We now know the pandemic was just the beginning of the collective trauma the world has gone through these past few years. The chum bucket of issues that have politicized and weaponized humans against one another since 2020 often feels bottomless. Now, “The Morning Show” is here to recapture many of those harrowing moments with a third season that refuses to come up for air.
When Season 2 went dark, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) had just been diagnosed with COVID. Her producer Chip Black (Mark Duplass) faked a positive test result to quarantine with her and film it all for UBA’s new streaming service. It was just the thing Alex needed to be “uncanceled” after the world learned she had slept with Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell).
Meanwhile, Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) found her brother Hal (Joe Tippett) in the hospital with the help of Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup). The latter had just professed his love for Bradley, despite secretly outing her relationship with Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) to kill the Hannah (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) story. And as always, the future of “The Morning Show” was in jeopardy as everyone pivoted to deal with the new normal.
Season 3 doesn’t languish on that shutdown, but makes the smart decision to fast forward to 2022. Bradley has now achieved her goal of becoming evening news anchor. Her ex Laura fled to a competing network to return to daytime. And Alex’s UBA+ series, “Alex Unfiltered,” resuscitated her career. She and Bradley are now besties, and Alex is setting her sights on a seat at the network table.
The time jump allows for a needed reset, especially as the show moves past #MeToo to tackle other issues. Mitch’s ghost still roams the building (misogyny hasn’t disappeared, after all), but there’s a rush to address the meatier news items that have sprung up in the real world since. The result is sometimes dizzying.
The flailing Fourth Estate, the cannibalism of networks, the peak of streaming services and fake news, social media and social justice, Black Lives Matter, abortion rights, cyber security and hacks, the right to privacy, the Jan. 6 insurrection, the war in Ukraine, and the rise of billionaires with way too much money are just some of the topical issues crammed into the 10-episode season.
That abundance, unfortunately, makes it challenging to properly explore complex and multifaceted stories like female reproductive rights or what it means to be Black in America. Instead the show layers these topics into the overall story, as the characters react to what’s happening in their respective post-quarantine worlds. On one hand, it feels like a missed opportunity for a show that took two seasons to dissect every aspect of power dynamics and sexual abuse in the workplace. But it’s also an impossible situation. There simply isn’t enough time to delve deep into everything that’s currently happening in the world. Cherry picking which issues to include would prove even more problematic for a show about people who cover the news.
So, new showrunner Charlotte Stoudt showcases those storylines through supporting characters. Fictional “The Morning Show” showrunner Mia Jordan (Karen Pittman) struggles with the anger and fatigue of someone in her situation, for example, while new anchor Christina Hunter (Nicole Beharie) learns the politics of speaking her truth following the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Season 2 standout Stella Bak (Greta Lee) also gets some interesting material that explores female power dynamics, mental health and compromised morals for a greater good.
These undercurrents add to the overall frenzied nature of Season 3, touching on the realities that would affect the heart of a network in today’s climate: the downfall of traditional media and the financial struggles affecting the very integrity of journalism.
That’s where new series regular Jon Hamm comes in. His Paul Marks, and a potential network buyout quickly polarize the newsroom (and its extensions). Hamm storms in with instant charm and likeability, though his intentions feel murky like those of the real-life billionaires that inspired the character.
Hamm is perfectly cast in the gig, as is Tig Notaro as his assistant Amanda Robinson. Together they serve as Cory’s new foils, setting up “Succession”-like power struggles and dynamics that breathe life into the show. Every decision matters when money is on the line and no one — including billionaires — can escape the market and public favor. That means there are no breaks as the season progresses, and the resulting tension keeps you hooked.
Most notably, that means Aniston and Witherspoon share less screen time. Now that their characters are united they serve to support each other rather than tear each other down as they have in the past. It’s a refreshing turn, but part of the fun of this show has always been seeing these two powerhouses go toe-to-toe. They still do some of their best work, but in Season 3 the former co-hosts are on their own journeys.
There are also a few mysteries that slowly unravel as viewers catch up with what the characters went through these past two years, which is always a benefit of jumping forward in time. Bradley and Cory now have a strained relationship, for example, one that isn’t fully explained until later in the season. As for what happened between Bradley and Laura, that isn’t immediately clear either.
Much is explained by the fifth instalment, “Love Island.” The flashback episode is directed by new “Morning Show” director Stacie Passon and does a remarkable job of capturing all of the highs and lows so many people experienced during the pandemic. From there, as viewers learn the life-changing events that irrevocably altered these characters by 2022, secrets drive them to new places and a huge cliffhanger ending. On that front, fans will be thankful to know Apple has already renewed “The Morning Show” for Season 4.
In the end, these tweaks and shifts add up to a new kind of “Morning Show,” one with faster pacing, higher stakes and a more ensemble feel. Yet the heart of the show and what it means to move forward in the world as it is today remains very much intact.
“The Morning Show” premieres Wednesday, Sept. 13, on Apple TV+ with two new episodes. New episodes released Wednesdays through Nov. 8.