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TV Review: 'The Morning Show' From Apple TV+


Apple's new series "The Morning Show" is a star-studded project featuring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. It's also the highest-profile show debuting Friday on the company's new streaming service Apple TV+. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans says it's a powerful drama which might also remind you of a certain former NBC news anchor.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: "The Morning Show" begins with a bombshell, and it's centered on morning TV anchor Mitch Kessler, played by Steve Carell. Kessler's co-anchor Alex Levy, played by Jennifer Aniston, has to explain it all to America.


JENNIFER ANISTON: (As Alex Levy) I'm bringing you some sad and upsetting news. Mitch Kessler, my co-host and partner of 15 years, was fired today for sexual misconduct.

DEGGANS: Levy is hurt and angry, especially since the show's executive producer Charlie, played by Mark Duplass, knew the network was investigating Kessler.


MARK DUPLASS: (As Charlie Black) HR has been looking into it for a few weeks. I didn't want to drag you in. I was trying to protect you, Alex. OK?

ANISTON: (As Alex Levy) You knew about this and you didn't tell me? My on-air partner, my TV husband is a sexual predator now? What part of you thought that I should not have been involved in this conversation?

DEGGANS: If this all sounds familiar, that's because "The Morning Show" unfolds like a fictionalized version of the fall of ex-"Today Show" star Matt Lauer. The former NBC anchor was fired in 2017 amid allegations of sexual harassment and rape. This story might have felt stale a few months ago, but recent reporting on the former NBC News staffer who accused Lauer of rape and the former anchor's recent denial had put the issue back in the headlines. Kessler also echoes the denials that Lauer offered in real life. He admits sleeping with subordinates but says he never forced anyone.


STEVE CARELL: (As Mitch Kessler) They can't just take my life away based on hearsay.

BILLY CRUDUP: (As Cory Ellison) They have documented complaints, Mitch.

CARELL: (As Mitch Kessler) Complaints about what - that I had affairs? Since when is that a crime? The network that I gave 20 years of my life is now locking me out. You know what? I didn't rape anybody. Everything's changed, but they forgot to send me the memo.

DEGGANS: "The Morning Show" can feel like a long string of self-absorbed, overly entitled characters screaming at each other, but in between the outbursts there's a percolating drama about how the #MeToo movement can shift power to women marginalized by clueless, middle-aged male bosses. Aniston's Levy gets a no-nonsense local TV reporter, played by Reese Witherspoon, hired as her co-anchor. In a meeting with top executives, Levy makes it plain she's taking control of the show.


ANISTON: (As Alex Levy) The part you guys never seem to realize is that you don't have the power anymore. The news division is held up by my show.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Are you actually trying to justify your actions?

ANISTON: (As Alex Levy) You're not listening. I don't need to justify anything. We are doing this my way because frankly, I've let you bozos handle this long enough.

DEGGANS: It's the kind of speech you hope Savannah Guthrie gave to NBC executives after Lauer got fired. The show also explores the denial of powerful men who refuse to recognize their own predatory behavior. In one telling moment, Carell's Kessler tries to commiserate with a film director also accused of sexual misconduct, played by Martin Short.


MARTIN SHORT: (As character) I don't even understand what their message is they're sending out - that women are not allowed to be in possession of their sexual choices.

CARELL: (As Mitch Kessler) When they fixate on us, they lose sight of the issues.

SHORT: (As character) I actually feel bad for the kids because there's nothing sexy about consent.

CARELL: (As Mitch Kessler) Well...

SHORT: (As character) That was - that came out wrong, and that was creepy.

DEGGANS: "The Morning Show" is stylish and fast-paced, the biggest project among nine original programs kicking off the new Apple TV+ service. It's also a close look at how a TV news organization - and, by extension, all of us - handles the new environment ushered in by the #MeToo movement. Whether that's worth $4.99 a month is Apple's multi-billion dollar question.

I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.