There’s a scene in the third episode of Apple TV’s “The Morning Show” that might make you almost forget that you’re watching Jennifer Aniston.
She reaches a breaking point after discovering that the network had been trying to replace her before the explosive allegations surfaced and demands that her new contract grant her approval over Mitch’s replacement. When UBA balks, she makes a decision that ties the network’s hands: publicly naming Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon), previously a field reporter for a conservative-leaning outlet, as her co-host at an awards gala filled with her industry peers.
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A few scenes later, Alex — still in her glitzy gala attire — is in the UBA boardroom. The camera pans out as Alex listens to the network’s president (Tom Irwin) lambaste her “disrespect and insubordination” as he notes that the network has every right to fire her. He tells her she’s embarrassed herself. Aniston takes a sip of water before slamming it down on the table.
“Are you done?” she asks, her icy glare fixed on the camera. “The part you guys never seem to realize is that you don’t have the power anymore. The news division is held up by my show. And the only thing keeping us afloat is me. Because guess what? America loves me and therefore I own America.”
The network head asks if she’s trying to justify her decision to go rogue and name Bradley as her co-host. Alex slaps her hand on the table. “You’re not listening! I don’t need to justify anything. You all are so convinced that you are the rightful owner of all the power that it doesn’t even occur to you that someone else could be in the driver’s seat.
“So we have to just gingerly step around your male egos to not burst this precious little bubble,” she continues. “Well surprise, I’m bursting it. We are doing this my way because, frankly, I’ve let you bozos handle this long enough.”
Reviews for the Apple TV drama have been mixed, with critics noting the show’s grandiose and overwrought dialogue, but Aniston, 50, has been lauded for her performance. It’s exciting to see her as a woman (of‚ yes, a certain age) taking control of her career and legacy — particularly since Aniston, despite her vast filmography, is still widely associated with the well-coiffed 20-something she played on “Friends.”
The NBC sitcom holds a revered place in television history, but Aniston’s résumé proves she’s much more than the woman who played Rachel Green. Throughout her career, Aniston has earned Oscar buzz for roles that took similar detours from her most iconic character. She played a woman trapped in an unfulfilling marriage in 2002′s “The Good Girl,” which prompted the first rumblings about Aniston as a serious actress. She also earned praise (and a Golden Globe nod) for her performance in the 2014 film “Cake,” in which she starred as a woman struggling with emotional trauma and chronic pain following a tragic car accident.
Aniston has also contended with tabloids crafting their own narratives about her personal life. Her role on “The Morning Show” is electrifying, in part, because it’s not a stretch to imagine Aniston driven by constructive anger — in fact, it’s reminiscent of the essay she wrote for HuffPost three years ago in response to incessant speculation about whether she was pregnant. “For the record, I am not pregnant, what I am is fed up,” she declared as she denounced intrusive coverage that furthered “this notion that women are somehow incomplete, unsuccessful, or unhappy if they’re not married with children.”
“The Morning Show” is Aniston at her most fiery: dropping f-bombs, demanding respect and, as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) would say, reclaiming her time. But it isn’t all boardroom battles — Friday’s new episode finds Alex at an emotionally vulnerable point as the show explores the toll her demanding career has had on her marriage and family. In the episode that premiered last week, Aniston sings a “Sweeney Todd” duet (opposite Broadway veteran Billy Crudup, who stars as smarmy network exec Cory Ellison). The scene unfolds as a moment of accord between Alex and Cory, but as Vulture’s recap points out, the song choice — “Not While I’m Around” — hints at a darker possibility. The message: Don’t underestimate Alex Levy.
After decades in an industry known for limiting opportunities for women, especially as they age, Aniston undoubtedly knows how it feels to be underestimated. But refreshingly, she embraces all of her roles — even the one that threatened to render her typecast per an all-too-familiar Hollywood tradition. While accepting the People’s Icon award at the People’s Choice Awards earlier this month, she referenced the 10 seasons she spent on “Friends.”
“If I have any claim to this word ‘icon,’ it’s only because I was able to be on an iconic show, with an iconic cast and an iconic haircut. I mean ‘Friends’ was truly the gift of a lifetime, and I would not be standing up here without that amazing show, without those amazing five other actors and with an audience who stuck with us for a decade.”
“It’s paved the way for everything that I’ve had the chance to do since,” Aniston added. “And it feels so good, also, that I get to be back on television where it all really started.”