Why 'The Morning Show' Isn't The #MeToo Story You Think It Is
"When the Exxon Valdez hits the reef and spills 10 million gallons of your oil into the water you kind of drop whatever you're doing and fly to Alaska," Cory Ellison, a network executive played by Billy Crudup, tells a producer in the premiere of AppleTV+'s The Morning Show. Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell), a star news anchor at the network, has just been fired for sexual misconduct, and Cory has arrived at the studio to mitigate the fallout. "And if I might exhaust the metaphor, you don't leave until you make sure that every last salmon and sea otter is scraped clean," he continues. "So we're gonna clean some f*cking sea otters."
What the rest of the episode makes clear is that there's no such thing as saving every sea otter — nor are the men running things the ones charged with the appearances of trying to. That's left to Mitch's co-anchor Alex Levy, played by Jennifer Aniston. It's Alex who has to return to a live broadcast 90 minutes after learning her "television husband" is a harasser; it's Alex who has to assure the rest of America that the ship won't go down without its co-captain.
The Morning Show, then, is less a series about #MeToo — Mitch's victims are rarely showcased, though Mitch himself is perhaps too prominent — and more one about the aftermath of allegations on one workplace. Tellingly, the accusations against Mitch are already known to the network's top brass before they're printed in the New York Times. Which is to say, Mitch's behavior isn't the reef that Cory's talking about. The reef is its exposure to the viewing public.
Here are some things Alex is expected to do in the immediate aftermath of being informed about the multiple allegations against Mitch ("How multiple?" Alex asks to no answer): anchor the morning news broadcast; present the allegations to her audience; shoulder the anxieties of network executives worried about losing advertisers and ratings; out-maneuver the snakes who'd like to replace her on the show; prepare for an internal investigation; and look on the bright side of things. "Change can be good," Cory tells her threateningly.
"Thank God we have you," the network president piles on, asking Alex to lead the show and to mother it. "You will carry us through this."
Alex's own response is complicated. The peculiar nature of their work — the chemistry required of co-anchors, the demanding hours which leave them on a different schedule than the rest of the world — has rendered Mitch and Alex more than colleagues. When Alex calls Mitch her television husband she isn't being glib; she's expressing the depth of the betrayal she feels. Mitch is among the people she knows best in the world. Now, she doesn't know him at all. She may not be the victim of Mitch's harassment, the show argues, but she's a victim of his lying. She goes to the studio in her pajamas in the middle of the night and cries in Mitch's old dressing room. "I will miss the person that I sat side by side with," she explains, her words imbued with something like grief.
At the same time, Alex is super pissed. The show she's co-anchored with Mitch for 15 years is suddenly under existential threat. Alex and Mitch together were a tested morning show brand. Now, she correctly worries, the network execs have the excuse they need to push her out. She goes on air to tell the audience they used to share that she's "proud to live in a country that upholds consequences," at the same time knowing those consequences will affect her, too. Professionally, she's less a victim than a casualty. "F*ck off, Mitch," are her first words when she visits his house in the middle of the night to confront him. "I came to tell you that I am so mad at you and that I will never, ever get over it." Alex wants him to take personal responsibility for the professional stakes she's facing. "You stole my life with this."
It's melodramatic and, for a person who lives to work, true. It's hard to feel too much for Alex, who has a gigantic Manhattan apartment with floor to ceiling windows and a staff to advise her through the maze she's running. She'll be fine. But The Morning Show is a novel peek behind the scenes at the people who must make the news at the same moment they become the news — a series not about the wave of #MeToo, but its wake.