When The Morning Show started its journey four years ago, the world was a different place. COVID hadn’t happened yet, and the “MeToo movement” had just started to receive deserving attention. At a time like that, the story of a morning show anchor waking up to the breaking news of her co-anchor’s alleged sexual misconduct resonated so well with the audience. What further helped was the fact that these two people were being played by two sitcom stalwarts, Jennifer Aniston and Steve Carell. Of course, celebrating Carell only for his most iconic role, Michael Scott from The Office, would be unfair to the actor and the kind of talent he possesses.
It takes a lot of guts to play a character like Mitch Kessler, especially at a time like that. Carell not only did so with panache, he actually delved deep into the characters’ psyche and played it in a way that confused you and, at times, made you feel bad for Mitch, and subsequently made you cringe at yourself for that. Despite its utterly serious plot, The Morning Show took a very flashy storytelling approach, which, to everyone’s surprise, worked out in its favor. The characters used to scream their hearts out, and every episode used to have a lot of drama. Despite Billy Crudup’s (very deserving) Emmy win in the Best Supporting Actor category, The Morning Show never really broke into the big league of prestige television shows, and I don’t think the makers of the show bothered either. For the first and second seasons, a bunch of big-ticket stars got into the skin of these hyper-dramatic characters, and we just gobbled up all the drama. Standing at the center of everything, Carell brought both crazy and calm and managed to make Mitch one of the best modern-day antagonists.
Unlike many HBO dramas, The Morning Show always made sure that the bad guys paid for their sins and the good guys won. To pull that off, a clear-cut bad guy was needed, and in Mitch Kessler, they had the perfect villain. However, the Mitch arc needed to draw the curtain at some point, and the show was bold enough to do that by the eighth episode of the second season. But given how the show ended the second season by perfectly blending the pandemic into its narrative, there was no reason for it to stop. So commissioning another season was a no-brainer. And to adhere to the nature of the show, a Mitch Kessler replacement was necessary. So the show did exactly what you would expect it to do. They got someone as big as Jon Hamm to fill in for Steve Carell.
In the latest season of The Morning Show, which just aired the finale, Hamm played Paul Marks. Unlike Mitch, who got right under the hammer as the man who did something as bad as assaulting an employee, Paul arrived in the scene just like this tech giant moneybag. UBA was facing a huge financial crisis, and the company was in desperate need of a savior. Paul flirted with the possibility of being the moneybag but then got cold feet thanks to his ego-fueled rivalry with Cory Ellison, the UBA CEO and one of the most important figures both during and after the Mitch era. However, Alex not only managed to convince Paul to come on board, but the two also got into this romantic thing. Aniston and Hamm have undeniably great on-screen chemistry, and the show was always going to utilize that to the maximum.
For most of the season, the character of Paul Marks mostly worked as a major tool to move the story forward instead of being the designated villain. Yes, we were never really inclined to think “the guy might just be good,” even when Alex was swooning over him, but this was not Mitch Kessler either. The show itself adapted a more refined, subtle style for the season, and there was a change in the tone. A villain like Mitch wouldn’t have made sense in this context. Paul, on the other hand, perfectly fit the bill, and Hamm had no problem whatsoever getting the assignment right. In fact, in many ways, it felt like he channeled his Don Draper into Paul, which was pretty smart. For the uninitiated, Hamm’s most iconic role happens to be Don Draper, the advertising executive in AMC’s Mad Men (2007–2015). Both the character and the show are regarded as one of the greatest in the history of television.
Coming back to TMS, Hamm’s Paul Marks gave the good guys of the story the opportunity to fight against a scheming adversary who was definitely smarter than Mitch. That also allowed the writers to come up with much more layered story arcs compared to seasons one and two. The whole “what’s going on at Hyperion (Paul’s multi-billion-dollar tech company)” plot was one of the main highlights of the story, and watching it unfold episode by episode was too much fun for us. What I thought was particularly important was to not make Paul likable or make the audience feel for the character (even when he is telling a sob story on camera) for one single moment, and it seemed like both the actor and the writing team had that in mind. Looking at how the last two The Morning Show season finales have gone down, we could predict that Paul would lose in the end. All it needed was for Alex to figure out that the man was indeed “bad news” (which also broke her heart). The interesting thing here is that after initially trying to justify his action, Paul does accept his defeat and walk away. His final scenes with Alex made it quite clear that no matter what he did, his feelings for Alex were most probably genuine. What I am wondering now is: What are they going to do with this character in the next season? Given that he is not dead yet and Jon Hamm is too big of a name to let go after just one season, I would like to believe that we haven’t seen the last of Paul Marks yet. We probably have to wait two more years to find out; until then, giving a re-watch (or first-time try) to Mad Men seems like quite an option, if you ask me.