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Mysteries of the Wall: Impressions of the ‘Attack on Titan’ Season 2 Premiere

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Humanity’s struggle for survival has always been a popular premise for movies and TV shows. From Independence Day to The Walking Dead, each of these apocalyptic storylines focuses on the unwavering resilience of the human race. No matter how bleak the circumstances, the people that don’t lose hope are the ones that live on. Attack on Titan revolves around this principle, and is arguably one of the best of its kind. The first season was breathtakingly dramatic (spoilers to follow; read no further without having seen it), and by far my biggest complaint is that we had to wait so long for the second, but that wait is finally over. If you haven’t already watched the first 25 episodes, you’re missing out on one of the most emotionally-involving stories ever written. Add that to the unbelievably large-scale action scenes, and you’ve got a Netflix binge that will make a 48-hour weekend fly by in mere moments. The first episode of Season 2 aired this past Saturday, and it did its job well. Here’s what I anticipate in the coming weeks based on the events of the season premiere:

On the Ropes

Unfortunately, mankind is in no better shape than it was in Season 1. The walls are still their only protection, and the capture of Annie hasn’t yielded any useful information. Although everyone is now aware of human-controlled titans, not much else has been discovered. Attack on Titan has only celebrated small victories so far, ones surrounded by numerous tragedies that seem to reveal the futility of fighting in the first place. At one point, humanity managed to recapture lost territory from the titans, but even that triumph was darkened by how many lives were paid to earn it. The Season 2 premiere captures the same tone by using a number of familiar elements: an impossible dilemma, a risky measure to resolve it, and the introduction of a never-before-seen threat. The characters’ desperation is paramount to the story, while the viewers are immediately reminded of two things, the first being the absolute hopelessness of the situation. The titans are a grave threat of which mankind knows very little, and even the miniscule knowledge they do have is repeatedly contradicted by the Abnormals (titans that don’t follow the same behavioral pattern as the typical variety). Predictability seems to be the titans’ only weakness, but it seems even that advantage is quickly fading away. The second is the philosophy that has kept humanity alive even through such perilous times – only when we stop fighting do we lose. No matter how impossible the situation, Attack on Titan shines in its display of a desperate society’s refusal to submit.

Dangers Unseen

One of the biggest reasons why the human race has been backed into a corner is how often it’s faced with new threats. Sure, the titans are terrifying, but they only have animalistic intelligence, and people have developed the proper strategies for eliminating them. Then there are the Abnormals that think, act, and move irregularly, forcing soldiers to adapt and fight them in a different manner. Finally, there are the human-controlled titans, the biggest mystery of them all. No one knows their motivations, whose side they’re on, or the extent of their abilities. Season 1 continually broke down appreciable – yet somehow disheartening – victories of humankind by introducing dangers unseen. It seems this pattern has extended to Season 2 as well. I won’t spoil what this new threat is (partially because the new episode left a lot of questions unanswered), but the implications set the stage for an impressive arc of the already well-developed story. There’s also an eerie revelation about the walls, one that injects yet another mystery into the convoluted events of the show. The premiere highlighted it in a way that I can only assume means it will be a primary focus of this season, and I can hardly wait until next Saturday to learn more.

Expectations for Eren

Season 2 began with a lot of world-building, something that Attack on Titan continues to do effectively. Eren has taken a backseat in the new episode, with only a short scene, but we can expect to see more development as the show continues. He plays an unsurprisingly prominent role as the main protagonist, but so much is still unknown between the extent of his powers and why he fights on the opposite side of the other human titans. There’s a lot to cover in the upcoming episodes, and this one is everything I expected, reconnecting us with familiar characters, while introducing yet another despairing adventure against the titan menace. Unfortunately, the danger has evolved in more ways than one. So, too, must humanity’s methods to survive.

Andrew has always been a pretty avid conversationalist. Talkative as a child and even more so as an adult, he's always sharing his experiences and indulging in the stories of others. His favorite conversations are about worlds far more interesting than his own, so he plays video games and watches television series to step into as many as he can.

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Watchmen Season 1 Episode Five Review: “Little Fear of Lightning”

Watchmen delivers its finest hour yet, a focused character study that connects past and present in fascinating ways.

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Watchmen Little Fear of Lightning

“Little Fear of Lightning,” the most masterfully crafted episode of Watchmen yet, is the most Lindelof-ass hour of the series, uniting itself around a single image – the fun house mirror – and projecting out the author’s many, many thoughts on identity, reason, morality… and specifically, justice. The gods are unkind in Lindelof’s work, and the cosmic injustice of Looking Glass’s life is laid bare in “Little Fear of Lightning,” an hour that beautifully walks the line between character piece and narrative fulcrum.

Watchmen is firmly back on track with “Little Fear of Lightning,” a thematically rich hour that firmly embeds itself in the history of its inspiration, and yet never feels handcuffed by it.

Opening on the fateful night of Eleven-Two (the day Veidt’s monstrous concoction was dropped on New York), “Little Fear of Lightning” is an origin story of Matt Jamison-esque proportions. Like Matt on The Leftovers, Wade is a man of faith, to an overwhelming degree: he believes the government’s story of Eleven-Two being an alien attack so much, he lives in paranoid fear of it happening again. He has a special (albeit buggy) security system, attends a support group for other survivors, and even bases his masked identity around the moment where his religion changed from fearing an ethereal white dude, to a big ass motherfuckin’ squid.

Watchmen Little Fear of Lightning

From the episode’s opening scene, “Little Fear of Lightning” drenches itself in Watchmen‘s history; from the Knot Top-ish girl who steals all Wade’s clothes (and promptly dies a gruesome death), to references to Veidt’s old perfume company, the fifth hour of Watchmen lives in reverence to its source material. In a way, it turns Wade – a dude whose obsession and fear ruined his marriage, and left him a paranoid life of bad luck and solititude – into the series’ own Rorschach for a moment, as the man with the uncanny ability to spot a liar suddenly realizes he’s the one whose been played for the past three-plus decades.

Though ostensibly a gentler, slightly more gathered individual, the similarities between Watchmen‘s original protagonist and Wade as “Little Fear of Lightning” continues are potent, and help further the aura of reflection and redefinition (… like a Rorschach test would) that is the episode’s backbone. The first two acts spend the episode neatly arranging the pieces of his strange, quiet life – and the third act brings them all crashing to the ground, forcing Wade to cling to the very few fundamental beliefs he has: mistrust and fear, the very same tools the Seventh Kavalry’s inspiration derived his sense of purpose from.

(I mean, he even eats a can of beans this episode… how obvious could the parallels get?)

Watchmen Little Fear of Lightning

His final question – the one he proposes to Night just before letting her into Laurie’s trap – is “Is anything true?” It’s a question I imagine most Americans post Eleven-Two (or in our world, 9/11) have had to ask themselves over the years. Steel beams in our universe, sentient tentacles in Watchmen‘s; the point is, whatever the actual facts of either event are, there are always questions bad people are willing to provide answers to.

In this case, it is Ozymandias and Senator Joe Keene that provide Wade with the answers he never knew he wanted; and it is the second time everything in his world is utterly and absolutely shattered. After learning Judd and Joe Keene worked together to form the “peace” in Tulsa – and that the Kavalry is experimenting with an outlawed teleporter, for an “original idea” they have – Wade watches the infamous Ozymandias video, where he details his plans to save the world to future-President Redford.

This all comes after he watches his ex-wife incinerate a puppy in front of him (it was just a little bit too small, after all), and the first girl he’s kissed in ages reveals herself to be part of the white nationalist group he’s been at war with. In a series fascinated with the power of perspective, “Little Fear of Lightning” spends its entire time treating Looking Glass like a Rubik’s Cube, the patterns of his life rearranging over and over until they’re a complete mess of half-truths, disappointments, and traumatic memories, all vying for absolute control of Wade’s sanity.

Watchmen Little Fear of Lightning

There isn’t enough Reflecteen in the world to protect Wade’s mind from the truth, the single most weaponized element of Watchmen‘s 2019 America. From the moment Veidt completed his creature and killed his entire creative team, the truth of what really happened in 1985 has rested with a handful of individuals; one a god, another an imprisoned genius, and a third one of the most pragmatic federal officers in the country. They’ve successfully protected the lie in the name of world peace; but as that dam prepares to break, the Seventh Kavalry is poised to deliver a historical moment of such devastating, unfixable damage, it would be a massacre on a level no physical, traditional weapon could ever replicate, even nuclear (which makes me think about the scientific theories around nuclear winter could mitigating the effects of climate change).

In Watchmen‘s 2019, the government (we can assume) is continuing to drop squid fall on the nation, a little reminder of the thunder brought down in the episode’s opening moments; and as that realization crosses Wade’s fact, it provides deep, necessary context to how the world of Watchmen operates on a fundamental level. The ever-present threat of another disaster serves two purposes; it reminds humans to be obedient and fearful… and it also ensures said population is cognizant of their own mortality, which helps give context to some of the general disregard for the sanctity of life we’ve seen throughout the series.

Watchmen Little Fear of Lightning

“Little Fear of Lightning” is able to do all this, and still leave plenty of room for Tim Blake Nelson to chew up the scenery, as Wade’s world is broken into jagged pieces around him once again, which is just an absolute pleasure to watch. His even-mannered temper, even when everthing is blowing fucking mind, subtly gives room for the thematic material room to shine: his performance is careful and deliberate, but measured in a way to carefully build out the traumatic ironies of his character (and unfortunately, what appears to be a potentially terrible fate).

After a couple weeks of thumb twiddling, Watchmen is firmly back on track with “Little Fear of Lightning,” a thematically rich hour that firmly embeds itself in the history of its inspiration, and yet never feels handcuffed by it. It is a creative tightrope to walk that is downright mesmerizing when pulled off as it is here, a re-purposing of the novel’s ideals and ruminations in ways that feel prescient and fresh, rather than stale and imitative.

Not only is “Little Fear of Lightning” a great hour, but is an absolutely essential one, the moment where Lindelof and company finally spread their wings, briding the gap between past and present, setting themselves free in the process (as the preview for next week’s episode proves; this show is about to get fucking nuts, and quickly). Most importantly, it reminds us the absolute power of truth, perspective, and just how fucked up things can get when “both sides” end up being members of the same team. As normal as it looks on the surface, Watchmen‘s world is a fun house mirror of distorted truths and elaborate, false representations of self: I think Wade might agree the only time anyone is being completely honest with themselves and the world around them, is when we’re completely naked and alone, and there’s truly nowhere to hide.

Other thoughts/observations:

Laurie: “I’m the FBI. We bug shit.”

Deadwood‘s Paula Malcomson plays the woman who seduces (and manipulates) Wade into his meeting with Joe Keene. She is one of my favorite actors, and if you haven’t seen her in the Deadwood movie, you really should.

Ozymandias’ prediction was for Redford to become president in exactly 7 years, which he did. 7 years imprisoned, 7 years until president, all signs pointing to episode 7 as the one Where The Big Thing Happens… Lindelof sure loves patterns and numbers, and this is one of the more fun ones he’s done in awhile.

It appears Ozymandias is jailed on a moon of Jupiter… which isn’t Dr. Manhattan’s favorite planet, which may be a hint towards who imprisoned him. Then again, the Warden mentions a “him” when he talks about the god who abandoned him and the clones.

boy, if this episode had aired six months from now, “squid pro quo” would feel way too on-the-nose.

In this week’s American Hero Story: two heroes have gay sex. Weakest scene of the episode by a long shot, though Wade’s nacsent curiosity gives it a strange hint of subtext.

Keene, grinning: “I’m not a murderer… I’m a politician.”

Ozymandias, in the present, takes a trip to one of Jupiter’s moons, and makes an SOS sign out of his servant’s bodies that a Trieu satellite captures. (It reads “SAVE ME D”… could he be asking Dr. Manhattan for help?)

Angela is certainly in for a fun time, after downing a bunch of pills consisting of her grandfather’s memories while getting arrested. See you on the other side, Sister Night!

Are they going to do anything with Red Scare and Panda? I’m starting to wonder if these two side characters will end up the weakest elements of the series.

In this world, Steven Spielberg directed Pale Horse instead of Schindler’s List – the visual motifs remained the same, only the topic matter of a more recent act of mass murder.

Though the references to Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea are more obvious (Friends of Nemo, the episode title, etc.), there are hints of Through the Looking-Glass in it, as well, as Wade goes through the literal rabbit hole of America’s hidden truth.

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The Mandalorian “Chapter Two: The Child” Muses on Morality Whilst Getting Muddy

The Mandalorian Season 1 Episode Two Review: “Chapter Two: The Child”

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The benefit of The Mandalorian‘s soon-to-be weekly releases is that it gives times to ruminate on the preceding episode. Case in point: Werner Herzog’s mysterious “Client” is clearly part of the “Imperial Remnant” — in new Star Wars canon, the fractured factions of the formerly very centralised Galactic Empire. It makes sense that these groups would be so disparate in the ensuing power vacuum, and now Herzog’s already ominous “good to restore the natural order of things after a period of such disarray” is far, far more terrifying for the state of the galaxy.

That sort of information percolates at the back of the mind when watching The Mandalorian’s “Chapter 2: The Child,” which draws on the audience’s existing knowledge of Star Wars to elevate the piece far more than the first episode. While “The Child” is squarely focused emotionally on character relationships, there is significant interplay between viewers and the screen through Rick Famuyiwa’s direction of showrunner Jon Favreau’s script, creating dramatic irony, visual symmetry, and a certain degree of fan-service. Indeed, the first few minutes of the surprisingly short thirty-minute episode is almost a condensed redux of R2-D2 and C3-PO’s escapades on Tatooine in A New Hope. There’s even a Jawa sandcrawler!

In the same way that Rogue One’s chaotic man-to-man confrontations help set the tone for that film, the Mandalorian slugging people while his burgundy armour glints amongst the orange hues of the canyon encapsulates the grimily poetic atmosphere that “The Child” possesses.

Unlike the Jawas capturing R2-D2, or Luke Skywalker being knocked out by Tusken Raiders, the Mandalorian acquits himself much more successfully against his Trandoshan ambushers. Director of Photography Baz Idoine and his team’s coverage of the melee combat is engaging and clear. The cinematography keeps the impacts of the twirls, slams, and shoves centrally framed in mostly full and medium shots, as the Mandalorian wields his long blaster like a staff, then snipes the assailants as they run towards his bounty in a particularly satisfying long shot.

The Mandalorian walks in front of child.

It feels quite similar to the combat in Rogue One, which shouldn’t be surprising given that Idoine previously worked as the second unit director of photography. In the same way that Rogue One’s chaotic man-to-man confrontations help set the tone for that film, the Mandalorian slugging people while his burgundy armour glints amongst the orange hues of the canyon encapsulates the grimily poetic atmosphere that “The Child” possesses. It makes stabbing through muddy, matted hair beautiful.

This review has held off necessarily spoiling the big reveal at the end of the last episode for long enough. If you’re somehow reading this and haven’t seen “Chapter One,” (insert Jedi mind trick) this is not the review you’re looking for.

Fifty-year-old baby Yoda is adorable! Disney’s got its latest sold-out toy just in time for Christmas. So the Mandolorian now has himself a baby “Yodaling” to keep track of at all times; its innocent eyes observe both the delight of dune frogs and the brutality with which Mando kills and literally obliterates enemies. In the aforementioned fight scene, editor Andrew S. Eisen intercuts between shots of the Yodaling watching serenely, but also shots from the Yodaling’s perspective.

Focusing in on the Yodaling’s viewpoint throughout the episode is probably Famuyiwa’s best decision as director — not only because it makes the puppet feel real and not a prop, but the child is a constant reminder that bounty hunting (and killing) has a ripple effect on others. Part of Star Wars’ appeal has always been fancifully designed characters shooting some mooks, and although The Mandalorian indulges in this pleasure, it also seems to be slowly deconstructing mythic qualities. Actions have consequences, and this Yodaling acts as a yardstick to measure Mando’s morality against.

The Yodaling watches the Mandalorian

This all lends itself to the ambiguity pervading the “Chapter 2: The Child.” There are many wide shots where Mando walks through valleys and across the rocky outcrops with a floating pram in tow, with Mando and the Yodaling spread far apart, visually illustrating an emotional gulf between them. As the episode wears on, however, their physical separation in scenes closes until Mando is not-quite gently rocking the sleeping baby. He could be abruptly attempting to coddle as an awkward parent, but he also could also just be making sure his prize still is alive so it will “survive and bring [him] a handsome reward” (when Kuiil says this, does he mean emotional fulfillment or money?). As is often the case with Mandalorian bounty hunters, the question of intent is left to subtext and nebulous silence.

Actually, apart from a few grunts here and there, Mando says nothing at all for the episode’s first ten minutes. In lieu of talking, the handheld cinematography, with its close-up shots or momentarily going out of focus when Mando is disorientated, tries to convey the bounty hunter’s mental state. It’s also interesting to see the armour itself act as an evolving symbol for Mando as person. Where in “Chapter One” the addition of the shoulder plate suggested a form of exterior wholeness, “Chapter 2: The Child” sees Mando continuously fixing an increasingly tattered and fractured suit. Mando’s scarred childhood, as shown in “Chapter One,” clearly still torments him, and his emotionally suppressive stoicism may just have been broken through by meeting this baby.

The muteness is also ripe for some cartoonish, exaggerated visual comedy to break the solemnity. Mando setting the Yodaling down, only for the baby to immediately trot over, is like watching the antics of Jerry and baby Nibbles from Tom and Jerry. And after an action sequence recalling Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s tank climbing, Mando then mimics Wile E. Coyote as he falls off a sandcrawler. Pedro Pascal’s comic timing whenever he cocks his head in disbelief or sighs deeply is hilarious. Even composer Ludwig Göransson has some fun, playing a ridiculously triumphant trumpet piece as Mando’s convoy trudges slowly through pouring rain. As in “Chapter One,” “Chapter 2: The Child” modulates its tone expertly to naturally weave these extremes in.   

Mandalorian and Yodaling walking in the sunset.

Part of that may be because the story is so pared back, and the location is evocative enough to bleed into and dictate the wistful atmosphere. Famuyiwa lets the stunning red palette of the landscape’s geological formations and sunsets take prominence throughout, and it lends visual consistency. Tangentially, “Chapter 2: The Child” comes as close as Star Wars ever has to observing the principles of theatre laid down in Aristotle’s Poetics, taking place on — and never shifting from — the red planet Arvala-7 (unity of place) and having the single driving dramatic action of leaving the wasteland behind (unity of action). That it ditches Aristotle’s rule that a drama should only take place across a single day validates Kuiil’s claim last episode that one needs a Blurrg to traverse the terrain.

Speaking of Kuiil, he might just be the nicest character in Star Wars thus far. For the second episode in a row, he declines Mando’s earnest offer of payment, saying, “you are my guest and I am therefore in your service.” The service that comes with hosting ends, however, and therein lies the difference. As he says, “I have worked a lifetime to be finally free of servitude.” It is possible that we or Mando will not see nearly enough of Nick Nolte’s loveable character going forward, but the impact he has had on Mando is quite profound — especially Kuiil’s faith in his guest’s abilities, despite never having met a Mandalorian. After Mando returns with the goods needed to barter back parts that were stolen from his ship, he says, “I’m surprised it took you so long;” if the Yodaling is a test of morality, then Kuill is a kind, humanising force for Mando.

Kuiil and the Mandalorian talk.

Therefore, the fact that this idiosyncratic, wise, old Ugnaught cannot remotely understand a phenomenon of The Force demonstrates the extent of the impact the Jedi Purge in the aftermath of Order 66 (Revenge of the Sith) had on eradicating not only Force users, but knowledge of its existence as well. The Yodaling’s Force sensitivity is not a surprise. Surely the use of Yoda’s species was to clue the audience in as soon as possible, because otherwise they could have used many other species, as was done in The Clone Wars’ “Children of the Force” or Rebels’ “The Future of the Force.”

The purpose of accentuating the dramatic irony in this story is as yet unknown, but the reliance on an awareness of Star Wars’ wider canon is intentional. Anyone with knowledge of Darth Sidious’ attempts to raise and experiment on an army of Force-sensitive children would probably suspect the same aims for Omid Abtahi’s “Dr. Pershing.” However, the Sequel Trilogy is the real looming spectre for The Mandalorian. “Chapter Seven” releases on the same day as The Rise of Skywalker, so it’ll be interesting to see whether there are any direct connections. However, while the galaxy is vast, the knowledge that the First Order eventually rose up, and that Luke Skywalker’s attempts to establish a new Jedi Order failed, makes this story of the Mandalorian and his child a potentially very tragic and futile one. So we should enjoy the quiet moments while they last.

Other Thoughts/Observations:

That said, Padawan Ezra Bridger from Star Wars Rebels is currently out there and presumably surviving in the post-Return of the Jedi period where The Mandalorian is set. So maybe this will be a happy ending if Ezra lasted through the terrors of the Empire!

If I recall correctly, Yoda died at 900 years old, and said he had been training students for 800. So he must have been at least a Jedi Knight by 100 years old. Maybe the next 50 years for the Yodaling will be full of rapid growth? It already has wrinkles!

On that note, how long are Yodaling foetuses stuck gestating in the womb? Actually, scratch that — I don’t need to know.

The assassination of IG-11 in “Chapter One” obfuscated my thinking, but there are at least three factions after this baby: Herzog’s group who hired Mando, whoever hired IG-11, and the group protecting the child that the duo eliminated.

Also, Mando’s prejudice against droids (and everyone’s) makes sense given that number of Confederacy droids annihilating everyone during the Clone Wars, including his home as seen in the flashbacks (benefit of Disney Plus: The Clone Wars is available to rewatch).

Can somebody please adapt Lone Wolf and Cub? Please?

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Apple TV+’s The Morning Show Both-Sides Itself Into Prestigious Irrelevance

The Morning Show’s mix of flashy performances and one-dimensional writing makes for one of 2019’s more intriguing misfires.

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The Morning Show Review

One of Apple TV+’s early projects was a Whitney Cummings-helmed comedy firmly rooted in the #MeToo movement – unsurprisingly, it was canceled when Apple executives balked at the idea of hosting such politically charged content.

Then Hillary Clinton’s press secretary walked in with a #MeToo-themed drama based on a CNN’s anchor’s poorly-reviewed book, and Apple said: “Here’s $300 million.”

Everything about The Morning Show bows at the temple of Late Sorkin, shows whose neutered centrist politics bleed through indulgent monologues, carelessly crafting limp arguments and diatribes around events nakedly parallel to our own world.

The strange optics are a rather apt reflection of Apple TV+’s The Morning Show, one of the more confounding high-profile dramas in recent years. Comparisons to Aaron Sorkin’s HBO disaster The Newsroom might seem lazy and obvious, but there’s really no comparing it to anything else. From shot composition to dialogue and performance, everything about The Morning Show bows at the temple of Late Sorkin, shows whose neutered centrist politics and indulgent monologues, carelessly crafting limp arguments and diatribes around events nakedly parallel to our own world.

The Morning Show

It, unfortunately, begins with one of 2019’s worst pilots, a grating 63-minute introduction to its world of morally compromised broadcast news players. As it builds out its world of producers, lackeys, stars, and C-suite executives, The Morning Show‘s first (and most of its second) hour painfully imitates the worst Sorkin-isms with glee, a series of painfully overt character introductions and an overwhelming feeling the script is about five years behind on the many conversations it wants to have about gender, power, political conflict, and the state of broadcast news.

At the center of it all is Jennifer Aniston, relishing in the decidedly two-dimensional Alex Levy, host of the eponymous show-within-a-show. When the delicate balance she’s found between being a mother, a star, and a serious contributor to the morning show culture, is disrupted by sexual misconduct allegations against her co-host Mitch Kessler (Steven Carell, doing the best he can with it all), it becomes an inflection point in her career.

To her credit, Aniston justifies the hype of her streaming debut; her committed performance allows her to run the full emotional gamut of Alex’s life, grounding her with an emotional restraint I only wish carried through to the writing. Both to its benefit and detriment, it writes around its star, offering Aniston all the room in the world for showy, dedicated, awards bait. And though it carefully avoids falling completely into a series of tropes and cliches about women almost having it all – and what they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve it – there’s no denying how the basic notes of her character are pounding over and over in early episodes, to dull effect.

The Morning Show

The same goes for Reese Witherspoon’s Bradley Jackson, a woman whose Libertarian opinions and rough edges have stalled her career as a try-hard journalist… for a conservative news outlet (twist!). In the pilot, Bradley gets fired for yelling at someone during a protest against the coal industry, a speech that absolutely belongs in the Both Sides-ism Hall of Fame. Experienced and naive, whip-smart but held back by her own intelligence, Witherspoon’s overbearing presence as Bradley combines with some of the show’s clumsiest writing, an unremarkable attempt to subvert expectations on multiple levels.

Jackson’s character begins to come together by the third hour (once Jay Carson, the show’s creator, was fired and no longer credited on scripts), after she’s thrown unexpectedly into the mix by an Alex Levy power move; “unexpected” in that Bradley didn’t see it coming, though it is painfully obvious to even the most casual observer where the first 110-plus minutes of plot is heading. But it’s a painful road to get there, one full of asides about blue-collar upbringings and frustrations with the left and right (centrism, baby!), with the obligatory tinges of bad mom drama and professional insecurity.

The Morning Show

Bradley’s character becomes an unfortunate mouthpiece for all the issues The Morning Show is woefully equipped to handle; the fossil fuel industry, what’s wrong with broadcast news… and in “That Women,” abortion, when she accidentally (or…??) reveals what the show treats as a Deep, Dark Secret of her past… and then immediately drops as an actual plot halfway through “That Woman,” folding it into the background noise that is the capital-d Drama surrounding the fictional Morning Show.

(This happens on her second broadcast, I might add, during her attempt to subtly undermine the wickedly facile dialogue being fed to everyone from cue cards and teleprompters.)

The benefit of having such a large, talented cast and prestigious directors (Mimi Leder and Lynn Shelton direct three of the first four hours) does allow The Morning Show to occasionally stumble into being quite watchable. There’s strange chemistry to the cast, and it combines with the sharp direction to breathe life in between the many instances where The Morning Show trips over itself with bloated plots and repetitive character beats.

The Morning Show

There are a number of scenes in the third and fourth episode that are genuinely compelling, in a sadistic kind of way: the writing and performances are so confident and dedicated to what they’re trying to say, even when it is blindingly obvious The Morning Show is ill-equipped to catalyze on the many compelling ideas it throws into the mix. It can be fun to watch, an incongruous relationship between style and substance that is occasionally intoxicating in the sheer ludicrousness of it all.

But mostly, The Morning Show is just tiring in its dissonance, and its clear horniness for moderation and careful reinforcement of systemic norms – it is more interested in getting participation trophies for being in complex sociopolitical conversations, than actually having a concrete point of view on anything (it’s like the anti-Superstore in a lot of ways). The first four episodes are a confluence of elements, brash lead performances clashing with the naturalistic work of the show-within-a-show characters around them, all trying to convincingly deliver the dramatic equivalent of sugar-coated chalk. There are certainly some tasty, addictive qualities to The Morning Show; but those delicious morsels are overwhelmed by the bitter, archaic nature of its central narrative and episodic flow.

It is certainly fascinating to watch a show consistently jump in the deep end without knowing how to swim – it’s just not entertaining to watch The Morning Show flounder around helplessly scene after scene, a creative misfire of epically-budgeted proportions.

Other thoughts/observations:

$300 million and those are the best opening credits you could come up with? Dots?

It is interesting how Steve Carell is listed among the main cast; he is not in these first four episodes very much – and when he is, it offers some of the show’s most uncomfortably strained writing.

This show constantly cuts to a shot of a clock alarm going off at 3:30 am. Literally every day that passes on the show, we get Bradley or Alex slamming the alarm off. WE GET IT.

Mark Duplass co-stars as the longtime producer of The Morning Show; of the show’s collection of idiotic male characters, his Charlie is rather carefully constructed. It is unexpectedly strong, and stands in interesting contrast to Billy Crudup’s Cory Ellison, a network executive Crudup clearly relishes in making a brash, exaggerated performance.

There’s a subplot about a simpleton weatherman (the always-welcome Nestor Carbonell) and the young producer he’s hooking up with. She’s apparently from a rich, influential family? It kind of feels like this show’s 2019-ified take on Sports Night’s Jeremy and Natalie.

Yes, there is an episode that ends with an acoustic version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger”… spoiler: it is the episode that has a Kelly Clarkson cameo.

Karen Pittman chews up scenery as Mia, a very pragmatic producer, and Bradley’s guiding hand.

The second episode focuses pretty intently on Alex’s role as a mother… and then her daughter basically disappears without mention? I’m sure they’ll come back to it, but boy does The Morning Show like to go on tangents and forget its many, many, many side plots.

Oh man, there is an awful, awful scene where Martin Short plays an unnamed director, who talks with Mitch about what they’ve done, and how they can try and return respect to their names. And then Mitch reveals he knows the director is an “actual rapist,” and presumably decides not to make a documentary with him? It is so weird and distonal, and feels like The Morning Show presenting a weird moralistic litmus test to Mitch.

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