I am not on the Alex Levy train.
That isn’t to say that I’m not devouring Apple’s utterly unhinged and bafflingly self-absorbed “The Morning Show,” which returned for its third season on September 13, but once again this show expects viewers to accept without question that Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) is America’s sweetheart — a once-in-a-generation talent and personality, and the axis upon which this show’s world turns.
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Like I said, I’m not buying it.
This is not about Aniston. In fact, I’m pretty sure Aniston is the only reason “The Morning Show” viewers are being force fed the Alex Levy agenda season-after-season. Aniston very much is an American sweetheart (as is her costar Reese Witherspoon), beloved for her decade as Rachel Green on “Friends,” a successful movie career, and those Aveeno ads (winter is coming, y’all). Aniston and Steve Carell’s return to television was a major hook for “The Morning Show” Season 1, which reportedly got five times the viewership of the average Apple show when it premiered, whatever that means (Season 3 is currently in high demand).
In Season 1, Alex’s popularity makes sense as a foregone conclusion. “The Morning Show” opens in a world about to be rocked by allegations against her cohost Mitch (Steve Carell), a world in which these two are a staple of the American talk show landscape. Alex is also a victim — of Mitch’s lies and the network’s manipulation, if nothing else — and garners sympathy as the smiling, stalwart news anchor — the public face of how everyone at UBA is coping with crisis.
But things change in Season 2. Alex quit after calling out Mitch’s behavior in the Season 1 finale, ostensibly leaving Bradley (Witherspoon) adrift and unpartnered on-the-air. Why “The Morning Show” opted not to show these critical character moments remains a mystery (not really — the show practically tripped over itself to fast forward to 2020 and tackle COVID with all the nuance and sensitivity of salt water on a paper cut), and it ends up being woven into expository dialogue, along with the idea that Alex must come back and nothing is the same without her. Viewers don’t see any of that; Aniston is still a fixture of the show in Season 2, and Alex agrees to rejoin “TMS” by the first episode. Whatever X factor the network was missing without her isn’t even slightly conveyed on-screen.
“I need you. UBA needs you,” Cory (Billy Crudup) says, while groveling for her to come back. “You were all we ever needed and we were too stupid to see it.”
This is so intense, not least because it’s a former boss approaching an employee (If my boss did that? I’d get the ick!), but also because WHAT IS HE TALKING ABOUT??? Other than tenure, the Alex Levy presented to viewers in Season 1 is not remotely capable in ways that her fellow anchors are not. Bradley requires some talk show finishing school, but she arrives in Season 2 with blonde hair and a willingness to debase herself by performing musical numbers on the air — the hallmark of any great morning show anchor! Why on Earth would she need Alex back in order to pursue her own goals, which is the explanation Cory provides? (He also leaves Alex a voicemail quoting poetry. Ick.)
Other anchors Eric (Hasan Minhaj), Alison (Janina Gavankar), Daniel (Desean Terry) and Yanko (Nestor Carbonell) are all smart, well-spoken, and attractive, but they are not Alex. Also, all of them and every character besides Cory seems fully aware of Alex’s less desirable traits in Season 2, but instead of unpacking their justified assessments of her, this only serves to fuel Alex’s self-righteous tirade (more on that later). In Episode 203, Alex explicitly tells Bradley that she’s “lost touch” and is trying to do better. Big if true!
Perhaps a major wrench in the Alex Levy train’s gears is that viewers rarely get to see “The Morning Show” — that is, the show-within-the-show — from the perspective of its in-world audience. We see Alex, Bradley, and their colleagues on set or monitors, through the perspective of producers and editors, but almost never through the eyes of the American people into whose homes they broadcast every day. “The Other Two” did this in just one half-hour episode, Season 2’s “Pat Connects With Her Fans,” where Molly Shannon’s character starts interacting with fans after a taping.
Alex Levy, as depicted, would rather have a root canal than speak to a normal person. She socializes exclusively with the famous and wealthy (and white), lives in an ultra-luxurious Manhattan penthouse. Ah yes, the penthouse, also known as her quarantine zone — just thousands of square footage of marble and glass and granite from which she broadcast a live feed spitting on her audience for canceling her (they hadn’t) and suggesting she’d rather die of COVID. None of this behavior is out-of-step with what an A-list celebrity could or would do, but “The Morning Show” doesn’t show us the charm behind the sting, the qualities that make Alex’s fans love her anyway, separating the proverbial art and artist.
Credit where credit is due; the narrative arc of America’s sweetheart torpedoing her own charisma and career via cancel culture and global pandemic is actually a scintillating storytelling prospect — alas, “The Morning Show” is nowhere near capable of executing that. Season 3 returns to sanctifying her largely via Cory, who is directly asked, “What is this Alex Levy magic? Can you explain this to me?” by Jon Hamm’s Paul Marks because crucially, Paul doesn’t see it. Cory says she’s a “survivor,” and that “that’s what people want to see right now.” He lists all her trials, including the coronavirus, which has been experienced by almost 800 million people globally — but yeah, Alex Levy live streaming from her penthouse is “the one human that people can actually relate to.” These comments (including “Alex Levy is Lazarus”) feel like outright lies, especially after that Season 2 finale.
Maybe if a show has to keep writing out what makes its main character (or star anchor) so exceptional, they don’t come across that way — and maybe aren’t! Alex Levy claims to be “unprecedented,” and that much is true in terms of how much Cory and UBA and “The Morning Show” itself love her despite everything. I only wish we could say the same.
New episodes of “The Morning Show” premiere Wednesdays on Apple TV+.
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