By Manik Sharma Sep. 22, 2021
Jennifer Aniston’s career was largely limited to latching onto the leftover charms of Rachel, her career-defining role in Friends. But with The Morning Show, she has made the leap no one would have thought she would.
A lot of artists, actors especially, wish for critically acclaimed success, to be seen as the stalwarts of their trade as opposed to the highest-paid or the most popular. A dichotomy exists in the world of entertainment and it is bridged only by a handful of veterans who can do both massy populist fare and the odd indie gem. Nicolas Cage, for example, is a bewildering acting dynamo who has done everything from Michael Bay-directed mindless action films to indies that no one has even heard of. He is adored for his whimsical charms in both spaces, and can evidently hold his own too. The cast of FRIENDS, the mammoth sitcom that just won’t age, also consigned its six protagonists to be remembered through the show for their artistic peaks. That is until Jennifer Aniston decided to shed her blonde pixie persona and took to the role of Alex Levy in Apple Tv’s The Morning Show, with the kind of disarming hunger that it seems Rachel was just a glimpse of all she could as an actor, be.
The Morning Show is more about the troubles of a landmark show and its constituent team rather than the business of journalism itself.
The Morning Show’s first season was a racy re-telling of a famous MeToo scandal that rocked broadcast television in 2019. Aniston plays Levy, with a poignant yet frightful streak of survivor stubbornness. It helps that in this show, Aniston is surrounded by acting heavyweights like Steve Carell, Billy Crudup and Reese Witherspoon. Naturally, they bring out the best in each other. Levy plays the snide mentor to Witherspoon’s younger rebel. Levy has a complicated relationship with Mitch Kessler, Steve Carell in a stunningly poisonous role. Kessler is accused of sexual misconduct but he wants to go down pointing fingers at other people who were in on it. Morally, it’s a strange position for a show to take, but this both-side-ism makes the characters on the show that much more complex.
One of the key criticisms of The Morning show through its first few episodes was its inability to decide whether it wanted to castigate the media or elaborate upon it. There is an evil and inglorious streak of selfishness running through the business, but none of it is really ever explored. The Morning Show is more about the troubles of a landmark show and its constituent team rather than the business of journalism itself. In keeping its own politics middle of centre it allows its characters to wander before their find their footing. This journey, for all its hiccups and barriers, is best embodied by the bitter pills that Alex Levy has to swallow. There is no salvation on offer for Levy, even though becoming a feminist icon or the ‘one who raised her voice’ seem to be obvious choices. Levy has sustained herself in a men’s business by casually becoming a part of their tribe. It has eaten her up on the inside but that price to her is fair for everything it has amounted to in return.
A position of privilege yes, but one which couldn’t have been earned without making her unfair share of compromises.
In The Morning Show, Aniston sheds her stardom to wear a crown of thorns. A position of privilege yes, but one which couldn’t have been earned without making her unfair share of compromises. Levy has the look of a battle-hardened soldier who spontaneously gives herself to live like a person who has built walls around her that every now and then give way to a moment’s carelessness. In one scene from the first season, in the shadow of a raging wildfire, Levy breaks character after she encounters an estranged dog. It’s a quietly poignant moment, one which tells us as much about Levy the star anchor as it does about Aniston, the unexplored actor. Levy is bereaved, lonely and besotted by guilt for having taken the path she has. But often in the argument between which is bigger and more significant, it is her harshly earned stardom that she chooses over the five-minute heroism of burning it all to the ground. It’s the only thing, after all, that is hers.
It’s hard to predict which Levy turns up at what turn of the narrative and thus it gloriously embodies the unpredictability of a woman’s fortune at the highest of social and political positions.
In the second season, The Morning Show takes an even more intimate turn, belatedly becoming about journalism and the complications of running a media outlet in the age of infotainment. Levy returns from exile where she has been working on a tell-all book. Her relationship with Mitch, she still wants to hold onto. Her morality is both loose-handed and yet knotted in places. It’s hard to predict which Levy turns up at what turn of the narrative and thus it gloriously embodies the unpredictability of a woman’s fortune at the highest of social and political positions. Everyone adores your story but they would, if given the opportunity, appreciate the scandalous nature of its decline even more. Everything, the show tells us, is educated by the tone of gossip, be it news or the lives of people who bring it to your room. It’s some compliment then that in a show featuring the likes of Carrell and Witherspoon – two cinema-trained actors – Aniston manages to distance herself from the Rachel of yore enough to make us forget about her. Of the six friends, incredibly, she is the one who has made the leap no one thought she had in her.