made this choice, just as it has made the choice to dedicate an entire episode solely to Mitch and his exploits.
If you watch enough television, specifically enough dramatic television, you may already have a good idea as to where “La Amara Vita” is going. Only three regular or even semi-regular performers show up in this episode: Carell as Mitch, Valeria Golino as Mitch’s new best friend and documentary filmmaker Paola and Jennifer Aniston as Alex Levy, who we last saw leaving Las Vegas before the Democratic presidential debate she was supposed to moderate for UBA. This extra-special episode isn’t avoiding the rest of the characters without reason, because this episode — spent entirely in Italy, primarily at Mitch’s villa — also appears to be Mitch’s swan song.
Though The Morning Show could always go back on this episode’s closing moments, that seems unlikely, as those final moments see Mitch drive his car around careening roads and choose to sail off a cliff instead of veer around an oncoming driver. Sure seems to be a final farewell for Mitch Kessler.
And boy, oh boy, good goddamn riddance. On one hand, Steve Carell is a naturally charming and funny actor, one who has proven in other roles that he is fairly gifted at heavier material too. Whatever issues I have with Mitch as a character do not fall on Carell, as much as the casting choice itself was seemingly used to weaponize how charismatic we’re meant to find Mitch — a man who starts the series by being fired for sexually predatory practices, including raping a woman who proceeded to kill herself via overdose when he tried to get her to defend him. And it’s not that Mitch Kessler being an odious character is inherently a problem. Many excellent television programs are about truly heinous individuals. The issue is how The Morning Show views Mitch Kessler, which is at best in doubt. In the show’s worst moments, many of which are indulged in “La Amara Vita” — such as when we watch Mitch frolicking with his dog and Paola — Mitch appears to be a figure we are meant to feel was given a slightly rough rap.
I suppose I should give The Morning Show credit. When, earlier this season, the specter of the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head, it seemed to be no accident that part of the story took place in Italy, which was an early vector of the virus’ spread. Especially after one of Paola’s interviewees came down with COVID, it was easy to imagine that Mitch might get it too. And you know what? I was wrong! Good on the show for surprising me, by not killing Mitch by COVID but killing him instead by his ... acceptance of never getting to rehabilitate his image and dying instead of practicing safe driving. OK.
The action of “La Amara Vita” begins as Mitch and Paola are wrapping up their 14-day quarantine and he muses that he should perhaps spend more time with his kids during this global pandemic. Just maybe, Mitch! He tries in vain to get Paola to delete the interview he sat down for — just as she tells him that he shouldn’t apologize, because it makes him look weak, and Jesus, give me a break. “God forbid your kids think you’re a three-dimensional person,” Paola snaps at him.
Before Mitch can complain too much about how the world doesn’t like complex people — and if I may, it’s more that enough of the world dislikes serial sexual predators, a point this show is struggling to remember — there’s a visitor waiting at the entrance to the villa.
And who could it be? Well, if you’ve been reading this review carefully, you know it’s Mitch’s old co-anchor Alex, who all but tries to climb the gate to get inside even after learning that Mitch was exposed to coronavirus. Smart thinking, Alex.
You may well be asking a perfectly logical question, the same one Mitch wants to know: why is Alex there? It’s because she wants to yell at Mitch for having spoken to Maggie Brener (Marcia Gay Harden) for her book, even if his comment was a two-word R-rated rejoinder. Ah, but you see, that’s not a denial of an affair and that’s very bad indeed for Alex, who fears becoming as much a social pariah as Mitch himself.
“Does your life have any meaning or purpose left at all?” Alex spits out to Mitch, and strangely enough, a very large subtitle reading “THIS IS FORESHADOWING” does not appear as she utters this question.
Throughout the back-and-forth, it does become clear that Alex is as desperate as she is to clarify that she didn’t sleep with Mitch precisely because ... well, precisely because she did sleep with Mitch during their tenure together at UBA. As nasty as her approach is, it seems to work on Mitch, who agrees while noting how sad it is that the very thought of consensual sex between them could ruin her career. He also winds up being fairly shrewd, noting that she doesn’t want the denial to give her daughter or ex-husband peace.
When Paola briefly enters, Alex does her best to excoriate Mitch for leaving his family for this woman, which — aside from being untrue — feels like the wrong tack to take when you want a guy to do you a favor.
As an aside, Alex also recognizes Paola from “the video” at the café , meaning that the first-episode encounter Mitch had with a young American woman apparently did go viral, which is fascinating, because it’s absolutely not been discussed in the intervening episodes. Why would this show hint at real-world implications without handling them? Sigh.
Alex demands proof of Mitch’s willingness to provide a statement denying the allegations, but that will require lawyers and approvals. The upshot is simple: Alex tries to leave but Mitch convinces her to stay so they can try and reach some kind of detente. “I just don’t want you to think that I’m evil,” Mitch says desperately.
What if I, the audience member, think you are both self-absorbed ninnies, but not fully evil? What about that? Scenes like this are vexing, largely because the writing is so formless and circular — Mitch wants Alex to stay, Alex wants to insult Mitch, Mitch gets angry at Alex, Alex tries to soften up, Mitch wants Alex to stay and so on. Some of the arguments genuinely feel less written and more as if Carell and Aniston were given an outline of how the scene was meant to play and told to improvise their dialogue. It’s mystifyingly empty dialogue.
There’s more crucial information to be shared when Mitch and Paola have what may be their final moment together: Paola shares that she heard from the daughter of the interviewee that he’s died of COVID-19. It’s horrifying news, of course, but Mitch can only absorb it so much. That’s because he’s alone for just a bit.
Yes, Alex, who tries her hardest to leave Italy is now finding it much harder to leave in spite of nearly sailing off a cliff herself — she’s tired enough that she nearly does die by car accident, but she swerves just at the last second. Alex, in short, is back. It’s like a warped version of Luis Bunuel's surrealist classic The Exterminating Angel, as characters try their damnedest to leave a location but just can’t figure out how.
Mitch is only able to help because he happened to give Alex his phone number, which ends up being the only phone number Alex has to provide to a local police officer for an emergency contact. Mitch is logically unwilling to see Alex again — he leaves a note saying it’s too hard to talk again and left a statement behind. But seeing as we’re just 25 minutes into “La Amara Vita,” it’s easy to accept that they’ll see each other at least one more time.
Alex has an emotional breakdown when she sees the statement, and it is here that I derive little pleasure in expressing my frustration with Aniston’s performance. It’s not that Carell’s doing much better — the material each of them has to work with is very bad and even the best performers can only do so much. But a mix of Alex’s storyline this season and Aniston’s huffy style has made her performance extraordinarily painful to watch. Of course, it really doesn’t help that the breakdown culminates with Mitch comforting Alex and her saying that she misses him. She misses him! Really! If only the show cared enough to explain why, because I’m lost.
Now that they’ve actually achieved a detente, Mitch asks Alex if she’ll help Paola out in her quest to get her documentary seen (whatever else is true of Mitch, he’s aware that his ability to network is...well, limited). And after she agrees, Mitch puts on some romantic music (specifically an Italian version of “Stand By Me”) and they start dancing. “So this is what being canceled looks like,” Alex says, and I just cannot tell how much of the frustration coursing through my veins is because the writing is so bad or because the characters are so obnoxious.
As they continue to dance, Alex reveals that after one particular night of sexy time in Chile (it is possible she does not use that phrase), she believed she was pregnant and that wasn’t a bad thing for her to ponder, because it would’ve been nice if she had Mitch’s child (since yes, this is the show sideways-confirming that they slept together).
“La Amara Vita” feels like it’s intended to be a culmination of the image rehabilitation that The Morning Show has embarked upon for Mitch Kessler, and is thus a wild, mammoth failure. Steve Carell’s a great performer and it’s very easy to envision him as playing someone with a dark streak. But this season — and largely even some of what happened last season — has attempted to build out Mitch as being not that bad a guy. It’s not an issue of adding multiple dimensions to a character defined by cruel deeds. It’s that those cruel deeds make it difficult to imagine a truly good side to this person.
And speaking of Mitch’s deeds, after Alex takes a brief nap, they both watch a live news report in which we learn another allegation from Maggie’s book: that Mitch targeted Black women while working at UBA. Alex decides that it’s time to leave, even as Mitch tearfully begs her to teach him how to be a better person — this, after he shouts about how he remembers when being attracted to Black women “was progressive.”
It is here that Carell is able to let the light leave Mitch’s eyes — you can tell quite easily that the character’s fight has left him entirely. He decides to leave to visit Paola, and even though she too has seen the news, she embraces him. Yes, the subplot with Mitch and Paola finally hits its own climax (and so too do the characters). Later that night, Paola asks Mitch to get her some cigarettes as they revel in their post-coital bliss, just after revealing that she never deleted his interview.
So in the final moments, we cut between Mitch and Alex driving their separate ways, the latter once again struggling to stay awake. As Mitch hears the voices of his past in his head, a car coming opposite him gets too close and he chooses not to swerve, driving straight off a cliff.
Because why not, I guess? Mitch seemed happy with Paola, but apparently not. It’s a baffling decision in a series full of them, which I suppose is a point for consistency. That’s where “La Amara Vita” leaves us, with Mitch presumably dying in a nasty car accident and Alex finally about to head home, completely unaware of what’s just happened to her old pal. And The Morning Show is mercifully only three episodes away from its second-season conclusion. It can’t come soon enough.
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.
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