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'The Morning Show' 2.4 review: Kill the Fatted Calf

It's time for Daniel to make his play at power in the latest episode of 'The Morning Show'.

Desean K. Terry and Karen Pittman in 'The Morning Show'.
(Image: © Apple TV+)

Our Verdict

The ever-garish and messy 'The Morning Show' only gets more so with another baffling episode inching closer to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For

  • - This show's bonkers energy is hard to ignore, and a welcome balm
  • - Julianna Margulies is a fine addition to the ensemble
  • - Steve Carell is always charming to watch as he embraces his dad-esque energy

Against

  • - It is absolutely insane that this show is trying to make Steve Carell charming, since he's playing a sexual predator
  • - The shaky characterization of Daniel is particularly rough this episode
  • - The stress over a debate moderator is hard to square with the knowledge that this show will soon focus on the pandemic

I said in last week’s review of The Morning Show that Daniel (Desean K. Terry), one of the many people working for the fictional UBA network desperate to stake a personal claim and rise in power, was quickly becoming the smartest person in the room. I said that because Daniel appears to be the only person within the show who’s shrewd enough to see the severity of the COVID-19 virus even when it’s still relatively contained to China in what were the early days of the pandemic. This week’s episode, “Kill the Fatted Calf”, all but goes out of its way to prove me wrong, so ... hats off, show?

While Daniel’s been the only anchor on "The Morning Show" to pinpoint the seriousness of COVID-19, he’s also attempting to use that knowledge as best he can to wrangle his way into greater visibility on the network, visibility he believes he’s earned. That visibility centers itself for a few different characters into a specific goal: getting to moderate the upcoming Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas. 

UBA executive Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) wants the recently returned Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) to moderate the debate, as does her returning producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass). Alex, on the other hand, has no interest in doing it, a disinterest that only increases each time someone exhorts her to accept the role, whether it’s Chip or Cory or his lieutenant Stella (Greta Lee), the latter of whom really doesn’t want Alex around at all. Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) also wants the gig, as she fights to be seen as a "very serious journalist," in spite of being unable to grapple with the fact that she is ... well, what is Bradley Jackson exactly?

If you’re sticking around with The Morning Show, first of all, bless your heart. This show is the very definition of mess, and it’s only getting messier. Last week, in “Laura,” Bradley chose to make out with respected journalist Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) as opposed to answer a question about what level of vetting she received before being hired at UBA. Whether or not that was a desperate tactic on Bradley’s part, Laura was into it (with the show having previously, poorly established that she’s a lesbian through lazy exposition). While Laura and Bradley seemingly enjoyed a night together, Laura grows frustrated quickly with Bradley’s inability to acknowledge that she is, at least, bisexual, and doubly so with Bradley’s inability to weaponize her sexuality (whatever it may be) as a way to encourage the network to give her the debate-moderator gig.

Holland Taylor and Billy Crudup in 'The Morning Show'.

Holland Taylor and Billy Crudup in 'The Morning Show.' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

And then there’s Daniel, who’s perceived by producer Mia (Karen Pittman) and Stella, among others, as just being the guy who hosts the super-frothy last hour of "The Morning Show," dubbed "The Twist." (Think, by the way, of how frothy and light that last hour must be, because it’s not as if the bits and pieces we see of the earlier part of the morning program is terribly insightful or deep.) Though Mia got on Daniel’s case a fair bit last week, he points out — not unfairly — that as a fellow person of color, she should be equally aware of how UBA does a piss-poor job of giving people of color serious opportunities. Perhaps because Mia broadly agrees, or because she’s seeing it play out on her side of the camera with Chip being brought back by (essentially) royal fiat, she goes to the mat for Daniel with Stella, who dismisses him as not having the “it” factor. (In this moment, Stella sounds an awful lot like Bobby Bowfinger in the delightful comedy Bowfinger, in which Steve Martin’s hilariously terrible director dismisses actors for not having “it,” whatever “it” is.) 

Mia shares this feedback as delicately as she can with Daniel, knowing he’ll be displeased. And while Daniel could just stew about the criticism, especially since Stella offers no recourse for how Daniel can get the “it” factor, he does more than just stew: he performs Neil Diamond’s “America” live on the air, unscripted, as a form of tribute to Alex. 

Now, listen. Desean K. Terry has a lovely singing voice. He does! And Mia's bewildered reaction implies that we are not meant to see this moment for Daniel as anything terribly celebratory. (When she coldly asks him, “What the f**k was that, Bojangles?”, as much as the racially tinged name cuts at him, it’s a confusing song to sing at that moment.) Anyway, Daniel is seeming less intelligent here than he is just flat-out desperate. 

And he's not the only one at UBA getting desperate, as an earlier episode in which weatherman Yanko (Nestor Carbonell) uses the phrase "spirit animal" recurs, with the phrase angering Native American viewers so much that Yanko has to apologize or else incur the wrath of viewers and a suspension from UBA. Yanko is mystified to be in trouble, because he sees his use of the phrase as harmless and is bothered that as a non-white person, he's in trouble. And he's likely to get more angry, because his on-air apology isn't firm enough to placate Stella or the Twitterverse.

But let's go back to flat-out desperate, because you may recall that a portion of this season is still dedicated, inexplicably, to Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), the fallen UBA anchor whose downfall kickstarted the show’s first season. Mitch is still hanging out in Italy, now working alongside the documentarian Paola (Valeria Golino), who’s asked for his aid in working on a new film about a rape case in the Italian justice system. This subplot continues to struggle for a number of reasons: first and foremost, Mitch’s behavior from the past season (and more importantly, the behavior that led him to get ousted in the first place) is so odious that it’s mighty challenging to watch Steve Carell get to indulge in his goofy-dad acting style, as when he sings out an Italian song outrageously to boost Paola’s confidence before she enters an interview with a local lawyer. 

Carell’s charm is a weaponized object, and the fact that The Morning Show appears to be using it to boost Mitch’s likability, even for an episode or even for a scene, is truly baffling. Carell can play darker characters. Why make him play sympathetic again? No doubt there will be further sympathy to come — in a later scene, Paola calls Mitch and informs him that while the interview went great, the interviewee tested positive for coronavirus. Oh, and Paola spent a couple hours in close quarters with him. And that was before she and Mitch drove home in a very small car. So who’s ready to quarantine?

Billy Crudup, Greta Lee, and Karen Pittman in 'The Morning Show'.

Billy Crudup and Greta Lee in 'The Morning Show.' (Image credit: Apple TV+)

A similar attempt at sympathy comes ringing out in the other part of Mitch’s story, as he learns that ex-UBA exec Fred Micklen (Tom Irwin) is planting heinous character-destroying stories about the late Hannah Shoenfeld (Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who hasn’t actually appeared in the show this season, but hovers over it like a cloud) in New York papers in the hopes of ruining her family’s chance of winning a wrongful-death lawsuit against the media conglomerate. Mitch is disgusted enough to call none other than Cory, and while the two men separately share horror and disdain for the stories — Mitch begging Cory to do whatever he can to kill the stories — Cory is equally disgusted at Mitch for sitting off on the sidelines and trying to be left alone for once. And Cory is sadly no less successful in trying to get the stories gutted when he goes, metaphorical hat in hand, to Cybil (Holland Taylor), the head of the UBA board of directors. 

Taylor is well-cast enough that she sidesteps the laziness of the story and cuts straight through the bullshit. First, Cybil reveals that her last conversation with Fred included him telling her Cory was the best business decision for UBA, but “you let the talent walk all over you,” she notes. She also says that since Cory tried to get Fred paid off instead of have someone investigate what happened to Hannah, it only makes him look worse off. “Two shitty peas in one shitty pod,” she snaps.

As noted, the other major part of “Kill the Fatted Calf” centers around who will moderate the Las Vegas debate for Democratic presidential hopefuls. Daniel’s out of the running, as we now know. Bradley wants it badly, but wanting it and getting it are two different things. She’s unable to face up to whoever she really is — when push comes to shove, she can’t even take Laura’s advice about admitting to her sexuality (whatever that sexuality is). Instead, she tells Stella that her perspective as a woman from a Southern conservative background ought to be heard. Alas, even though Stella doesn’t really want Alex to be the moderator, and Alex doesn’t really want it, and, well, no one except Cory seems to want it, Alex does end up with the gig.

What a wonderfully batty microcosm for The Morning Show: barely anyone wants something, but people proceed forward and make it happen anyway, preferences be damned. Anyway, four episodes into this 10-episode second season, I remain dread-filled at the prospect of the coronavirus becoming a major player soon enough. (A Google search helpfully points out that the aforementioned debate, which really did take place in Las Vegas, happened on Feb. 19, 2020. Let’s leave aside the very confusing timeline of the season and presume that we still have a few weeks left before the shit really hits the fan.) For now, this show’s utter insanity in its character relationships will have to do.