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Defending Jacob and The Morning ShowApple TV's Bid to Top the Binging Scene With a Pair of Big Budget Originals With Stellar Casts
By Elyse Sommer
Unfortunately the show is not nearly as good as its viewing numbers.
Granted, that's true of all those self-published Amazon books claiming millions of readers — or much of the fare filling the home pages of the Amazon TV and Netflix's home pages. But before I go any further, I should admit that I wasn't all that enamored with the novel about the happily married Laurie and Andy Barber whose story turns dark when the killing of a high school student that Andy is investigating in his capacity as an assistant district attorney points to his and Laurie's adored 14-year old son Jacob. The narrative piles questions and revelations on top of each other — about the marriage and parenting , and what led up to the murder.
I admired the way the author managed to keep the audience guessing until the final page was turned. However, intriguing as it was, I Iound it difficult to buy into the subplot about the genetic history of the central character, who's not really the titular Jacob, but the father who's his chief defender.
Still, with the pandemic having ratcheted up my appreciation of on screen theater going, I was ready to embrace the page-to-screen version as the perfect way to make it all consistently exciting and compelling. With eight episodes to detail all those revelations even that big reveal about Andy's history would be more convincing. To add to my optimisim, it's directed by Oscar nominated Morten Tyldum (The Imitation Game) and has a top of the line cast headed by Chris Evans, Michelle Dockery and Jaeden Martell; and with a support team that includes Cherry Jones, and Pablo Shreiber, both of whom I've greatly enjoyed in live theater. Clearly, plenty of reasons for me to be prepared to find my self up late, unable to stop watching.
Maybe if Apple had refrained from taking the multi episode format to its limits and let the Barber family's contented life unravel in just four episodes, it would have been more consistently compelling. But even the great Cherry Jones and the high gloss production values can't keep this from being less than the memorable super hit it wants to be. Instead of keeping you at the edge of your seat (or the couch since you're watching this in your own home) the narrative too often feels drawn out and repetitive — and, yes, occasionally a bit of a yawn.
That's not to say that Defending Jacob is awful. The actors and staging are too good for that, as is the clever interweaving of legal thriller and family drama . Screenwriter Mark Bomback has wisely followed the novel's plot pretty closely, but unwisely given his own and less satisfying ending. That ending might just send viewers back to the book, if only to compare the page and screen finales.
Like Defending Jacob, the series had a pre-screen life as a book, Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV by Brian Stelter. Since that book was a non-fiction expose of the many lucrative breakast shows' ups and downs, series creator Jay Carlson credits the book as inspiration for his own fictionalized behind the scenes look at one such show and the aftermath of its co-anchor's sexual misconduct. In case you're not up on which best known media celebrities have been undone by their predatory actions, in The Morning Show, a popular, long-running man-woman hosted show's male co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) is a stand-in for for Matt Lauer who lost his NBC gig after being outed for raping a colleague .
The pitch here is to present a trendy and decidedly woke angle given an extra dash of trendiness courtesy of Carrell's Mitch being a somewhat more nuanced predator than others outed by the #MeToo movement. At any rate, the scenario focuses less on the disgraced Mitch than how his dismissal affects his co-anchor Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston). She and Mitch enjoyed a very special chemistry which she misses on an emotional level.
But hold it.. That relationship too is bound to undergo changes and revelations. Worse yet, the the Mitch scandal puts the whole show into a ratings crisis that forces Alex to fight for her own job the key anchor. Oh, and her devoted husband refusing refusing to stay at her side, doesn't help.
Alex's embattled status is exacerbated by the media moguls, especially Cory Ellison (Billy Cruddup), an inexperienced new number two in the boardroom who sees the network's troubles as an opportunity. His ideas obviously add to Alex's panic. Consequently, just after her latest outrageously outspoken field reporting brings Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) to New York for a guest appearance on on the Morning Show, Alex impetuously announces that viewers will find their mornings more exciting than ever with Bradley Jackson coming aboard as co-host..
This match made in a moment of desperation does indeed cause plenty of excitement . Both on and off the air.
Alex and Bradley are more rivals than bosom buddies. And Mitch is not ready to admit that he deserves to be condemned for sexual conduct that he says should not be lumped with rape.
Anniston and Whiterspoon are excellent, whether together or interacting with the top to bottom excellent support cast. I especially enjoyed seeing two actors who have contributed to some of my favorite live theater outings, Marcia Gay Hayden and David Morse. Hayden is a standout as a female counterpart of truth-nothing-but-the-truth writer Ronan Farrow , who did an expose of Matt Lauer for the New Yorker. I last saw her on stage in the 2017v Broadway production of God of Carnage. Though it's been more than twenty years since I saw David Morse in How I Learned to Drive his single appearance as Bradley's alcoholic father, brought back vivid memories of his role as the abusive uncle in that Pulitzer Prize winning play.
But while Anniston and Witherspoon are essentially the stars of this enterprise, for me most original and memorable star turn is by Billy Cruddup. He starts out as a smarmy, disruptive corporate villain. But as he somehow develops a genuine fondness for Witherspoon's Bradley he morphs into the one character you really like and want to see more of. Having seen Cruddup on stage I wasn't surprised. During recent theater seasons he had audiences rapt even though he was all alone on stage and with minimal scenery — most enjoyably so in Harry Clarke. For a specisl Wow, in The Morning Show he teams up with Anniston to sing "Not While I'm Around" from Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.
And so, while the pleasures provided by the cast and the expensive production values (there's even a location shot at California's devastating forest fire), don't really really add up to a believable and meaningful portrait of the television universe, how can you NOT watch a show with a Sondheim turn by two actors who turn out to sing very well . Maybe plans for a second season materialize iit could be a new normal style chamber musical with just Cruddup and Anniston.
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