When assessing whether you should shell out $5 a month for Apple TV+, you should ask yourself one question: Do you love Reese Witherspoon’s southern accent?
If your answer is an emphatic “yes,” then Apple TV+ is the service for you.
When Apple, the master of the tech universe, debuts its long-touted TV streaming service on Nov. 1, its crown jewel right out of the gate is “The Morning Show,” a chatty drama series about the hustle behind a morning news show knee-capped by a #MeToo-era scandal.
Apple is hoping the soapy series, toplined and produced by Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston, is buzzy enough to get you to put down the Netflix binge and pick up your iPhone to watch its limited four-series library at launch, which also includes “See,” a bizarre Jason Momoa-led series about a world without sight; and “Dickinson,” Hailee Steinfeld’s fun, light-on-its-feet biopic of Emily Dickinson.
But let’s not kid ourselves, “The Morning Show” is what Apple wants you to watch.
With its star wattage and staggering $200 million budget, the show is operating at a level that the upcoming streaming services on the horizon (including Disney Plus and HBO Max) have promised to keep pace with in this slugfest we now call Peak TV.
Unfortunately, “The Morning Show” is not the knockout Apple needs it to be - even if the potential is there.
Having grown up in North Carolina, I can tolerate a good helping of Southern drawl. But in playing tightly wound small-town reporter Bradley Jackson, Witherspoon lays on her native tongue pretty thick - so much so that it’s easy to get distracted by all the “acting.”
As the middle-ground reporter on a conservative network, Bradley comes out swinging in every conversation, resulting in a wildly unethical on-camera meltdown that goes viral and puts her in the path of the titular show.
While Witherspoon’s verve is admirable, she has yet to settle into Bradley’s prickly disposition as seamlessly as she did Madeline Martha Mackenzie’s acid tongue on “Big Little Lies.”
But truthfully, this is Aniston’s show from the jump. She plays Alex Levy, a veteran morning anchor struggling to pull the same influence she once did, especially after her long-time co-anchor, Mitch Kessler (an out-of-place Steve Carell), is fired over sexual misconduct allegations.
If this sounds like the Matt Lauer/“Today Show” scandal, that’s kind of the point.
On the surface, this gives Aniston a juicy cut of narrative meat: a revered woman fighting off daily offenses of ageism and sexism while putting on a happy face to greet Americans every morning.
However, in the third episode, when her new big-moves boss (Billy Crudup) says, “Watching a beloved woman’s breakdown is timeless American entertainment,” it’s a swift reminder that we’ve yet to see why she is beloved at all.
Even though Aniston is doing something she’s never done before - and doing it well, I should say - all we see in the three episodes given to critics is a so-called “ice queen” who lives a life with gritted teeth and a clenched fist, a defensive stance developed from years of fighting for her place at the anchor desk.
I’m not here to demand women be likable in television, quite the opposite. Aniston’s defiant, often angry performance is the best part of this very uneven show.
But if we are supposed to buy into this woman’s battle against a corporate-induced decline, the show needs to put in the work and illustrate why she ascended in the first place.
Instead, we get a series that’s most energized when it’s doing yet another brisk walk and talk through the halls of its titular show within a show.
Its best hope lies in the promising interplay between Aniston and Witherspoon, who have strong chemistry (stretching back to the latter’s “Friends” guest appearance) despite sharing a limited number of scenes early on.
But perhaps most egregiously, “The Morning Show” dares to ask a question no one cares to answer - what would it take to make you feel bad for a Matt Lauer-type figure?
The show spends way too much time wallowing with Carrell’s disgraced anchorman, who can’t fathom why his workplace misdeeds have earned him the ire of America.
A scene in the second episode finds him sitting in a car, mournfully watching from across the street as the world (i.e. a media elite gala) spins on without him, a moment that suggests we are supposed to feel pity for him. If this is where this first season is headed - some semblance of a redemption arc for a workplace predator - that might be this show’s biggest misstep.
For all that Apple is betting on “The Morning Show” (it has already ordered a second season) and the talent involved, this show should be better. It should be smarter. It should be able to back up the message Apple TV+ has been shouting from the rooftops for two years - that its arrival on the TV scene will mark the dawn of a new era.
I’m on board to see how this all pans out, but in its debut, “The Morning Show” has all the energy and clear-mindedness of someone who hasn’t had their morning coffee.
Reporter Hunter Ingram can be reached at Hunter.Ingram@StarNewsOnline.com. Hunter is a member of the Television Critics Association.