Television

The TV Club, 2019

Entry 3: The Case for The Morning Show.

Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston look at each other mid-conversation at the morning TV show desk.
Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Apple TV+.

The 2019 TV Club features Slate’s Willa Paskin, Vox’s Emily VanDerWerff, Vulture’s Kathryn VanArendonk, and Variety’s Sonia Saraiya.

Fellow TV Clubbers:

Here is The Case For The Morning Show, a piece of television we all know is not great, and yet—and yet!

One of the chief pleasures of The Morning Show is watching Jennifer Aniston icily cut her way through the sentimentality of morning network television. The network morning vibe is not at all the same as the warm hyper-formatted embrace of network sitcom structure we saw Aniston in on Friends, but it’s close enough cousins that at least some of the time, it feels like watching Aniston slice through the history of her own popular image. She is remarkably good in it, good enough that Billy Crudup’s totally wild performance as her cheerfully chaotic boss doesn’t even matter that much, because Aniston’s there.

I’d also argue that some of the appeal of The Morning Show is that it’s depicting a kind of TV that we as TV critics almost never engage with: a TV that’s also one of the last bastions of what Emily’s mourning for in her sadness about the loss of a communal media language. As weird as it is, as messy and disconnected as it feels from what we typically think of as TV, The Morning Show makes the argument over and over that what happens in this fictional network morning programming block is America. The show takes swings at Newsroom-esque coverage of recent events in the country, and they feel schlocky and bad (especially using the Vegas shooting as an exploitative backdrop!), except that it’s also making an argument for Big Tent television that feels nostalgic and almost hopeful?

I know that by the time this runs, The Morning Show won’t quite have ended yet and readers won’t yet have access to the show’s finale. But without giving anything away, I think that for all this show’s flaws, it’s also building toward an image of television that actually feels close to the kind of TV you were talking about, Willa, the kind we generally ignore when we talk about TV’s Greatness. It sees TV as an old-school kind of mass communication, and honestly the implication that anything that happens on this show will matter to the nation is … soothing? And oddly realistic, given the primacy of morning shows like Fox & Friends in our current political morass.

Plus crucially, unlike the Sorkin joints it’s closest to, morning TV as depicted by The Morning Show is not good. It is important! It can move conversations, and it can be a major force in the cultural imaginary. Morning TV can do all those things and still be bad. To watch The Morning Show is to feel the relief of watching something that acknowledges that, even though its own acknowledgement is also mega-flawed.

That said, The Morning Show was definitely not on my Top 10 list, which is as follows:

1. Fleabag
2. Succession
3. Unbelievable
4. Watchmen
5. Russian Doll
6. Lodge 49
7. Dickinson
8. The Good Fight
9. Couples Therapy
10. What We Do in the Shadows 

And while I’m here I may as well take the other bait Emily threw out for me. It’s fascinating to me that Apple TV+, a streaming service absolutely no one needed or wanted, has produced only two shows of (dubiously small) note, and they’re such weird inversions of each other. The Morning Show is cookie-cutter prestige TV, full of the biggest bigness it can muster—big names, big budgets, big important topics, big sweeping cultural relevance. And Dickinson is like looking into a microscopic world painted on the head of a pin that was personally gifted to only a tiny subset of people. (I am one of them, obviously.)

I think this is why I see TV right now less as the mass you were describing, Willa, and more like this still-splintering thing that cannot yet land on exactly what the future will look like. It is so many things, and it feels like we’re on the precipice of it becoming even more? In the next year’s version of TV Club, is there going to have to be a discussion of Quibi!? Sonia, please tell me whether I need to be worried about Quibi, and also whether The Morning Show is much, much less redeemable than I’ve been attempting to suggest here. (Also, maybe it could never matter how good or bad The Morning Show or Dickinson is because of how little we needed Apple to ever make TV shows?)

In Morning Show appreciation solidarity,
Kathryn

Read the previous entry. Read the next entry.