Why ‘The Morning Show’ (2019) is the Perfect Antidote to the Aftermath of Weinstein’s Hollywood

The Morning Show is set within what easily could be considered a rather uneventful setting: that of a pedestrian American morning television show. Sure, they are a big deal in the States, but nonetheless, it’s not exactly the most obvious setting for the high stakes thriller that unravels over the course of 10 episodes. But this is where one of the many brilliant elements of the story lies: it manages to take this seemingly upbeat, smiley, family-orientated television show and ups the stakes so much that you will be clutching onto the edge of your seat. If a show is so well written that it can make you care deeply about the outcome of a morning television show – something we merely glance at while we’re getting ready in the morning – surely this is a show doing something unique, something incredibly special. 

Starring Jennifer Anniston as Alex Levy, the staple morning show anchor; Reese Witherspoon as Bradley Jackson, the ‘Truth Seeking’ journalist; and Steve Carell as the disgraced News anchor, Mitch Kessler, this show is full of unexpected surprises, twists, turns and complete and utter outrage – not to mention a whole lot of deeply satisfying outcomes. The story unravels in the opening sequence where a leaked article to the New York Times reveals a larger than life TV personality – Mitch Kessler – getting accused of workplace sexual misconduct by a Junior staffer. 

Sound familiar? In the wake of #MeToo it is painfully easy to feel powerless to these all too frequent cases. Beyond this, however, it is important to confront the frequency of sexual harassments, with an estimated 3 in 4 women experiencing some form of sexual harassment or violence in the UK alone, Me Too simply allowed a space for women to talk about this openly. 

Is it a culture harboured by that network? Is it the fault of the staff around them, allowing this behaviour to take place? Are there instances where workplace relationships are appropriate? Or is it just not ok to date a colleague anymore? Or are all of these things mere excuses for the inexcusable behaviour of powerful individuals thinking they can behave however they so please – taking whatever they like in the process? These are all questions that encircle the show, intertwine into the delicacies of the storyline and scream at you to not just vilify this man’s behaviour, but to question what deeper societal structure that allows it to exist, to really probe the matter and face its complexities. The truth is, although we like to think that these instances are simple, they often aren’t. 

One daring move by the show’s writers was the decision to humanise this alleged sexual predator. This is important for many reasons, one main reason being that with these huge, very public cases, it can be easy to dismiss the predator as this dark looming figure who can feel removed from the world around us. But the truth is, and as proven by the Me Too movement, these instances of sexual misconduct are not isolated, they are not rare, and unfortunately seem to be ingrained within the very structure of our society. It doesn’t make sense to dismiss these cases as being committed by ‘a few evil individuals’ anymore, not when it happens so frequently. 

According to a BBC survey in 2017, 53% of women and 20% of men had been sexually harassed at work, with more than a quarter of those surveyed saying that this was construed as a ‘joke’ or seen as ‘banter’.  According to this research, this then led to 1 in 10 women being sexaully assaulted. This is the kind of culture – our culture – that is represented on the show. 

Mitch Kessler is a larger than life personality. He is extremely well liked, known to be full of ‘banter’ and lurid humour. Above all though, he is powerful and extremely influential at the network. His likeability is one aspect that silences those around him. The woman who comes forward on the show about his sexual misconduct repeatedly apologises, saying she never meant for him to leave, that she liked the attention – that she found it excitable. So why is it important to highlight this? Because it goes to show that regardless of who that man is, however nice he may seem, to take advantage of your position of power to seduce a staffer who is of a more junior position, someone who may not have the ability to say no if the consequences of that means a ruined career, this behaviour is not acceptable, was never acceptable, and above all desperately needs to change. The kind of person who carries out these crimes is not a singular personality, the fact they are so frequent means that lots of people are capable of it, and do it, and this needs to be investigated. What is it about our society that allows this behaviour to exist? Power has its place in the world, but that place should not be at the heart of a romantic relationship. 

If we continue to think of these men who carry out these crimes as dark looming, all powerful figures, we dissect them out from the the life around us and no longer make the connection that the crimes these men perpetrate don’t just start at the top. They merely end up there. We consequently fail to notice how the culture of their behaviour persists in the world around us, and don’t recognise that the creepy manager working at that restaurant, dating front of house staff half his age, is still a man using his position of power to gain something from an individual who doesn’t have as much power. Are those relationships ever equal?

Therefore, by humanising Mitch Kessler, by seeing how this man reacts to his disgraced position, we are reminded that this man is just that – a man. He is not this all powerful figure, he is merely another human being who has made a series of choices. Or rather, a larger than life personality who has not only the audacity but the overwhelming arrogance to think that they can conduct themselves in this way and get away with it. It’s about time we call that out for what it is.

Once you do, you strip his power away. We realise that we do in fact have a say in the world around us. We can in fact make positive changes if we truly want to, if we come together and say it loud enough. If we stop excusing this behaviour as ‘oh that’s just how he is’ or ‘yeah he’s a bit handsy, but he’s mostly harmless’. What transpires is a series of scenes where we are ultimately watching a man lose his privilege. To be completely honest, it is extremely satisfying to watch. 

It’s no real surprise at this point that such an expertly crafted show was produced by Reese Witherspoon’s acclaimed production Company, Hello Sunshine. In a market saturated with content that is created by men – 77% of shows having no female creators to be precise – it is gratifying to know that some of the most successful programming has come from women. It’s maybe why her other successful series Big Little Lies, won nearly the same number of awards as Game of Thrones, even though Game of Thrones had 6 more seasons than Big Little Lies.  These results could maybe serve as yet another reminder that television may register more with its viewers if we continue to allow this kind of representative content to be made. 

The point is, this show is important now. According to the New York Times, 201 powerful men have been brought down by #MeToo. They found that nearly half of their replacements were women. Despite this though, instances where accused men remain at the top persist, Brett Kavanagh being a particularly disappointing example. It can be all too easy to feel powerless. And that may well be an extremely valid feeling given how prosecuted rape cases continue to drop, with The Independant finding that a mere 1.7% of rapes are prosecuted in England and Wales with one major reason being poor investigative work. Despite our society feeling continually progressive it seems that when we scrutinise the figures, that may not be the case. It is disappointing, scary and extremely frustrating. But that is why  The Morning Show is important right now. It stands as a small slice of relief. It will make you feel powerful for a brief moment. And that is a feeling worth seeking out, especially in our current climate. 

Header image courtesy of Apple+