That sparkle can’t be written, and it can’t be faked, and here, perhaps, it makes the difference between a show that seems fresh and one that seems derivative of its genre. The closest American audiences have ever come to something like this is HBO’s The Newsroom. Fans of the genre will remember a Canadian drama of the same name that was equally edgy. The Larry Sanders Show sits somewhere in this genre. As does the British comedy Drop the Dead Donkey.
They might all be in there somewhere, but it is the Australian satire Frontline that comes most easily to mind. Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson has touches of Brooke Vandenberg, the ambitious reporter who will do what it takes to get the story. Steve Carell’s Mitch Kessler could be Mike Moore, a hapless, enabled bumbler whose shortcoming never got out of the 1980s. And Mark Duplass as producer Chip Black might lack the Machiavellian qualities of Bruno Lawrence’s Brian Thompson, but he’s no less complex.
Jennifer Aniston’s Alex Levy is the biggest point of difference, but she is still perfectly placed in the jigsaw. The character is a Jane Pauley/Katie Couric America’s sweetheart-type, much loved by the audience but contending with a male-driven executive floor that’s agitating for change. Aniston brings all of herself to the part, leaning into her own comic timing and the intangible but enduring aura she retains from her days as the much-loved Rachel Green on Friends.
Morning Wars is a story of power and transition. As the fictional Morning Show lurches through its #MeToo moment and Carell’s Kessler is sent into exile, Aniston’s Levy is a woman laid bare, momentarily uncertain, surrounded by sharks and on the brink of making a bad tactical move. Into the pool swims Witherspoon’s abrasive Bradley Jackson and, just as it looks like one will destroy the other, their fragile world is tipped upside down in a reclamation of power that is so potent it ought to be set to Carly Simon’s Let The River Run.