Morning Wars / The Morning Show

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I can’t care for any of the characters in the pilot episode of Morning Wars (aka The Morning Show in the US), the ‘flagship’, and very expensive, piece of content being used to promote Apple’s new ‘TV +’ streaming service / portal / all-inclusive lifestyle product. The protagonist, Alex Levy, played by Jennifer Aniston in a heavily promoted ‘return to television’ for what is rumoured to be a jaw-droppingly gargantuan sum of money, is a host for the most successful morning show on American free-to-air television who has been making jaw-droppingly gargantuan sums of money for fifteen years in the position, and is now deeply upset that her show’s ratings may wobble because her co-host, Mitch, played by Steve Carell (to similar promotion) has been canned because he’s been sleeping with production assistants, make-up girls and sundry other young women who’ve dropped by the Morning Show set.

The pilot’s set-piece is Alex having to deliver the news of Mitch’s firing; it is, essentially, a dramatic recreation of the morning Savannah Guthrie announced Matt Lauer’s firing from the Today show on NBC on November 29th, 2019. Reading Ronan Farrow’s book Catch and Kill will provide a far more gripping take on that incident, and watching the actual video is frankly more – weirdly – gripping than Aniston’s portrayal. (Here it is: Matt Lauer Gets Canned)

So, in a show constructed around a man’s potential sexual assaults – including possible rapes – at his workplace, we’re examining the effect not on his victims but on his gazillionaire co-host and, most off-puttingly, himself, and, let’s face it, he’s not such a bad guy, at least in Carell’s hands. Meanwhile, a conservative Journalist With a Capital J is discovered screaming at a coal-mine protester in some hick part of the country, flown to the Morning Show set, and stands her ground against Alex, paving the way for her to become the new co-host (and All About Eve-style threat). She’s played by Reese Witherspoon, so there’s another angle, and another pile of millions effortlessly sluicing from Cupertino to Beverley Hills.

HBO’s Succession has ludicrously wealthy characters based on real people, but their crimes aren’t white-washed, and there is satire and true, incisive skewering. The writing and direction on Morning Wars have no such bite, and the characters are less compelling – and, it looks like, less actually bad – than their real-life counterparts. This is TV about the 1% made by the 1% and produced by the ultimate 1% company, and it’s simply less interesting than the true story that it’s ripping off.

Office Christmas Party

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*** (out of five)

Office Christmas Party is about an office Christmas Party. It’s the Chicago branch, part of a larger corporation with headquarters in New York. The founder of the company is dead; his daughter Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is now the CEO while son (and younger brother) Clay (T.J. Miller from Silicon Valley) runs Chicago. She’s uptight and awful and not only wants to cut 40% of Clay’s staff, she wants to cancel the Christmas party! Clay is similar – very, very similar – to Miller’s character on Silicon Valley, so that’s not going to happen. Shenanigans ensue.

That’s all you really need to know about Office Christmas Party, a big Hollywood Studio comedy Christmas offering, at least on a plot level; indeed, the plot is about as unimportant as plots get. What’s important is that Aniston and Jason Bateman, playing Clay’s much more conscientious right-hand man, are simply Big Names designed to attract a budget and an audience, while the film’s real agenda is to allow a huge swathe of television second-stringers and up-and-comers to audition for Big Screen Comedy Stardom: steal your scene, the film seems to be chanting, and we’ll give you your own (smaller) movie!

Thus we not only have Miller (who single-handedly provides about seventy percent of the film’s energy), but the strange and wonderful Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live (she will have her own movies, unless her comedy is simply too esoteric for a mainstream audience or Hollywood’s conception of one); Randall Park (Fresh Off The Boat), Rob Corddry (Children’s Hospital), Olivia Munn (Attack of the Show!), Matt Walsh (Veep), Karan Soni (Blunt Talk), Oliver Cooper (Red Oaks), Fortune Feimster (The Mindy Project) and Vanessa Bayer (also Saturday Night Live)… among many others. It’s sink-or-swim, thrive or perish, with the constraints of the uneven script and the edit these combatants’ fiendishly random gladiatorial weapons. Thus Corddry – a terrific comedian – is hamstrung by an underwritten and unlikeable character, while Bayer and Park get to shine, sharing, as they do, one of the film’s simplest but funniest scenes.

Stupid Hollywood formula ruins the last act, but until then it’s an amiable ride, resting squarely on Miller’s ample shoulders. He’s a unique comic entity, with a fair chunk of Belushi’s wild anti-authoritarianism tempered by an almost Bateman-level sweetness. It’s a winning combo and makes Office Christmas Party bearable and occasionally mood-enhancing.