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Apple TV+'s 'Morning Show' is running better than ever as it enters Season 3

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. "The Morning Show" is back. The Apple TV+ series starring Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Aniston as on-air talent for the fictional UBA Network. The first two episodes of the new third season premiered last week. Among the show's changes this season, "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm is a new cast member. Our TV critic David Bianculli has this review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: The second season of the Apple TV+ series "The Morning Show" ended with the employees and executives of a fictional UBA Network fighting their way through various crises, including the outbreak of COVID and a variety of corporate and personal scandals and dramas. To begin Season 3, "The Morning Show" producers, led by series creator Jay Carson and series developer Kerry Ehrin, jumped the action forward two years. More and more TV shows are pulling this trick. It allows them to reboot the narrative, delay the explanation and exposition and reveal the storylines not only by moving forward but by flashing back. I'll skip the flashback elements.

As for "The Morning Show" going forward, the show's crisis mode has only accelerated. This year it's dialed up to 11. Jon Hamm plays Paul Marks, an Elon Musk-type billionaire. And his interest in acquiring UBA throws everything and everyone into disarray. It's a deal initially brokered under the radar and behind the scenes by UBA executive Cory Ellison, played by Billy Crudup with all sorts of masterful shadings of bravado and insecurity. Cory has gotten Paul to make a bid for UBA, but at a price. Paul has made a backdoor deal with Cory for his UBA star talent Alex Levy, played by Jennifer Aniston, to take a live televised trip with Paul on the maiden voyage of Paul's personal space shuttle.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MORNING SHOW")

JON HAMM: (As Paul Marks) UBA is on the bubble. COVID saved your ass. And I am offering a 20% premium on top of market value, and you are lucky to get that.

BILLY CRUDUP: (As Cory Ellison) You are lucky to get me 'cause I built a [expletive] pyramid during a pandemic. That's undeniable and so am I.

HAMM: (As Paul Marks) You started a streaming platform at the end of a global lockdown. Care to speculate what might happen when the world decides it's time to get back to business?

CRUDUP: (As Cory Ellison) Well, I'm starting with launching the first female journalist into space. Haven't you heard?

HAMM: (As Paul Marks) I'm launching her. It's my rocket.

CRUDUP: (As Cory Ellison) She's my journalist.

BIANCULLI: It's not long before Alex finds out about the deal and her part in it. She confronts Cory, who tries to defend himself by explaining things from his perspective.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE MORNING SHOW")

CRUDUP: (As Cory Ellison) The world as we know it is over, Alex. We are officially in the Thunderdome. In five years, half of the streaming services, they'll be gone or bought out. In 10 years, the internet will be 3D. You will literally be in people's living rooms. We need to build a time machine to take us to the future, and that is going to take real deep pockets, someone with more money than God. And Bill Gates, he won't return my call since I crushed him in doubles at Sun Valley. So Paul Marks - that's the hand that we have been dealt in this game of three-card capitalism. And honestly, I'm happy to be at the table. I want to play. I want to win. In fact, I want to build something that matters even when nothing else does.

JENNIFER ANISTON: (As Alex Levy) With that guy? That's who you see for the future of UBA - some need-for-speed hard ass from Silicon Valley.

CRUDUP: (As Cory Ellison) Well, we don't like his offer, we walk away. Alex, I mean, come on. You could just trust that I'm doing what's best for you.

ANISTON: (As Alex Levy) Right. I do. I forget that. I forget that you always have my best interest at heart.

BIANCULLI: "The Morning Show" always has been a little over the top, but this season, it enriches itself by boring more deeply into a few major issues - the infighting of corporate intrigue, the exposing of institutional racism, the overwhelming cruelty of social media postings, and in a particularly intense subplot, the attack on UBA by blackmailing computer hackers. The first episodes of Season 3, available now, dive into all of that and give its new and returning players a very deep pool in which to swim.

Last season, it was Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon who made the serious moments of "The Morning Show" land so well. They're still doing excellent work here, and this season, at the start, so is Crudup as Cory, whose empire is striking back. And it's also true of some co-stars who were given more central plotlines - Holland Taylor as a senior UBA board member and Greta Lee as Stella, whose management position becomes increasingly untenable. Add to that the new contributions by Jon Hamm and others and you have a "Morning Show" that's running better than ever. I'm talking, of course, about the one on Apple TV+. The one on UBA? That one's a train wreck, but like its Apple TV+ counterpart, it's always an entertaining one.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed the new season of "The Morning Show" on Apple TV+. On tomorrow's show, we speak with comedian, writer and actor Aparna Nancherla. Her new book of essays is part memoir and part cultural commentary. She writes about her life and career and the anxiety and depression she often talks about in her stand-up. I hope you can join us. To keep up with what's on the show and get highlights of our interviews, follow us on Instagram at @nprfreshair.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACKY TERRASSON'S "LA VIE EN ROSE")

DAVIES: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham, with additional engineering support from Adam Staniszewski. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Saman, Ann Marie Baldonado, Therese Madden, Thea Chaloner, Seth Kelley and Susan Nyakundi. Our digital media producer is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. For Terry Gross and Tonya Mosley, I'm Dave Davies.

(SOUNDBITE OF JACKY TERRASSON'S "LA VIE EN ROSE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli
David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.