“The Morning Show” has the look and polish of a smart, prestige TV show, which makes its detours into stupid situations and implausible corners more frustrating. The third season of the Apple TV+ drama again weaves real-world events into its narrative, but this starrily-cast serial would fare better if it stuck to soap-opera-style fantasy instead of positioning itself as a “Succession” wannabe.
Like that HBO series and Showtime’s “Billions,” mercurial billionaires factor prominently into the latest plot that drives the story this season. Here, billionaire fever arrives in the form of Paul Marks (played by Jon Hamm, who, between this and “Good Omens,” has a near-full streaming plate), a rocket-flying mogul who network honcho Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup, excellent as always) is desperately trying to woo as a buyer for UBA, leveraging his high-powered anchors Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) and Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) to advance that campaign.
The jockeying around the acquisition deal turns out to be the most fertile and satisfying plot in a season that plunges into the high-stakes world of big business, including the fallout from an email hack that risks exposing all sorts of embarrassing company secrets. That plot echoes what happened at Sony in 2014 and provides a credible fictional version of what transpires behind the scenes during a public-relations nightmare.
If only the series could maintain those kinds of highlights. Instead, the writing consistently takes misguided turns into various controversial story lines, including the Jan. 6 insurrection (with Bradley getting caught up in those events), flashing back to the early days of Covid and plunging into the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
While those events should provide ripe fodder for dramatic storytelling, the series keeps handling them in over-the-top ways. On abortion, for example, it strains credulity for one of the anchors to be naïve enough to publicly post inflammatory political material about the Supreme Court and then act surprised when that becomes an issue.
The network also continues to produce plenty of awkward at-work relationships, with big personalities and even bigger feelings, including Bradley’s romance with Laura Peterson (Julianna Margulies) and a new and potentially complicated entanglement for Alex.
In a way “The Morning Show” served its purpose out of the starting gate simply by attracting Aniston and Witherspoon (who double as producers), demonstrating that Apple’s then-fledgling streaming service could play in the big leagues in terms of A-list talent.
The result, though, has been a handsome series with a beyond-good cast that doesn’t consistently rise to that level with its inside view of TV news and the corporations that oversee it. While that milieu produced memorable movies of yore, like “Network” and “Broadcast News,” it’s been challenging for series, with Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” exhibiting savvy about the mechanics of news while getting bogged down by its relationships, before “Succession” knocked it out of the park.
“We can’t fight every battle,” Alex says at one point, which is ironic, since the show derives some of its appeal from simultaneously fighting battles on so many different fronts.
The issue isn’t about the fights “The Morning Show” chooses. But to join top-tier dramas, as opposed to just a breezy diversion, it needs to be smarter about fighting the battles that it does.
“The Morning Show” begins its third season September 13 on Apple TV+. (Disclosure: Lowry’s wife works for a division of Apple.)