‘Morning Show’ Still the King at Skewering Identity Politics

November 19th, 2022 3:15 PM

The second season of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show debuted roughly this time last year, but there’s still nothing quite like it on TV.

The series, spun from a Matt Lauer-like crisis at a broadcast TV staple, put the streaming platform on the proverbial map like House of Cards did for Netflix in 2013.

    Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell turned the MeToo movement into a bingeable drama that earned the show critical huzzahs. Morning Show anchor Alex Levy (Aniston) must grapple with her longtime TV partner Mitch Kessler (Carell) being outed as a sexual predator.

    Or is he?

    Witherspoon enters the story as Bradley Jackson, a rebellious news reporter elevated to anchor status but unwilling to play the network game.

    Or is she?

    The series did more than run with a ripped-from-the-headlines topic. It dove head-first into the complexities of Identity Politics, the woke subset which currently rules Hollywood.

    Remember how the most powerful actress in Hollywood, Scarlett Johansson, backpedaled for the crime of accepting the “wrong” role in 2019? 

    No other major film or TV show has tackled Identity Politics since The Morning Show, at least not with the clarity and cynicism seen on the Apple TV+ series.

    Not even close.

    Power is everything at the fictional “morning show” in question. Alex and Bradley are the key players, but everything that happens behind the scenes represents a clash of egos run amok. They’ll do anything to climb the corporate ranks.

    That means every weapon is on the table.

    • Long-term business relationships
    • Contract talks
    • Juicy interviews
    • Ratings updates

    It’s only natural for the characters to use their victimhood status as a cudgel, no matter who might get hurt along the way. The show’s second season leans into this reality without suggesting it’s the right thing to do.

    Except audiences understand how corrosive it is without a line of dialogue saying as much.

    Take Daniel (Desean Terry), the frustrated co-anchor of the show’s frothy “Twist” segment. He yearns to be the official co-anchor, but the gig keeps slipping through his fingers. That convinces him to play the Race Card, suggesting his black skin is the reason he hasn’t secured the coveted slot as of yet.

    Witherspoon’s Bradley flirts with her own victimhood narrative on the show. She doesn’t identify as gay and is sexually attracted to men, but she starts a romance with a fellow news anchor (Julianna Margulies) mid-season.

    Bradley toys with coming out as a lesbian to snag a sweet debate moderator assignment, but she backs down at the last minute. It’s still clear she could get a sizable career boost with the confession.

    Stella, the Asian-American news executive played by Greta Lee, also wants to flex her power. She’s not above mentioning her minority status, over and again, and how her presence can’t be more than as a surface-level token.

    Not everyone on the show benefits from Identity Politics.

    Weatherman Yanko Flores (Nestor Carbonell) gets into trouble when he uses the term “spirit animal” during an off-the-teleprompter moment. Social justice warriors pounce via Twitter, suggesting it’s culturally appropriating Native American culture.

    Yanko is outraged at the suggestion, mentioning that as a Cuban-American he understands the subject better than most. He also knows a quick, on-air apology might smooth things over.

    Except his apology isn’t good enough, apparently, and his superiors want him to meet with Native American leaders for an on-camera “Struggle Session.” That’s not the way The Morning Show phrases it, but it’s an accurate way to describe it.

    All of the above makes for a compelling narrative on a show teeming with meaty themes. So why haven’t other TV shows copied that approach? Do they fear taking the “wrong side” on the issue could bring unwanted heat upon them?

    That’s possible given Hollywood’s current climate.

    Will The Morning Show continue that thread in season 3, which will feature a new showrunner and still lacks a release date?

    That remains to be seen. For now, it’s vital to savor what the show has accomplished and why it’s nothing less than groundbreaking in today’s Hollywood.