‘The Morning Show’ Season 2 finale dives into coronavirus story

The sun has finally set on The Morning Show’s self-absorbed second season, in an hour of television so extraordinarily tactless that it will linger based on audacity alone.

After ten weeks of trauma-baiting with the imminent introduction of coronavirus storylines, the show dove headfirst into the pandemic by giving Alex (Jennifer Aniston) COVID-19.

Up until this point, The Morning Show’s COVID-adjacent plotting was cringeworthy but not quite painful. It was still too preoccupied with the ethics of cancel culture and a supposition that the world itself revolves around an American daytime talk show even with a global pandemic looming on the horizon. And even as the pandemic reaches the U.S. and Alex and her colleagues face down the shock we all lived through in 2020, they cannot look beyond their own insular worldview. The final hour sees her feverish, vomiting, and ostensibly on death’s door, still equating getting canceled with literally dying and turning her ire toward the American people before they suffer the worst months in recent memory.

But I digress. 

The Morning Show Season 2 is largely predicated upon the assumption that UBA is doing the lord’s work and anyone who doesn’t see that is dumb and/or evil. “This is a battle for the soul of the universe,” Cory (Billy Crudup) humbly says during Season 2, episode 1, and he is actually wrong on almost every level. The best thing “TMS” did was to immediately fire Mitch (Steve Carell) after he was accused of sexual misconduct, and behind-the-scenes muttering about the perils of political correctness don’t play as well as everyone involved in The Morning Show seems to think. It’s the same driving force behind “edgy” offensive comedy, the notion that you are saying something no one else is brave enough to say — when in reality maybe they were content to say nothing. 

The Morning Show likes to throw around “being cancelled” because it’s a charged phrase, but has yet to sufficiently interrogate what it means or why it exists. What started as a movement to call out toxicity in the workplace was quickly opted by its critics as a hypersensitive witch hunt. Many, including these characters, use this to defend themselves against both real and imagined criticism before considering its validity; for weeks now Alex has been preemptively terrified of a public who she thinks will hate her for sleeping with Mitch. The public has no idea yet, and I’m sorry honey, but they will not care that much. If there’s one thing cancel culture has taught us, it’s that the “victims” almost always bounce back — and if something is merely scandalous and not criminal, its life cycle is even shorter.

Also, Bradley (Reese Witherspoon) is looking for her brother. She finds him.

A woman (Jennifer Aniston) sits at her desk, trying to look calm.

The shiny rich face of COVID!
Credit: Apple

I don’t want to waste too much time on what The Morning Show does and doesn’t understand about its own industry, but it is frankly insane that a so-called news outlet would consistently sideline news of a deadly virus to promote (and sometimes cover up) its own self-important drama. Wanna distract from who your anchor did or didn’t sleep with? Report the news! There’s plenty to go around, and clearly this show delights in inserting its fictional narrative into very real and harrowing events. There is also no way on earth that Mitch’s death would stay unreported for as long as it did, least of all because other outlets wanted “TMS””to break the story. Please, no, he’s your sexual harasser, you deserve the views.

Now, back to the chunk of this episode that is devoted to watching a rich celebrity playing another rich celebrity suffer through COVID in her lavish New York apartment. Was that an ivory tub she vomited into? A skyline view as she waited for her fever to break? They didn’t even have the awareness to not costume her in silk pajamas for all this? Okay! 

Perhaps that the main takeaways of the first year of this pandemic flew completely over the heads of The Morning Show‘s writers. Chip (Mark Duplass) insists that Alex is an everyman, America’s sweetheart — the same stance Cory took early in the season but the show never earned — but watching the wealthy and privileged try to comfort the rest of us from their glamorous homes is exactly what no one fucking wanted in 2020. Watching her experience COVID in real-time is anything but the comfort Chip claims it to be, and Alex, being the self-declared self-involved individual that she is, can barely summon a few measly “Imagine” lyrics to comfort the audience. She uses her time on the live stream to scold the American people, whom she is still convinced are hell-bent on canceling her when they are about to lose jobs, homes, and lives. 

“Who’s your tailor sleeping with?” she spits bitterly. “Is he a good guy? Does it matter if your pants fit?” Sweetie, I don’t have a tailor. We are not the same. I can only imagine this obliviousness is what will actually get Alex canceled, a fate she lives in such fear of that she’s now effectively begging for it. Certainly someone will be canceled for whatever race-related plot lines are being teed up for Daniel (Desean Terry).

After two whole seasons, it’s still not clear if The Morning Show thinks it’s a prestige drama or an incisive satire — but it fails to strike either tone with intent. What it consistently achieves is rampant egomania, achievable only when you think you’re on a “rocketship to the moon” that’s actually a commercial airliner to Los Angeles. For a show and characters so desperate to matter, the onset of coronavirus is a critical juncture, an opportunity to either rewrite history or instead maybe spare us reliving it. We wish they had made better choices.

The Morning Show is now streaming on Apple TV+.

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