Squawk Box: The Morning Show/For All Mankind

Ever since Apple TV became a thing, there have been two shows that I have been itching to watch: The Morning Show and For All Mankind and when my Google Pixel finally gave up the ghost and I switched back to Team iPhone, it came with a free three-month trial of Apple TV, so I sat down and got binging.

I don't know what it is about workplace dramedies, but I'm always up for a good one and right off the bat, The Morning Show proved that it's a great one. The show opens with longtime co-anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) being fired amid allegations of sexual harassment. That revelation throws the entire show into chaos, including Mitch's longtime co-anchor, Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) who has to announce his firing and then grapple with the fact that both the network and Mitch had kept her in the dark about the full extent of his harassment. 

Meanwhile, a local reporter and firebrand Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) goes viral when she angrily fact-checks a coal mine protestor. She quits, following a confrontation with her boss, gets in a fight with her family, and then gets asked to appear on The Morning Show for an interview. Alex presses her a bit on the interview, but Bradley manages to get through it and impress the head of the network, Cory Ellison (Billy Crudup) who calls her for a meeting to discuss her future. Alex, in an attempt to outmaneuver the network (which, according to Mitch, was getting set to replace her) announces Bradley publically as her new co-host.

The rest of the first season pretty much flows from the first two episodes. The staff of the show has to scramble to get Bradley up to speed, they all have to face the fallout from Mitch's actions. Bradley begins to dig into the Mitch story and finds out that there's more going on at the network than just Mitch and his behavior- the entire workplace culture has become toxic. When Bradley realizes how deep it goes, she persuades Alex to speak out, and eventually, the two of them do: live and on the air. The first season closes with the feed to the show getting cut. 

(The second season has already started airing on Apple TV, but I haven't dug too deeply into that one yet-- I'm trying to get through Babylon 5 at the moment.)

Overall: I was really impressed with this show- it's obvious that Apple was aiming for 'prestige television' with this one and with the cast they assembled, it succeeded. (Also: props to the music in this show at well. Normally, it takes a lot for me to notice a soundtrack of a show, but this one stands out and it's incredibly well done.) What's even more impressive is the way the show handles the 'Me Too' inspired storyline. It's dicey territory- not the topic of sexual harassment itself, but how to tell a story without alienating half your viewing audience in the process. The fact that show was inspired by a book I think helps with that, but somehow they tell a complex story that centers on an incredibly sensitive topic that includes things like 'nuance' without tipping over into 'both sidesism' or becoming preachy in the process. That itself is quite an achievement. My Grade: *** out of ****

For All Mankind is about as far away from The Morning Show as you can get. Developed by Ronald D. Moore (who's been responsible for some excellent Star Trek episodes and the Battlestar Galactica reboot) it flows from the single and most fascinating question: What is the space race never ended? In this universe, the Soviets landed on the moon first, and a stunned America is left to play catch-up-- doubly so once the Soviets follow up their initial moon landing with landing a woman on the moon. 

The race to the moon having been decided, the next big step is a "race for the base" and both sides race to find water ice on the moon and establish a permanent presence there. The first season of the show focuses on the consequences of losing the race for the moon and NASA's reaction to it. How they integrate the first women (and African-American) astronauts in the program. The personal lives of the astronauts and how messy they are. The costs of space travel (Apollo 23 explodes on the pad in the first season.) The show wisely stays focused on the characters and the space race, but the alternate history touches pop up here and there. Ted Kennedy gets elected President in 1972. The Equal Rights Amendment passes. (I know I saw a lot of eye-rolling in the Conservative blogosphere about that part, but really it's not a hugely important part of the show and if Nixon would have lost the moon race it's not entirely implausible either, with Mary Jo Kopechne become Ted's Mistress and leading to a sex scandal later in his term.) Ronald Reagen still comes to power in the early 80s and the Cold War clash in the early 80s comes over Panama and not Afghanistan.

Familiar names from the early history of NASA are woven in throughout the show. Gordo Stevens (Michael Dorman), Buzz Aldrin (Chris Agos), Michael Collins (Ryan Kennedy), Deke Slayton (Chris Bauer), Wernher von Braun (Colm Feore), and even Sally Ride (Ellen Wroe) pop up throughout the show. Given that it's an alternate history, you'd expect that, but the show could have overcommitted on the real historical figures and gone full Forrest Gump about it, but holds back just enough to make any real-world figures effective characters in the overall story.

I think the more familiarity you have with some of the plans the space program had back in the day, the more you'd appreciate this show. Things like a nuclear power shuttle- a Soviet shuttle and even plans for a moonbase are all nice touches and that's just little old me with a passing familiarity with what NASA had planned back in the day. Real space buffs would probably pick up on more of those little touches than I would. 

Overall: If you love space, you'll love this show. As an alternate history, it works quite well because it's both different and eminently plausible-- you could see this reality happen somewhere else in the multiverse- and with the third season potentially focuses on getting to Mars, not by (to be determined) as in this reality, but by 1995 in the show, sign me up for more. My Grade: **** out of ****


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