The Morning Show would be a limited series in a more hopeful world where the air is cleaner, strawberries sweeter, and writers are paid fairly. In that world, Screen Speck wrote about season one being a dramatic window at sexual harassment in the workplace, the tricky politics of canceling celebrities, and the state of #MeToo in fiction. The Emmy, Critics Choice, and SAG award-winning show helped place AppleTV+ on the streaming map with only ten episodes. This isn’t a brighter world.
It’s a funnier world. I find myself, borderline masochistically, looking forward to this season. I’m not a fan, but I like appointment TV. Besides, when a train goes off the rails, who knows where it will end? With my camping chair in place, I hit play on the double-episode premiere.
Space: The final frontier. Season three starts with Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) training to go on a shuttle. As if that isn’t funny enough itself, how this show went from morning news drama to pandemic drama to the idea of taking a morning show host to space never ceases to amaze me.
But the space news is received as impressive and casual in the show. There’s a tongue-in-cheek cold open with her obituary, prepared for her pre-mission approval. This initial tone, like a compass spinning endlessly, is a mixture of First Man and Galaxy Quest, bouncing between a dramatic shot of Aniston running before the sun rises in New York and the cringe-inducing sequence of her morning co-hosts trying the space chair on live television.
Apart from bringing Julianna Margulies to the cast, the show seems to pretend season two never existed, which is a fraction of consolation. Everything you need to know is in its season premiere, “The Kármán Line”: Alex is still Alex. Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) is the new UBA Evening News host, no longer dating Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies), and is angry at the network for not covering an abortion story she’s been scooping. In all his Cory-ness, Cory (Billy Crudup) is Cory-ing hard. Jon Hamm is here.
Season three is all about him. We discover the space plot isn’t just Apple playing with its sumptuous budget. It comes from a business deal between Cory and Paul Marks, the Elon Musk-esque billionaire and space entrepreneur played by Hamm, as he’s interested in buying the network.
His introduction is the oddest scene in the show. Starting with a zoom-in shot showing Hamm’s face, Paul and Cory talk in a sauna, with the camera moving alongside their heads, like the movement of a seesaw. It’s unsure whether they were trying to achieve a Succession-like moment or play with the idea of a contemporary Western. “My kimono is open. And so are my pores”, Cory says at one point. The result is motion sickness and laughter.
It’s around this time the steroids start hitting the screen. As J-Aniston is about to Kirk her way into space, Bradley and her switch places à la The Parent Trap. Alex goes to Texas to cover the abortion story, and Bradley goes on the mission with Cory, Paul, and a whole of zero physical training. From now on, you must sit tight and move on to episode two.
In “Ghosts in the Machine,” The Office’s fire drill meets a fancy Manhattan building. UBA is utterly hacked, from personal phones to elevators, on air. Glass doors are broken amidst running and crying. Cory is Cory-ing saying this is not an issue but an opportunity, making you consider that if he loses this job, he can always offer corporate coaching on LinkedIn. Soon, the usual suspect becomes Paul, who denies the accusation nonchalantly.
When the system is back on, the hackers announce they want $50 million, or they’ll leak the data they stole. That includes a sensual video Bradley sent to Laura and might include a source Mia (Karen Pittman) has in Russia. The board, including Stephen Fry and Holland Taylor, has to choose between losing money or exposing the private data of UBA employees. Quickly, they choose the latter.
Ending in a cliffhanger, we see Stella going through her phone and staring at an old photo of her and Paul. This makes me think we’ll see more of Lee this season.
Overall, like a person slowly regaining consciousness, the writers seemed to remember that media politics is a compelling theme to explore in the broadcasting network context. These first two episodes have better writing than the entire past season. It’s frankly the best writing in the show since it abandoned its main topic. There’s a sense of self-consciousness in the air, which is my highlight of the premiere. However, I’m an annoying skeptic. I can’t trust that yet.
I feel the season three arc was designed for Hamm’s character. It’s too early to tell if this will work. Was Paul behind the cyber attack? Will he and Alex get closer? All I know is after this introduction, I have as much of an idea of where this is going as Bradley did when she entered that shuttle.
I’ll be here, in my camping chair, for the next episode to find out.
For the Julianna Margulies fans: I see you, I grew up watching The Good Wife, I get it. Every week, I will highlight whether Laura is in the episode, including the timestamps for her scenes, as you can see below. Feel free to thank me on BlueSky at @decastro.bsky.social.
Is Julianna Margulies in these episodes? Yes, one and one!
Margulies Timestamps: 17:01-17:08, 25:30-27:27 (episode 1); 20:21-23:02 (episode two).
Email Draft: Dear manager of Jon Hamm, as a Mad Men fan, the state of Mr. Hamm’s career has been of great, personal concern to me. The last few years haven’t been easy. I thoroughly enjoyed Confess Fletch, and I even watched Good Omens. We need to do more. Please know I’d help you pro bono. Kind regards, Ana.