As we prepare for the 28th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble work for your consideration. For more voting guides and roundups, we’ve got you covered here.
Main cast: Jennifer Aniston, Shari Belafonte, Eli Bildner, Nestor Carbonell, Steve Carell, Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass, Amber Friendly, Janina Gavankar, Valeria Golino, Tara Karsian, Hannah Leder, Greta Lee, Julianna Margulies, Joe Marinelli, Michelle Meredith, Ruairi O’Connor, Joe Pacheco, Karen Pittman, Victoria Tate, Desean K. Terry, Reese Witherspoon
Casting by: Victoria Thomas
Created by: Jay Carson and Kerry Ehrin
Distributed by: Apple TV+
With “The Morning Show,” executive producer–stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon prove that actors can be visionaries behind the camera, too. If you were to tune in to the Apple TV+ drama without knowing a thing, it would still be apparent that the two leading ladies have infused their creativity and work ethic into its DNA. The series prioritizes the ensemble’s collective world-building and trusts its stars to handle huge dramatic swings.
Developed by Kerry Ehrin and created by Jay Carson, “The Morning Show” is both a jewel in Apple TV+’s crown and popcorn entertainment. The series checks both those boxes by reflecting today’s real-life issues while also keeping us hooked on its high-octane drama. Given the source material—Brian Stelter’s book “Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV”—that drama is inevitable, and top-notch directing from Mimi Leder, Tucker Gates, Rachel Morrison, and others takes it to another level.
“The Morning Show” Season 2 picks up after the explosive Season 1 finale. Following the dismissal of the titular news show’s anchor Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) due to sexual predation allegations, his longtime co-host Alex Levy (Aniston) brings on field reporter Bradley Jackson (Witherspoon) to replace him. The two become champions of the #MeToo movement, exposing the network’s cover-ups of scandals live on the air.
The show’s sophomore season further seeks to mirror our times. It begins on New Year’s Eve 2019, charting COVID-19’s shift from obscure news tidbit to full-blown catastrophe. The pandemic presents jaw-dropping twists for Alex and Mitch, the latter having fled to Italy to escape public scrutiny and to contemplate his reputation, shame, and (perhaps) eventual repentance.
Aniston’s SAG Award–winning turn as the power-hungry Alex is as riveting as ever; the actor ramps up the dramatic anticipation without abandoning her off-center—even campy—comedic sensibilities. Witherspoon, meanwhile, continues to deliver righteous fury and sarcasm so sharp it could cut you as Bradley. This season expands her character’s existential crisis, making us both recoil and feel for her. Julianna Margulies joins her as Laura Peterson, a veteran news anchor with absolutely nothing to prove but much to teach Bradley, both professionally and personally.
Billy Crudup’s Emmy-winning Cory Ellison, a rising network executive and corporate cockroach you just can’t kill, becomes more vulnerable as the chaos he’s helped create intensifies. He remains the embodiment of privileged men everywhere, always consuming, always wanting more; so why do we root for his success? Meanwhile, watching Mark Duplass’ Chip Black give in to stress so intense that it verges on absurd is the show’s richest source of dark comedy. His painfully complex dynamic opposite Aniston should be examined in scene study classes.
Surrounding this core group are those left to constantly navigate redrawn battle lines and clean up the messes: Karen Pittman (Mia), Greta Lee (Stella), Nestor Carbonell (Yanko), and Desean Terry (Daniel) portray people who feel like real-life co-workers.
Pepper in guest actors who up the star wattage of each episode, and “The Morning Show” Season 2 becomes required viewing. Marcia Gay Harden returns as a scoop-hunting reporter, Holland Taylor delivers nonchalant boldness as a boardroom exec, and Hasan Minhaj threatens to steal the show as a charming co-anchor. Will Arnett, Kathy Najimy, Mindy Kaling, Bel Powley, and more drop in to solidify this show’s reputation.
After all, this is a series for actors, driven by actors, and populated by some of today’s best actors. We have Aniston and Witherspoon to thank for giving them the platform they so deserve.
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