Season 1 of Apple TV’s “The Morning Show”received a Golden Globe nomination for ‘Best Television Series – Drama’, among others. In one of the show’s earlier episodes, we witness Charlie Black [MarkDuplass] state compassionately, “I’ll say it – we’re being too fast to judge men in the court of public opinion. I agree with you. The whole #MeToo movement is probably an overcorrection for centuries of bad behaviour that more enlightened men like you and me had nothing to do with.”
These words are said to Mitch Kessler [Steve Carell] – beloved co-host of The Morning Show – who is fired from his position on grounds of sexual misconduct. Although touted as “a drama focusing on the lives of the people working in morning television”, the series centers primarily on the aftermath of Kessler’s termination and the consequent plight of his co-workers.
Notwithstanding the nominations and the terrific performances of its lead actors, fans of the broadcast news genre have found the show to be creditable, at best. Critics have slammed the series for being more glossy than profound; superficial rather than compelling. Dialogues that were clearly written to make an impact often seem more cringey than brave.The writing is uncomplicated and yet confusing – never a good combination.Until the penultimate episode of season 1, I wasn’t even sure what message the show intended to give out.
Despite all this, there is something that The Morning Show deserves to be applauded for – its telling portrayal of the #MeToo milieu. As someone who is easily set off by any flippancy relating to sexual assault and/or violence, I was wary of (but also curious to see) how the show would tackle the sensitive issue. I don’t claim to know what the right way to deal with this subject matter is, but the absence of glorification or rationalization on the show is one of the things that makes it highly watchable. Don’t get me wrong. The show is mostly dispassionate when depicting its characters – we are given a vantage point of the accused more often than that of the victim – but the intention, I believe, is not for the viewer to empathize with the accused.Rather, a degree of verisimilitude allows the viewer to understand the complexities surrounding sex and sexual misconduct at the workplace.
In the opening sequence of the pilot, we see an exposé on Carell’s character reveal an ongoing internal investigation regarding his misconduct which, funnily, is the actual reason for his sacking:the exposé, not the misconduct. Fred Micklen (Tom Irwin), the ‘helpless’ network head, has no choice but to dismiss the star of the show, his actions no longer clandestine. The network, Kessler’s friends, his colleagues and even his wife instantly dissociate themselves, no explanation needed. Unsurprisingly, Kessler is far from apologetic for his behaviour as he indignantly states, “Documented complaints about what? That I had affairs? Since when is that a crime? I didn’t rape anybody, I fucked some PAs and assistants. Big fucking deal”.
As the series develops further, we get an insight into Kessler’s thoughts. He doesn’t think of himself as a predator. He’s convinced that the real victims are the men who have been targeted by the movement– “since the dawn of time, men have used their power to attract women, and now let’s bust Mitch Kessler’s head over it!”he remarks angrily.
An early episode features Kessler – merely days after his termination – pitching an idea to his agent for an “honest conversation in the larger context of #MeToo”. He believes it is his journalisticd uty to educate the masses, to help them better understand #MeToo. As a viewer,it is infuriating to see how easy it is for him to contextualize his transgressions, to say that “everything happened for a reason”. Later in the episode, he pitches a similar idea to his director friend, Dick [played perfectly by Martin Short], who himself is facing charges of sexual assault and rape. Together, they criticize the movement – “when they fixate on us, they lose sight of the issues”. However,when Dick recounts the horrific acts he’s committed, casually remarking that “there is nothing sexy about consent”, Kessler is disturbed; disgusted, even. He doesn’t think it’s fair to be regarded in the same category as this friend, and declares that he himself belongs to the “second wave” of accused – the less severe, the non-rapists –
Mitch: Well, you are actually a predator and people are gonna want you to own that
Dick: As opposed to…what are you, exactly, Mitch?
Mitch: Not you.
The dialogue reflects the attitude of a large group of persons who genuinely believe that there exists a hierarchy of sex offenders based on the ‘severity’ of the crime. This is especially true for those accused of sexual harassment and/or misconduct as such acts are considered petty or ‘less severe’(by these offenders more than anyone else). But a venial act, this is not. The conversation around sex and sexual misconduct at the workplace is one that needs to be had, and this may just be the biggest accomplishment of The MorningShow.
Mitch Kessler is clearly based on the former news anchor, Matt Lauer, who was fired from NBC News in 2017 following multiple allegations of sexual misconduct. While NBC maintained that this was the first complaint against Lauer in his career spanning two decades, several employees later affirmed that “everybody knew” that Lauer was dangerous and predatory. This is mirrored in one of my favourite scenes of the show, whenBradley Jackson [Reese Witherspoon] – Kessler’s replacement – is tasked with interviewing one of Kessler’s accusers, Ashley. In a powerful moment, Ashley narrates her story on live television, admitting that she did not know how to say no to her boss. She further reveals that everyone had known about their ‘relationship’ and while no one said a word to the married star Mitch Kessler, everyone judged her for sleeping with the boss,which ultimately drove her to quit her job. This upholds years of feminist research which finds that sexual harassment at the workplace has little to do with love or lust and everything to do with the iteration of power over another.
The show really comes full circle when another one of Kessler’s victims is revealed towards the end of the season.When she complains to the highest authority about her assault, she is offered a promotion in exchange for keeping quiet by the network head, Fred, who in the first episode declared that “any kind of sexual misconduct will not be tolerated by the network”.
Despite several shortcomings, The Morning Show does a great job of depicting the dynamics of sexual relationships at the workplace. Multiple subplots on the show successfully address multiple layers of misogyny that continue to dominate the industry: a couple in a loving, consensual relationship worried about disclosing their relationship in the wake of the allegations; Alex Levy [Jennifer Aniston] – the co-host– fighting to keep her job at the network amid dropping ratings, something her male counterpart never had to worry about; Witherspoon’s character trying to make sense of a hostile work environment that enabled years of sexual and mental assault.
The Morning Show’s biggest achievement is easily its rewatchability. It’s impossible not to get sucked in the – seemingly glamorous world of broadcast news and find yourself wanting more at the end of every episode. This is likely due to the show’s unique ‘whoknewit’ format of the show: every episode divulges yet another character that knew of Kessler’s crimes and stayed silent,and they are all complicit.
Season 1 of The Morning Show is streaming on Apple TV.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.