I’ve been watching The Morning Show, Apple TV’s new serial about an American breakfast television show going through a MeToo crisis. I felt moved to write about this show after the fifth episode, and have updated today having seen the finale.
Writing this has felt odd. I only have Apple TV because it was free with my new phone, and only gave The Morning Show a quick look out of curiosity. Writing about MeToo is not something that appeals, and morning television is not something I ever watch. And yet here I am watching ten episodes in five days, and writing about stuff that makes me deeply uncomfortable.
So, the thing is, The Morning Show is complex and nuanced, at a time when many people have given up the hard work of dealing with complexities. The mood of the time is one of looking for clear lines and easy answers – boundaries on maps between countries, rules of behaviour, the attitudes of crazy political leaders who give the impression of strength without any of the substance of competence. Good fiction is not about straight lines, so it might not seem to have a place at the moment. Except that, yes, it does have a place, especially now. As I say, The Morning Show is complex. Instead of presenting a simple message, it brings lots of different messages into dramatic conflict. It reminds me, in fact, of something my Shakespeare tutor said to me back at university. She said that the real complexity of Shakespeare lies not in some deep meaning, but in the fact that he is not actually saying anything. Just sit with that for a moment… I certainly did when I heard it. It took a while to accept that the world’s most famous writer has nothing definite to impart to earnest students studying his work. All you can do, according to my tutor, is “maintain the paradoxes”. With Shakespeare, no position is final, no opinion is perfect, no wisdom will come over as wisdom in all situations. Shakespeare would not have been a campaigner, a protestor, or a fundamentalist. He would not have marched with placards, or sprayed buildings with paint, or chained himself to railings. For him, no position, no cause, holds the certainty that would drive him to such action. There is always some civilising worm of doubt, some contradiction that comes along to get in the way of righteousness.
The same is true of The Morning Show. The relationships it portrays are complex and multifaceted. Characters look different at different moments, like a metallic paint that changes colour depending on how the light catches it. You judge, only to have your judgement questioned. You want the truth revealed and yet see all the problems releasing the truth might create for everyone, not just the people who acted improperly. And what comes out of that in the end? A kind of hopeless fence sitting? A lack of will to change things and make them better? I don’t think so. I think the end result is an increased capacity for empathy. Good fiction allows us to see different points of view. The Morning Show absolutely does not tell us that all behaviour is fine, but neither does it draw straight lines. Good fiction is not a sermon or a text book. In the end it doesn’t tell us anything, except to demonstrate how people work, and so increase the chance that we may find a way to understand and empathise with each other. If we are to act well towards each other, it does not come from codes and rules which change over time, but from a basic understanding of how others feel, allowing us to act in a sympathetic way. The profound failings of people in The Morning Show – and believe me they are profound – are essentially failings of empathy, of failing to respect people as you would want to be respected yourself. That’s the crime that leads to the terrible denouement in the final episode.
So I admire The Morning Show’s handling of difficult themes. I also admire the slick production values, use of music, and flashes of humour, believe it or not. As Guardian critic Stuart Heritage says, The Morning Show is funnier than it should be. I recommend it.