Cold, dark emptiness.
The familiar rectangles expectantly enlarge and minimise at the mere waver of your presence.
Keep going, you tell yourself. There’s obviously something there – look harder…
and in that dark, hollow moment, after having endlessly scrolled for the zillionth time on Netflix, you realise – all hope is lost.
Because you’ve done it: you’ve completed Netflix and there’s nothing to be done, and even though you know you haven’t actually completed Netflix, in this specific moment in time, you have. This feeling being ‘completed-Netflix-syndrome’.
Enter Apple TV+ and the one-year free trial subscription that had remained, up until recently, something I decided to only engage with “once the time was right”. Consumed by this syndrome and from the emotional rollercoaster of being thrilled by the first response from a long line of job applications – yes! a response, an actual response – to the undergirding disappointment from seeing the automated reply which reads some other lucky bastard was hired. No “Dear Charlotte, hope you are well, kind regards” etc, just a “Thanks, but no thanks” – Brilliant.
*Breathe Out* So, on to new beginnings with Apple TV +. Their homepage is engulfed by the Morning Show’s promotion, and it’s easy to get sucked in with the high-rolling cast: Jennifer Anniston, Steve Carell, and my fav – Reese Wetherspoon (because who doesn’t love a Reese TV classic? Aka, Big Little Lies 1 and 2, and Little Fires everywhere, but less so).
The first episode starts at 2:58 AM New York city, only party-goers, late-night drinkers and insomniacs are awake, but also - the Morning Show’s executive producer Chip (played by Mark Duplass), who is lying in a dark, opaque room of UBA’s production studios, host to the series’ eponymous name. Chip static on the floor, the way the camera scans up his body, and the opening sound mimic the experience of an MRI scan. And what do we use MRI scans for but to expose the malignant conditions or dilapidated bones underneath the surface of our body? This motif of scanning and unearthing skeleton's in the closet permeates the show’s plot, script, and visual aesthetic, as all parties desperately try to control the narrative of an unravelling corporate scandal whilst we examine where they lie on the complicity food chain. Frames are often encompassed with the studio’s glossy surfaces and shiny car windows in a J.G Ballard-esque manner, accentuating a kind of general depthlessness - a natural bi-product to the construction of America’s shiny ‘feel good news’. Because whilst the show tries to keep up with the times, the Tv Network's inability of having a person of colour as head anchor, the producers casual racism and prolific mysoginy show how far away it and mainstream America is from being progressive. This moment, with Chip stone-like on the floor, is the silence before the storm, interrupted by the call from his superior, Frank (Tom Irwin), confirming that the co-host presenter of This Morning Show, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), has been charged with sexual misconduct and won’t be presenting today, or ever.
Set very much in the present, the show’s political backdrop navigates through coal mine strikes, wildfires in Malibu and mass shootings in Vegas. The meta-television/news show, and the way the series is structured is mimetic of a journalist following multiple leads in the pursuit of a story, with the series consistently reminding us to ask who is controlling the narrative? At times, episodes do unnecessarily linger on - but it is an easy to watch drama, where each character is a pawn on their own chess board, waiting to make their power-move to fill a void in a media conglomerate that faces the reverberations of the #MeToo movement.
Its genre follows on from the likes of Succession (2018), and Bombshell (2019), but where it may fall short to the comedic brilliance of Succession’s scriptwriters, it rises above Bombshell’s 1h 49m production as it has space to more deeply extrapolate the corporate politics and personal nuances consequential to a sexual misconduct claim in an office environment. The show takes on a more sensitive approach to Bombshell, whilst it handles the weight behind the experience of being sexually preyed upon - particularly through Gugu Mbatha-Raw's performance of an emotionally abraded woman. Without giving too much away, episode 8 (a throwback episode) is so important as it shows the horrific procedural aspect of sexual abuse that is hidden underneath a charming smile and inappropriate comments.
Illustrating the very real debates that circulated amongst the media during the #MeToo movement, we see how the characters engage (and oppose) with the political tropes that formulated the battle lines drawn at the time. Mitch is emblematic of the conservative Trumpian outrage, who claimed the movement had expanded far beyond its normative reach, encompassed in the abhorrent line that “(he) didn’t rape anyone!”, implicating that only rape is a sexual reprehensible deed? Alex Levy (Jennifer Anniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Wetherspoon) are representative of the rupture that occurred amid the MeToo Movement between the old guard vs the new guard, or more unequivocally second wave and third wave feminism. The manipulation of their “frenemy” relationship by the network’s UBA executive producer Corey (Billy Crudup) parallels the way the media was keen to make visible a chasm between the different forms of feminisms that was not as deep rooted as it seemed. But the characterisation of this opportunistic man, from the hilarious use of didactic, extended metaphors embody and Billy Crudup's magnetic performance stands out throughout. As he plays Alex and Brady off against eachother, in a desperate attempt to conflate news and entertainment to gain more traction for the show, Corey neatly becomes the most entertaining to watch. Just as Corey plays Alex and Bradley off against each other to create better, eclectic TV, so does the media polarise divisions for the sake of more entertaining kind of news. But, in a punchy subversion of power, it is Alex who consecrates Bradley as her rival queen on the chessboard, when she erratical ly announces her new co-host at a press-ridden award show. The show often cliff-hangs the end of episodes with these Succession like, subversion of power moves, leading up to the eventual formation of a full-blown coup d’états for the season finale.
Although the show has been critiqued for its sympathy towards the white male character, I would argue that the show purposely provokes a rage towards these characters begging for sympathy to their internalised white mysoginy which only makes them all the more culpable and real. The show is making transparent what many people dare wish not to say, because the reality is that there are lots of men like Chip, who view themselves as supporters to the #MeToo movement, and Feminism whilst also believing that they are not part of the problem. In fact, they believe that they are distinct from it because they too have close female friends and haven’t sexually assaulted anyone. Because, for these kind of men “ The whole of #MeToo Movement is probably an overcorrection for centuries of bad behaviour that more enlightened men like (them) had nothing to do with”. And if you're someone who read this and thinks, yeh I agree with that, then to put it bluntly – you’re wrong. Because dismantling the patriarchy, and the environment that breeds these sorts of sexual scandals, is going to take all people to think about how we all have something to do with it.