NEW YORK (AP) — Season two of “ The Morning Show, ” starring Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, had filmed just 13 days when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down production in March 2020.
The writers for the show about the behind-the-scenes drama of a morning news program soon decided that the scripts should reflect what was happening in the world. Instead of diving right into the chaos of the early days — lockdowns and quarantines — the new season, debuting Sept. 17 on Apple TV+, unfolds in the first months of 2020 leading up to the declaration of a pandemic. Before that, the coronavirus had been looming but seemed like a problem far removed.
“Everything that you’re doing while you don’t know what’s about to hit you is exactly what we were trying to capture,” said Witherspoon.
These script changes were a sense of deja vu for the writers. The planned plot of season one had also changed course. That revision incorporated the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements that exposed misconduct by men in media and entertainment, most notably disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
The first season saw Aniston and Witherspoon's characters often pitted against one another. In season two, there's less time to spar because everybody's got their own problems. Each character confronts questions of identity, in both how they're seen by the world at large and how they view themselves.
Desean Terry plays disenfranchised news anchor Daniel, who is told outright that he's as big as he's ever going to get so he should be satisfied. As a Black man, he feels a responsibility to represent people of color and share their stories, and he's not getting the opportunity to do so.
“I hope people see those nuances that can happen," said Terry. “The system wears on you and it starts to actually really impact you in this very deep and personal way and you take on the cost. We see him call out the system but also an insecurity creeps in.”
Mark Duplass' character, Chip, who could have been a walking advertisement for Pepto-Bismol in season one as the executive producer of The Morning Show, now isn't sure where he fits in when he's not the boss.
“He’s being pulled back to the power that he used to have that he no longer has," said Duplass. "I think white men are struggling a lot right now with the loss of that, and they get real fussy when they lose it. They don’t know how to deal with it.”
The complexities of cancel culture are examined as well. “The Morning Show” looks at what can happen next for someone who has been publicly outed for their behavior, the paranoia over being guilty by association to a canceled person, and how it's easier said than done to erase someone from your life.
“My question always was, ‘What happens to these (canceled) people?’ said Aniston. “The beauty of the writing is just the head-on honesty. Saying what people say behind closed doors.”
Aniston's portrayal of Alex Levy, a beloved, trusted TV personality who runs hot and cold off screen, earned her an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination and a SAG award win.
“She’s a labyrinth of a human being,” said Aniston of her character, adding that she's met people like Alex “along the way.”
“I’ve worked with them, where you just don’t know what you're gonna get. They always scare me,” Aniston said.
Some of the best moments of season two are Aniston's scenes with Duplass. Their characters have a long, shared work history and in seconds can go from friends without filters to spewing deep, cutting vitriol.
“I think part of the reason why people respond to Chip and Alex and their relationship like they do is because of the way that Jen and I really like each other," said Duplass. “We imbue that relationship with a playfulness and a love that also layers into the darkness and the toxicity that’s on the page. So as hard as some of those scenes are, I look forward to them.”
There's one scene with the two in a car that is hilarious and horrifying to watch.
Aniston says she told director Mimi Leder, “I think I've got about two (takes) in me" but calls the end result “fantastic” and “a purging.”
Billy Crudup, who plays enigmatic TV executive Cory Ellison, says his Emmy-winning role on “The Morning Show” has afforded him a delicious opportunity he thought was long gone.
“When you get into your 50s, there's a notion that you might have one or two more of these (roles) in your career," said Crudup. “To get to do something that’s as extravagant as this character is otherworldly.”
Season two adds Hasan Minaj ("The Daily Show,'' “Patriot Act with Hasan Minaj'') and Julianna Margulies (”The Good Wife'') to the cast.
“We had the best time,” said Witherspoon of Margulies. “I’ve always been a fan of hers. I’ve known her a little bit socially, but just getting to spend that time with her is so meaningful to me. And can I say I loved working with Hassan because he made me laugh so hard."