There’s something about The Morning Show 2×01 that raises the question of whether or not someone on the writing staff was looking to be deliberately cruel. If they were, mission accomplished. If they weren’t, it still makes for incredibly powerful television, regardless.
The majority of the episode, aptly titled “My Least Favorite Year,” focuses on Cory Ellison’s lie-ridden attempt at revitalizing the UBA brand following everything Mitch Kessler’s actions caused, both directly and indirectly, to come to pass. But he’s playing by the same rules that contributed to Kessler’s behavior, to Fred Micklen’s, to yet another anchor’s newly-revealed behavior, and to Alex Levy’s decision to escape from it all. But, as they say, the show must go on…And so The Morning Show did, with Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) and Eric (Hasan Minhaj) singing and dancing for viewers’ and the tainted leadership’s entertainment.
This alone – watching the insanity of Cory’s desperate attempts to keep himself afloat – would be difficult enough to watch. He lies to Bradley’s face about the possibility of her, one day, getting the evening news anchor spot that’s now been vacated due to yet more allegations of abuse and rot. Later, after he’s “closed” an Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) who clearly just wants to be left alone with her dog and her snow-filled yard, he swears she can trust him…even though the beautiful words he used to get her in on his master plan were already proof that she absolutely couldn’t.
With Eric moving to the evening slot—because, of course, a man has to be replaced with another man in the evening news. We can’t give the woman who’s held everything together after it all fell apart a shot, after all. In fact, it requires at least one old suit’s laughter to even think about it—there was an empty seat open next to Bradley’s. Cory lied and said the deal for someone to fill it fell through, when he actually killed it all on his own once he’d already heard a yes from the one person he claimed could save them all.
No, even all of that…That’s still not it. The Morning Show and its many abuses are just showbiz, after all. They’re normal, as difficult as it is to stomach the notion.
It’s the very specific point in time that some evil genius chose to use as the backdrop: The preparation for, and the celebration of, New Year’s Eve…December 31, 2019. It was not enough for The Morning Show’s second season to continue shining a light on the diseases at the heart of the very world—television, more broadly film—in which the series was being made. It had to show us—in a slow, crumbling sort of way—just how easy it was for all of us to become our own monsters in the wake of a pandemic that brought the world to its knees.
There is a haunting, horrifying sort of contrast between the footage of the empty streets of New York City, set to Dean Martin’s “Return To Me,” and the New Year’s Eve celebration at the end of “My Least Favorite Year.” Obviously, we had no idea what was coming, and neither did any of these fictional characters.
But we know now.
We know, and it has made no difference. This, perhaps more than anything else in season 2—which is packed with so many things to discuss and so many haunting moments—is so utterly powerful. We have the benefit of hindsight and have still learned nothing, it seems, over a year and a half into this.
And yet, does that mean those who were tasked with warning us of the oncoming storm, yet who pushed it down below all the other disasters at the time—tossed in with the occasional feel-good story for something attempting balance—should be condemned? How could they have known, with all they were juggling, right? And how could anyone who celebrated a new year, just as we’d always done, have known…it would not be a new year like any other in the broad majority of our memories?
The Morning Show seems to be asking us that question, quietly and somewhat behind the scenes. And yet, It’s really all just at the forefront, isn’t it? It’s impossible to ignore if you’ve ever bothered to take any of this seriously.
The Morning Show on the price of fame.
By the end of the second season premiere, alone in that beautiful, cleansing snow, Alex Levy—in a performance by Jennifer Aniston that remains proof that she’s far too good for this world and that, without spoiling anything, I’m warning you will absolutely destroy you as the season progresses to its inevitable conclusion—is starting to feel something like hope. She’s started to make her way out of self-chosen isolation, ironically a mere three months before most of the United States was forced into it. You can only run from your own pain for so long before you have to confront it, after all.
…and if doing so brings you right back to the toxic environment that hurt you in the first place, isn’t that, more or less, how being in the public eye works?
Should it be that way? Absolutely not, but here we are. And here Alex is, as she’s been sold yet more snake oil by the likes of Cory Ellison and UBA. Her thoughts on fame, on the meaning behind Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Red Shoes,” really don’t matter in the end, do they? She tried to cut off her own feet to quit the dancing for the cameras, but it didn’t work. She just has to pick up what’s left of herself and keep on going…until it kills her, at least on the inside.
Besides, she would have had to go back before the public eye the second her memoir, which her editor said didn’t dig deeply enough into her relationship with Mitch, hit the shelves. Better to keep on, “bloodied and bruising from dancing like a whirling dervish” on her own terms, right?
And of course, if pouring her heart out about what she had suffered from fame—from being at the heart of The Morning Show’s controversy—wasn’t good enough for her editor or for the public, it was “nothing personal.” Just business! But we all know that’s trash. Regardless of the empty words (more lies) her editor shared with her, it was very personal. Because, as the world has always done, Alex Levy was made responsible for Mitch Kessler’s actions simply by being close to him.
Just as Hillary Clinton has often been maligned for Bill’s misdeeds, or Janet Jackson’s career—not Justin Timberlake’s—took a hint when he exposed her at the Super Bowl.
Because, of course, as The Morning Show made quite clear in its first season and will continue to do in its second, women are responsible for the behavior of the men in their lives. It doesn’t matter if the men in question never reveal an inch of that nastiness to the women in question. We still take the hit. Who cares if it’s making sure to turn on the charm with some that makes it so much easier to be able to unleash the evil with others? They should have known. Alex Levy should have known, and paid the price, and felt like she was “running so hard, that rather than running one step more, [she] would cut off her own feet.”
With friends like these…
When Alex left The Morning Show, it was Bradley who was left to pick up the pieces. Alex said she’d call her…and then didn’t. So, that “maybe five minutes” of friendship was all fake, apparently.
And then there’s Cory, lying to her every step of the way…even though he only has a job because Bradley got him “un-fired.” Lies are bad enough, but seeking to justify those lies with a “poor me” story or even—grossly enough—a line about how Bradley just thinks all her friends are out to get her? That’s heinous.
Honestly, what else should she think at this point? Anything remotely resembling friendship that she’s gained in this industry has been reduced to ashes in the wake of the network’s fire, and Cory repeatedly manipulates her just as much as everyone else. Even after she thought she could trust him. Even though he’s always at least claimed to be her biggest fan.
They’ve certainly had each other’s backs in terms of making sure the other one is employed in this cesspool of a business, but Cory’s methods are beyond awful. And really is it support to keep someone involved in this mess? Or just torture.
For his part, though, Cory did stick up for Bradley in the meeting with the rest of the top brass.
Well, I kind of admire that she didn’t just jump on the #MeToo bandwagon and fill up her grocery cart with free prizes and fake goodwill.
Let’s not even get started on how there was nothing remotely resembling the concept of women supporting women at The Morning Show. Stella and Mia actually thought it was a mark against Bradley’s character and her ability to do the job that she didn’t “capitalize” when she was “poised to become some sort of feminist superhero.”
It is so utterly disappointing, yet so heartbreakingly real, to know that actually doing the feminist thing and not wanting to take advantage of other women’s suffering to get ahead, is what these other successful women held against Bradley. Internalized misogyny is real, and it’s gross.
And it’s awful to watch, even from behind the tears that come along with watching an episode of television that really ought to have a “Trigger Warning: early 2020, the Before” on it. But again, that’s exactly what makes “My Least Favorite Year” (and honestly, the series as a whole) so exquisite.
More thoughts on The Morning Show 2×01
- “I would rather die than go back there, okay?” But it’s not okay. Because once you’re famous, your life isn’t your own.
- “Jesus. 2019 sucked!” They have no idea what’s coming.
- We’ve even got comedy here, gang. “Have you called the phone company?”
“…the phones are out.”
And then, the double nod.
- “You are carrying around a paralyzing amount of guilt.” Okay, Kathy Najimy, fortune-teller. You can just @ me next time.
- “…you’re so obsessed with telling the truth, I can’t be certain that any secret is safe with you.” Cory to Bradley. Remember this line to rage about later.
- “Most people don’t care if anybody lives or dies who doesn’t answer to the name of Me.” He’s a snake, but Cory’s right. If the last year and a half taught us nothing else, it’s this…and he didn’t even need to see the bodies pile up to know it. But cue Auld Lang Syne. Zoom in on the confetti surrounding the “2020” in lights while you drop the theme from New York, New York. Happy fuckin’ new year.