The first season of The Morning Show makes for a wild ride. We start with an over-the-top look at how a viral sensation lands a regional reporter the top morning news anchor spot in the business, and end with a searing condemnation of the patriarchy. Through it all, though, one actress has been delivering an epic deconstruction of her own public image. As Alex Levy, Jennifer Aniston isn’t just delivering one of the best performances of her career; she’s also showing us the jumble of live wires on the verge of blowing up her picture perfect facade.
The Morning Show is Apple TV+ dramatic look at what happens behind-the-scenes of a network morning news show. The show opens on the morning where it’s revealed that the show’s beloved male anchor, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell), has been ousted from his seat due to sexual misconduct. Aniston plays Mitch’s co-anchor, Alex Levy, who is something like what if America’s Sweetheart had to go through a mid-life crisis live on television. Worried that her job security is threatened, Alex makes a bold move and announces that Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), a Southern reporter who gained national attention when she lost her cool in the field, is her new co-anchor.
Aniston doesn’t play Alex like some Machiavellian mastermind, but as a woman pushed to the brink. Her choice to name Bradley as her partner isn’t a checkmate, but a wild Hail Mary toss. She’s floundering, but as committed to professionalism as she is, she makes her drowning look like synchronized swimming.
Indeed, Aniston’s strongest moments are the ones where she loses control. Not just the temper tantrums she throws behind-the-scenes, or a breakdown petting a dog on the air, but the way she rages at an adoring fan in today’s Season Finale, “You think you own me?!?” There’s even a particularly dishy scene closer the end of the episode where Aniston takes Alex’s manic energy to the next level, but I won’t spoil it here. The point is Aniston seems to revel in showing the desperate side of Alex, the angry side, and the broken side.
For decades, Jennifer Aniston has been held up as one of America’s most iconic actresses. As Rachel Green on Friends, she exuded a specific kind of cool girl energy that was sexy, chic, and downright relatable. Aniston has used that role to springboard herself into a celebrity who is known for being that perfectly cool girl-next-door. Like Alex Levy, her career is entrenched in her relatability. If she falters, fumbles, or literally fucks up, the illusion of her image fades away.
In The Morning Show, Aniston gets to show us the extraordinary work it takes to be this kind of universally beloved public figure. Superficially, we get to watch as Alex woefully examines her unmade face in the mirror and meticulously plops a variety of cosmetics on to create a flawless mask. But the real work is psychological. Aniston plays Alex as a woman tightrope walking through life. Every glance has its initial read, and then you see something deeper, almost sorrowful, behind her character’s eyes. It’s in these tiny tells that Aniston shows us how close Alex is to losing her control over herself, and how much more relatable the scared, furious, determined woman behind that picture perfect image actually is.
With Alex Levy, Aniston manages to do something akin to what her Morning Show co-star Reese Witherspoon did in the first season of Big Little Lies. As Madeline Martha McKenzie, Witherspoon peeled back the layers of her own public image: that of the perfect, chipper, Type A overachiever. Both performances show the burden of putting on an act in your every day life, and each reveal new depths of soulfulness in their actors.
The Morning Show hasn’t just given Jennifer Aniston the opportunity to do the best work of her career. It’s allowed her to comment on the stress of living your life as “America’s Sweetheart.” The Morning Show has let Jennifer Aniston break through the image of Rachel Green once and for all.