“The first method for estimating the intelligence of a ruler is to look at the men he has around him.” Niccolò Machiavelli – the Italian Renaissance author of The Prince – stated this as one of the fundamental principles of power and, in general, politics. It is no coincidence that since fictional storytelling is an alternative but plausible version of reality, the same might also work there. The Morning Show is an AppleTV+ drama about a breakfast news program from Manhattan, and the people who work there every day.
The events concerning Matt Lauer – a former news anchor whom NBC fired in 2017 because of the allegations about his sexual misconduct – partially inspired the story. Another source of inspiration was Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV, a non-fiction book by Brian Stelter. Jennifer Aniston plays Alex Levy, the anchor of the show. The news that her network fired her 15 years co-host Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) for sexual misconduct becomes the inciting incident for a change in their lives – together with the one of Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), a field reporter who replaces him – and all their colleagues. It’s a story about power, white male power in particular, and it’s one of the latest TV results of the #MeToo era together with Big Little Lies, Unbelievable, Glow, and BoJack Horseman.
A compelling pace
This series comes after many others, but its reflection on abusive behaviors and the people who accept them, with or without realizing it, is nevertheless nuanced, and compelling. Mitch Kessler is the face of The Morning Show, and like most of the rulers, he’s a man. Alex Levy is his wife on television, but she’s just not as friendly, not as charming, not as confident, and the reason is simple: she’s a woman.
An executive producer is a man, the network’s president is a man, and even if there’s plenty of women working under the same company – witnessing what’s happening every day before their eyes – it’s the sexist eye on the power that everyone has slowly internalized. In this stained, primitive and colluded workspace, women only have to find the courage to finally speak out, because – as the American poet Maya Angelou wrote in her book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
The danger of a new system
The Morning Show’s writing is precise and the acting deceptive. Billy Crudup won as Best Supporting Actor at the 72nd Emmy Awards thanks to his awkwardly funny, morally questionable Cory Ellison – whose most insightful and memorable line is “Chaos is the new cocaine.” Jennifer Aniston on the other hand – a great TV absentee since Friends, just like Steve Carell since The Office – pairs up with another symbolic sentence to the network board “I just need to be able to control the narrative, so that I am not written out of it”. Television, through stories, is suggesting to America that time has come for a reckoning.
The frame of the story is steady, shiny, and comforting, but what takes place inside of it moves faster than boiling water. It raises throughout the season finale the same issue Machiavelli thought of hundreds of years ago: “There is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage than a new system.”