Why Oscar voters shouldnt forget about these great lead-actress performances


Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering (very!) early and in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive.

If an award-worthy performance is unveiled in March, does it even make a sound?

The raves came in fast and furious for Lupita Nyong’o’s dual turn in Jordan Peele’s Us upon the film’s spring premiere at SXSW, and while the previous cycle’s Academy Awards had been handed out just a few weeks prior, Oscar buzz was already building. The film skewed a little commercial and genre-heavy for Hollywood’s biggest prize, true, but Nyong’o’s transformative, career-redefining performance — playing both a mother of two who’s harboring deep secrets, and a villainous doppelgänger who loves a good pair of scissors — felt like the best kind of Oscar bait. Having made her name in Hollywood for her brutally interior work in 12 Years a Slave (for which she won Best Supporting Actress), here she revealed her talents in a totally different, fantastically excessive mode. In her EW review of Us, Leah Greenblatt wrote, “Nyong’o’s extraordinary performance(s) almost single-handedly — or double-handedly, really — makes the movie.”

The only problem: The movie was released theatrically in March. There’s a reason studios and distributors crowd so many of their biggest contenders into the fall season; it’s when campaigning informally launches, when categories begin taking shape, when voters start racing around L.A. to catch exclusive screenings and pop in DVDs of those they missed. As September comes to a close, we’ve learned an enormous amount in the past month about which movies and actors are fit for the long haul, and which won’t go the distance. Why else would the Marriage Story team jet around the world, from Venice to Telluride to Toronto, in a little over a week?

Jordan Peele, it bears mentioning, bucked the trend with his brilliant first feature, Get Out: It went on to score nominations for Best Picture and lead actor Daniel Kaluuya, and won Best Original Screenplay, despite hitting theaters in February. But Us, while another huge commercial success, wasn’t quite the Zeitgeist phenomenon of its predecessor, and leaned a bit harder into horror-film conventions. And let’s just stick with the recent history of Best Actress: Last year, the only represented film not to premiere in the fall was Glenn Close’s The Wife, which was pretty close at Aug. 17 — and even that, as we know, likely suffered from the relative distance. In the five years before that — for a total of 25 performances — only two nominations were for films released before fall: Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine) and Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins).

Emily Aragones/Amazon Studios

But this year, one hopes the story might change a little bit and that Nyong’o, along with a few others, are remembered going into the season of critics’ accolades and precursor nominations. This week sees the U.S. release of Judy, for which Renée Zellweger is being touted — not incorrectly — as the overwhelming Best Actress frontrunner. She’s riding great reviews, a comeback narrative, and the kind of inside-showbiz story that voters gravitate toward. But she’s also benefiting from what is being presumptively called a weak field — weak, if only because some observers are merely looking at the thin slate to emerge out of the fall festivals. Beyond Zellweger, there’s Scarlett Johansson in Marriage Story, who’s terrific in the film if a little outshined by costar Adam Driver, and Cynthia Erivo, whose Harriet is perhaps too underwhelming to take her all the way, good as she is. We haven’t seen Charlize Theron (Bombshell) or Saoirse Ronan (Little Women) yet, but for fall premieres, that’s about it.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink the category this year: More great lead-actress performances than we can list reached theaters before Labor Day. Nyong’o, given the popularity of Us and sheer intensity of her performance, stands the best chance, currently, of sneaking into the final five. But there’s also Emmy-winner Elisabeth Moss showing a completely new side of herself as a self-destructive rock star in Her Smell; Julianne Moore at her best since her Oscar-winning Still Alice in the nuanced character study Gloria Bell; and Emma Thompson hitting hilariously high notes as a fading talk-show host in Late Night. Not only are each of these three worthy of inclusion in this (or any) year, but — like Nyong’o — they’re awards powerhouses. Voters don’t have to look very far here; they know who these women are.

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t single out Awkwafina, who proves herself as a powerhouse dramatic actress in The Farewell. The young rapper-comic occupies an interesting space in this discussion. The Farewell ranks among the year’s best-reviewed films and appears to be Sundance’s most lasting breakout. Each year, the festival yields at least one big Oscar contender, meaning it sticks around as a contender for (at least) a full calendar year: Call Me by Your Name (2018), Manchester by the Sea (2017), Brooklyn (2016), Boyhood and Whiplash (2015), and so on. (This year’s Oscars, it’s worth noting, was a very rare exception.) The Farewell, also featuring Lulu Wang’s beautiful autobiographical script and Shuzhen Zhou’s great supporting turn, may very well join that company. But to bring it back around, Awkwafina feels like a fresh, worthy, distinctive choice anyway — even if her movie is already out of theaters. As talk of a stale Best Actress field continues to mount, it feels appropriate to look at what’s come and gone to find a little life.

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The gang makes history: Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia cast on their record-tying run


Arriving at the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia set, you might first think you’ve stumbled into a different part of Pennsylvania. Scranton, to be exact, considering that the FXX comedy recently moved into the building that was once home to NBC’s The Office. That fun fact also serves as a telling marker of Always Sunny’s impressive — and surprising — longevity. The two shows premiered just months apart back in 2005, but nearly a decade and a half later, The Office has been off the air for six years while Sunny is on the verge of making history.

The origins of Sunny go back to actor friends Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day growing frustrated with auditioning and opting to create their own content. With little money and a camcorder, they shot a pilot, which was eventually bought by FX. The show would go on to chronicle the misadventures of four degenerate friends as they occasionally run Paddy’s Pub in the City of Brotherly Love. Joining Mac (McElhenney), Charlie (Day), and Dennis (Howerton) in the first aired episode was Dee (McElhenney’s future wife, Kaitlin Olson), while Danny DeVito was recruited ahead of season 2 to play Dennis and Dee’s wealthy father, Frank — and to help boost the show’s popularity. The bump wasn’t immediate, but Sunny would survive initial low ratings, Emmy snubs, and a network move to eventually tie The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet as the longest-running live-action sitcom, by season count, in American television history.

Ahead of the record-tying 14th season, Day, Howerton, McElhenney, Olson, and DeVito sat down with EW on the Sunny set to look back on their notable run, explain how they became a voice for social and political commentary, and ponder whether the end is near.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This show has always been unique in that you’re so involved in every facet of making the show. So now in season 14, are you still as hands-on? How different is filming season 14 versus filming season 2 or 3?
KAITLIN OLSON: It’s a well-oiled machine at this point. We’re cranking out our days so fast, we’re like, “Oh yeah, we can slow down and play around like we did in the first few seasons.”
ROB MCELHENNEY: It’s less stressful for us. Well, it’s still just as much work, but it’s less stressful because we have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t work. We’re laughing a lot more. I think in the beginning we were just still trying to figure out what the show was and who the characters are, and that’s stressful.
GLENN HOWERTON: It has been a fun year. It’s always a lot of work, though. Because we’re involved in every aspect of it, so it’s exhausting.
CHARLIE DAY: Something about the scripts we wrote this year feels to me like some of the older seasons of Sunny.
HOWERTON: There’s been a lot of great, smaller relationship episodes.
OLSON: Also, you’re not really having to work on your character. [Laughs] You’re just showing up to rehearsal, doing it as scripted a few times, and then trying to make each other laugh.
DANNY DEVITO: Everything we do seems like it’s a lot of fun. It’s really weird, because I guess this is 14, and it doesn’t seem to be. For me, it doesn’t get old. I just love going to work.
OLSON: For Danny and I, we work two months out of the year on this show. These guys are writing, and then after we’re done with production, they go and edit it. It’s a no-brainer for us.
DAY: When we were young, it was so new, and I mourn the loss of the newness of everything, because that’s just an exciting time in your life where just the opportunity to get to do it really fuels you in a way.
HOWERTON: Kaitlin just posted on Instagram from our last day of shooting season 1, and we were in my trailer and drinking straight out of a bottle of whiskey.
DAY: Celebrating, “We did it!” And we didn’t know if we’d ever get to do it again — and here we are 14 years later. But one of the advantages now is really having a better grasp on how to do it, so that we manage our time better, and in some ways, it’s less stressful because we know everything will come together. Whereas you don’t have the youthful excitement, you don’t have the youthful angst too.

How surreal does it feel to hear “14 seasons”? A lot of shows do seven seasons and people are like, “Okay, we get it, wrap it up.” But you all seem immune to that.
DEVITO: It’s crazy. It goes by fast. I did five seasons on Taxi, that’s it.
OLSON: I feel like when we’re in it, it’s not, but then when I see pictures or hear people talk about episodes that were a decade ago, that’s when it’s crazy, because it feels like a lifetime ago.
MCELHENNEY: The Office shot here and they started the same year as us, and it seems like they’ve been off the air for a while — and were on the air for a while.
OLSON: That’s a long time. Basically we’re just getting old and we don’t like thinking about it, so next question. [Laughs]
MCELHENNEY: We have the luxury of only doing 10 episodes a year, that’s huge. It allows us to have a tremendous amount of free time. So when we come back and it takes six or seven months to make this series, we’re fresh. And then beyond that, it’s because we all still love it and we’re still having fun, and there’s no disconnect between the writers and the actors, because we’re one and the same.
HOWERTON: It feels more like being in a band than being on a show. I’ve been on other shows [Howerton currently stars on A.P. Bio], and there’s something so much more expansive about those other things. You’ve got the directors and writers and producers and actors, and they’re all different people. We are like a band. We write and play all of our own music. And we’ve been together for 14 years, writing and playing and performing, and all the internal fights and struggles that go along with that, the sort of internal therapy sessions.
DAY: I can see it that way too, where the time flies by, because what are you we going to do, not make music this year?
HOWERTON: That’s the thing, every year we put out a new album.
DAY: Let’s get in the garage for a few months, come up with something, and then do a few shows. It does feel like that, which is cool. Even though I can’t really say because I was never in a band. [Laughs]
HOWERTON: It’s what I imagine it to be. It feels like you’re on stage with a group of musicians that you’ve been playing with for a very long time. Like, I know exactly what I need to say to tee Charlie up. It’s like we speak our own language.
DAY: When you go do another show or movie and you’re working in a different style with different people, you forget, “Oh yeah, it doesn’t just all click in the same way that this clicks.” You have to find the way that the other thing clicks.
HOWERTON: Yeah, it messes me up a little bit sometimes. Because I come up thinking, “Okay, if I say this, then he’ll say this,” and he doesn’t. And I’m like, “Oh right, that isn’t Charlie.” But I do think it is actually important for us to get out and play with other musicians, to take that analogy further, but it’s always fun to come back together and be home. It’s like a family.

After season 1, it seemed like the show was truly at risk of being canceled, and then Danny was brought in and the rest is history. When did you feel like you started to be truly embraced?
MCELHENNEY: Probably for the first four years we were like, “Oh, that was fun, but that’s it. No one’s watching, so we will just move on with it.” But we always thought we had something good, it was just a matter of getting people to watch it.
DEVITO: They did seven episodes, and [FX CEO] John Landgraf, who I’m good friends with, called and told me to take a look at this show, “See what you think about it, because I don’t know what the future of the show is going to be.” I looked at it, and then I think six months later, Landgraf called me up and said, “We’re thinking of doing the show, we want to put someone in it, are you interested?” And I said, “Yeah.” What made me do it was the fun of it. I love to have a good time. Let’s see, I’m 30 years older than them, so it’s kind of like hanging out with your kids. Glenn and Kaitlin are my kids on the show, but I feel like they’re all my kids.
MCELHENNEY: Season 5 was when we realized, “Oh, there’s an audience.”
OLSON: People came out of the woodwork, and everyone’s thing was that they wanted to claim that they had been watching from the beginning.
MCELHENNEY: We’ve been doing this so long that it was before real social media.
OLSON: This is back in the MySpace days.
MCELHENNEY: So there was no barometer, like you just really didn’t know. It was only Nielsen ratings, which everyone kind of recognizes is bulls‑‑‑. Now you can go on your phone and see exactly how people feel, or at least the vociferous 10 percent — we didn’t even have that. And walking around L.A., no one seems to care anyway, because there are so many other shows and movies. So when we went out into the real world with the live Nightman Cometh show ahead of season 5 and went to places like Philadelphia, Seattle, New York, and San Francisco, you got a good sense of how popular the show as.

Last year you did a Time’s Up episode and the episode with Mac coming out to his dad. But that’s not anything new for you — you’ve been doing it from the beginning, whether it’s the housing crisis or gun control. How have you been able to so hilariously give this social commentary through the years?
MCELHENNEY: We’re always really careful about it. It’s not about laying out some political or social agenda — and it’s not because we’re afraid to do that — it’s because we don’t feel like it’s our place to do that with the show. Our job with the show is to entertain people, and one of the ways we try to do that is to take the conversations that people are having culturally right now and try to put them through the prism of a 22-minute sitcom. And we wind up jumping into these hot-button issues where people feel so passionately about them, and then what we try to do is find the margins, since whoever is in the 10 percent on either side tends to be insane. On the left and right, progressive or conservative, that far hardcore 10 percent tends to be crazy people — and those are the kinds of people that we are on the show and the kinds of stories that we like to tell.
DAY: It’s the greatest gift that this show provides to us, the ability to have a voice that can have a comedic take on anything.
HOWERTON: We sort of accidentally fell into that. We became these characters that could represent a side of an argument, and the characters have become a mouthpiece for a certain way of thinking that exists in society. It’s always the loudest, most extreme people that are heard, so watching the extreme points of view play out to their inevitable finish line is a fun way to satirize the fact that being really extreme in your point of view is never really going to get anything done.
DAY: I think people are nervous these days about what they say — maybe for the best, maybe not. And it’s probably a relief for people that there’s a television show based on a bunch of characters who always say the wrong thing. [Laughs] So it’s kind of fun that you can at least get the chance to see someone say the wrong thing and laugh at them, or with them, depending on where you fall on the sides of the spectrum.
HOWERTON: It’s an equal-opportunity show. We’re going after anybody who’s got a really strong ideological point of view and refuses to look at the facts. Right from the beginning, we were tackling things like, “Let’s make something funny that most people don’t want to talk about, but that you do talk about.” The whole cancer thing in season 1: Your friend has cancer but nobody ever wants to talk about the guy who is like, “Is it bad that I don’t want to listen to my friend bitch about the fact that he has cancer and I just want to get the f‑‑‑ out of his apartment?”
DAY: We thought that those uncomfortable situations were really fertile soil for comedy, so that is why we were writing towards that. But FX was the one pushing us towards making entire episodes about those things. But sometimes the episodes are just about going to a water park and what’s going to happen there. I think if it was all one or all the other, then the show wouldn’t have lasted this long.

Rob, what have you enjoyed about exploring Mac’s sexuality? There have always been hints about him being gay, but you’ve really focused on it in the last two seasons.
MCELHENNEY: I think making sure that we are very careful to not change the fact that Mac is an abhorrent person. And that was something we made a concerted effort on, to make sure we were servicing a very large part of our community, which is the LGBTQ community, and we wanted to make sure that we were having a character who was going to come out in a way that would feel satisfying and be in the tone of the Sunny, while also not just all of a sudden dramatically changing Mac’s character, because that just wouldn’t resonate with Sunny. And I feel like that’s something I hear over and over again from our fans, who say, “Hey, man, it’s great that Mac came out and it’s great that you didn’t change him, that he’s still so unlikable and such an a‑‑hole and that everyone hates him.” That is true inclusion, as opposed to saying he’s come out and now all of a sudden he’s this great guy. It doesn’t work like that. True inclusion is bringing the LGBTQ down into the gutter with us.

What was the reaction like to your epic dance number in the season 13 finale?
MCELHENNEY: It was both negative and positive, which is one of those things we talked about. It’s great to surprise people and have them not have any idea what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. I have people saying, “Oh my God, I love this, it’s one of the best things you’ve ever done,” and then I have other people saying, “You’ve destroyed my show, you’ve ruined it.” And I’m like, “Great!” That’s exactly what we should be doing on the show, is we should be destroying somebody’s idea of what Sunny is on a regular basis.
OLSON: It was kind of weird just how many people would just blatantly comment on his body and to me, and we were like, “What would happen if they were commenting on my body to you? Like, ‘Ahh, Kaitlin’s chest…’”
MCELHENNEY: A lot of people didn’t like it. Because a lot of people felt like it didn’t fit into the lexicon of what the show is. And I can’t say that they’re wrong, but the difference is that I get to dictate what the lexicon is and they don’t, and that’s a part of the experience.

Danny, you’ve gotten real down and dirty on Sunny. Hell, you’ve even gotten greased up and emerged naked from a couch. Is there anything you won’t do for a laugh?
DEVITO: In life I think you’ve got to have that attitude, as long as you’re doing it for fun and you’re having a good time and not hurting anybody. You have to have compassion and mercy. I keep saying to them, “Just push the envelope — what can you do?” It’s kind of like a challenge, the Frank challenge. I wouldn’t skydive, I don’t think, I’m chicken. I limit my stunts, I’ve got a stunt guy, but I do quite a bit of things. As long as it’s funny, I’ll slime around and s‑‑‑ like that.

Kaitlin, you’re used to Dee getting crapped on all the time. Do you just want them to keep finding new ways to make her life miserable?
OLSON: Dee should be dead. It’s so funny to me. I don’t think I can articulate why, but I find myself skimming story lines to see where I’m going to be exploded or beaten or whatever. It makes me laugh. Like when she tried to become a comedian. That was so mean. My favorite part of that episode was filming the twist, because we didn’t really rehearse it this way, and having no idea that when I walked out, the way Charlie and Mac celebrated, they almost started crying they were celebrating so hard, and throwing champagne all over each other. It was so victorious and so emotional for them that they did this thing. Oh my God, it was so funny to me.
MCELHENNEY: Dennis didn’t know, though. He was getting so mad that he didn’t know it was fake. So really the joke was also on Dennis and he’s like, “No, no, it’s not.” Even in that, ultimately, the true target was Dennis. He would be the one who would revel in it the most. So Dee can’t even be the butt of her own joke.

As we’re on set, you’re shooting a laser tag episode, but what else should we expect in this historic season 14?
MCELHENNEY: Every year is the exactly the same in terms of the approach, which is to try and do things that would be “stereotypical” episodes of Sunny, very Sunny-esque episodes with a similar structure, and then we try to mix up a few. We always notice that people either love or hate those different ones. And that’s great, that’s part of the experience. I truly and firmly believe that if we were just giving something by the numbers week to week, that ultimately we wouldn’t be going into season 14. It would just get tired. If they hate an episode every once and a while, that’s fine as long as they keep coming back to see what they might love or hate the following week.
DAY: This laser tag episode that we’re shooting right now is a Waiting for Godot-themed laser tag episode, which America has always wanted.
MCELHENNEY: And this is one people are going to hate. [Laughs]
DAY: We have film noir episode, shot in black and white, using much fancier cameras than we shoot our show on. It makes you realize we should shoot on those cameras anyway. Oh, we got Dolph Lundgren!
HOWERTON: Playing John Thunder Gun. And I directed two episodes this year.
DAY: Which was great. It felt like old-school Sunny to me, when we started as just a couple of guys with cameras.
OLSON: There’s a great episode called “The Right to Chop,” where the guys weigh in very heavily on whether Dee should be able to cut her own hair, because they have to look at it, which I love. We have an episode on global warming.
MCELHENNEY: Again, we’re not saying anything… Well, we are in that episode a little bit. But really we’re just watching as the temperature in the bar is rising and rising and rising and the air conditioning eventually breaks, and all we’re asking people to do is, “We don’t have to stop, we just have to slow down a little bit.” But nobody wants to slow down, they want the party to keep going, and to tragic results. But that is the impending doom that is It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — and our species.

Have you thought about the end? Clearly you have to do at least one more to break the record.
MCELHENNEY: For us, we just have a short checklist: Do we still enjoy it, are we still having fun, are we still stretching ourselves creatively, and is the audience still there? It seems like all those boxes keep getting checked, so we keep coming back.
DAY: It’s whether we can put out a good season of television. So it’s always making sure everyone has the time and desire to put in the hard work we put in to make the show what we think it is.
DEVITO: There’s no rumblings about stopping. Next year we’ll come back and do another season and just keep going. Right now I’m having everyone sign this script for a friend of mine’s kid who is in England and went through something. It’s his favorite show and he pops it on when he feels like he needs a lift. He’s 11. So our fanbase is growing; we have older guys, women, 11-year-old kids. If we can be like Warner Bros. cartoons, let’s do it. Throw on a Looney Tunes once and a while and see what Frank and the gang are doing. Maybe we’ll expand in the next couple years to some really specific special-effects things, because don’t you think we should all be able to fly? [Laughs] No skydiving, though!

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia returns to FXX on Wednesday at 10 p.m. ET.

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EWs complete guide to the 2019 National Book Award nominations


The National Book Award nominations for 2019 are in, and EW has you covered.

Over the past week, the National Book Foundation has released the longlists for each of the award’s five categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, Young People’s Literature, Translated Literature, and Poetry. Many of the titles recognized, as it happens, are EW favorites — and we’ve been covering them accordingly.

For those looking at this massive group of 50 books and not knowing where to start, we’re here to help. Below, check out EW’s coverage of the nominated books we’re most excited about, and get caught up on what you need to know so you’re ready to discuss them at your next book-club meeting.


Elisabeth Caren for EW; Grove Press

Earlier this summer, EW featured five authors on our Hot Summer Debut Authors roundtable. Excitingly, two were named National Book Award nominees this week: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, for her clever divorce novel Fleishman Is in Trouble, and Sarah M. Broom, for her intimate New Orleans memoir The Yellow House. EW’s Leah Greenblatt reviewed Fleishman, calling it “genuinely, unexpectedly profound,” and you can also watch an exclusive spotlight on Broom discussing her process writing The Yellow House.

Two more first-time books that you need on your radar offer gorgeous, at times devastating windows into unique cultural experiences: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, a lush novel centered on a queer Vietnamese immigrant coming of age in America, and Julia Phillips’ Disappearing Earth, a literary thriller tracing the fallout of two girls’ disappearance on a remote Russian peninsula. Check out our reviews.


These powerhouse novels were as brilliant as they were successful, each landing a coveted spot on the New York Times best-seller list. Colson Whitehead managed the impossible by not only living up to the expectations set by his 2016 phenomenon The Underground Railroad — which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award — but perhaps even exceeding them with The Nickel Boys, a searing account of life under Jim Crow, set at an abusive reform school. EW’s David Canfield profiled the author ahead of the novel’s release, and it’s gone on to sell over 100,000 physical copies in the U.S. alone.

Marlon James also set quite a task for himself with Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first epic novel in a fantasy trilogy originally pitched as the “African Game of Thrones,” but which reads entirely like its own fascinating, maddening, immersive creation. The author revealed to EW’s Seija Rankin that one of his big inspirations for the book was, of all things, the Showtime relationship drama The Affair, and in our review, we dubbed the novel a “revolutionary book.” (Michael B. Jordan acquired the series for cinematic development shortly after it published.)

Finally, on the nonfiction side, there’s Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, a stunningly reported account of a long-unsolved crime in Ireland, and the decades of trauma the author unearths in the process of investigating it. It’s a literary page-turner that doubles as an illuminating historical take on The Troubles, but one reason why it was named one of EW’s 10 best books of 2019 (so far) back in June.


Maybe this group wasn’t as commercial, but EW couldn’t recommend them more highly. Perhaps no novel in 2019 more effectively and urgently spoke to the current political climate than Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans, a crime saga set in California’s Yucca Valley that follows a Muslim-American family and their surrounding community after the patriarch is killed in an apparent hit-and-run. Read our review.

Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise sparked debate in the best way over its twisty structure and provocative ending. The sharp story of life at a performing arts high school in an unnamed Southern city quickly veers into something much more daring, and while some readers balked at the shake-up, as our review raves, it’s a gonzo literary performance that demands a close read.

And EW’s Leah Greenblatt couldn’t get enough of Helen Phillips’ The Need, an ingenious horror novel that meditates on the stark realities of motherhood. While we can’t promise a breezy page-turner, we can promise it’ll give you chills.


It’s been a great year for YA, and while there are some novels we’re bummed to see miss the cut (no Angie Thomas?!), still many more included here are among our favorites of 2019.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s work can be hard to recommend without warning, given its brutal honesty and graphic intensity, but the power of her poetic memoir SHOUT cannot be denied. It’s a follow-up of sorts to her YA classic Speak, and contains that same moral urgency that needs to be read to be believed.

EW also has excerpts of a pair of nominees: Pet, the mystical YA debut of Akwaeke Emezi, whose first book Freshwater published last year to great acclaim, and Look Both Ways, the latest lyrical achievement from genre superstar Jason Reynolds.

Of course, this only begins to cover a massive nominations slate, so be sure to check out the full list. And get reading!

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Oscars: Yes, Jennifer Lopez really is the frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress


Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering (very!) early and in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive.

Jennifer Lopez knows how to make an entrance. The actress’ magnetic first appearance in Hustlers — a sultry, extended pole dance to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” — is the buzziest scene in a film full of them, marking the transformation of a cinematic persona. Indeed, throughout Hustlers, Lopez is like you’ve never seen her. You can’t take your eyes off of her. She’s compelling, seductive, commandingly guiding the camera and holding the audience’s attention everywhere she goes. She’s a movie star.

Lopez and the Hustlers team has had plenty to celebrate recently: The film met an ecstatic response at its Toronto International Film Festival launch, generated strong reviews, and this past weekend, conquered the box office with a $30-plus million haul — the best opening of Lopez’s career, and a huge breakthrough for studio STX and director Lorena Scafaria (The Meddler). Faithfully adapted from Jessica Pressler’s New York magazine article, the film tracks a group of strippers pre- and post-2008 financial crash, who begin an elaborate scheme to stay afloat — and then some — by scamming horny Wall Street guys via increasingly dubious (and dangerous) methods.

In Ramona, the enigmatic but driven ringleader, Lopez has found her definitive role, a beguiling anti-hero well-versed in the powers of persuasion. Too many to count have called this the best performance of her career, and with that, the Oscar chimes are starting to ring. But there remain question marks: Can Lopez, who’s stuck mostly to fluffy rom-coms the past few decades, capture the Academy’s attention? And perhaps more importantly: Can Hustlers?

Such concerns speak to gendered bias in awards conversations: Hustlers is a slick, prestige con film of the sort that the Oscars tend to reward, though typically when fronted by a male cast. (Think The Usual Suspects.) And that’s to say nothing of the general derision often shown toward “stripper movies.” Yet as Hollywood continues to experience a sea change — as a movie like Hustlers, largely on the back of Lopez’s commercial appeal, can not only get made but thrive — it’s proving itself (tentatively) ready to embrace what used to be unfairly dismissed. This doesn’t mean to say Hustlers is on its way to a Best Picture nomination — but it’ll occupy a firm place in the conversation.

Put simply, Lopez has a lot going for her here — so much, in fact, that saying she isn’t the frontrunner at this stage, given the state of the field, feels a bit naive. (Lopez gives a clearly supporting turn opposite lead Constance Wu in Hustlers; in the unlikely event she campaigns for Best Actress, it’s a very different story.) For starters, the Academy loves a career redefinition: Mo’Nique proving she’s a dramatic powerhouse in Precious, Matthew McConaughey shedding pounds and finding soul in Dallas Buyers Club, and on. Lopez only benefits from the inevitable minimizing of her past screen work. Here, at last, she goes serious — and she does so brilliantly. It helps that like Mo’Nique and McConaughey, to stick with those reference points, Lopez will be gunning for her very first nomination.

Lopez’s work in Hustlers also allows her to showcase some impressive physicality. Scafaria has a habit of just holding the camera on the actress while she performs, particularly in that grand entrance, which is as much a demonstration of strenuous body work as anything else. Lopez knows when to live in her character’s skin — she doesn’t ring a false note — and when to show her work.

And I’d argue the field lacks a more obvious top contender than Lopez right now. Her toughest competition looks to be Laura Dern, a scene-stealer in Marriage Story. Most recently nominated for Wild, Dern is a beloved industry figure, and has a second meaty turn to bolster her case in the forthcoming Little Women. But unless you count Allison Janney’s monstrous — and relatively dramatic — I, Tonya role, comic work has found very little love in the category over the past 20-odd years. Other likely challengers in 2020 include Annette Bening, alternately uncanny and moving as Dianne Feinstein in The Report, and Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’s Margot Robbie, but each face unique obstacles. (Film visibility in the former’s case; screen time and dialogue… amount in the latter’s.) Little Women may field a major player, whether Dern or Meryl Streep or, especially intriguing, the surging Florence Pugh; we’ve still yet to see movies like Bombshell and The Irishman, which contain possibilities too.

But perhaps the most convincing factor regarding Lopez’s Oscar chances is the success of Hustlers itself. In its combination of box-office gross and water-cooler appeal, it’s emerging as the fall’s breakout film. And despite its stacked cast and broad appeal, Hustlers feels like a bit of an underdog, having struggled through development and facing harsh judgment before premiering. Lopez considers herself part of that narrative. “My life and career are about not letting people put me in their box,” she recently told EW, “but being limitless in that I can do many things, and you don’t get to tell me what those are.” Jennifer Lopez, underdog? Hey, she knows how to play the part.

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Damon Lindelof gives his first deep-dive Watchmen interview


Robert Redford has been president for 28 years. Cell phones and the internet are outlawed. Fossil fuels are a thing of the past. Costumed heroes were popular, then banned. Police wear masks to protect their identities and cannot use their guns without a dispatcher unlocking them first. Reparations were issued for racial injustice, and our country remains ever divided.

This is the alternate history America of Watchmen, HBO’s upcoming drama series from writer-producer Damon Lindelof (Lost, The Leftovers) that’s a bombastic mix of inspirations from Alan Moore’s “unfilmable” 1986 graphic novel infused with new characters and socio-political themes. “It’s so wildly ambitious and original, it’s like nothing I’ve seen before and also addresses important issues,” says director Nicole Kassell of Lindelof’s scripts.

The story is set three decades after the events in Moore’s Watchmen text. Most of the graphic novel’s iconic characters are apparently dead or in hiding, though a character we suspect is Adrian Veidt, a.k.a. Ozymandius, is kicking around in a mansion (and played with gilded smugness by Jeremy Irons), and the staggeringly powerful Doctor Manhattan is rumored to be hanging out on Mars. The focus instead is on a new character, Angela Abar, an Oklahoma police detective (The Leftovers‘ Regina King) with the secret superhero identity of Sister Night. Abar is investigating the reemergence of a white supremacist terrorist group inspired by the long-deceased moral absolutist Rorschach.

Below Lindelof gives his first in-depth interview about Watchmen, as well as discusses another title for the first time — The Hunt, a film he co-wrote with Nick Cuse that likewise touched on topical political divisions. The Hunt made headlines when it was pulled last month from its planned Sept. 27 release by studio Universal after President Trump and others attacked the film.

Entertainment Weekly: After The Leftovers, you probably could have done whatever you wanted. What made Watchmen right — aside from wanting a very difficult job?
Damon Lindelof: I ask my therapist that question on a weekly basis now. “Why, why Watchmen?” First and foremost this is something I love and something that made a very profound impression on me when I read it when I was 13 years old. In the same way, I wanted to work on a Star Trek movie [Star Trek Into Darkness] and an Alien movie [Prometheus] this is something from my childhood that I carry a tremendous amount of nostalgia for. The fantasy I indulged as a young man was maybe one day I can tell Watchmen stories. The first two times [Lindelof was offered the opportunity to write a Watchmen adaptation] it was incredibly tempting. I said no for various reasons. First and foremost, the timing didn’t feel right — [director Zack Snyder] had just made his [Watchmen] movie. And secondly, revisiting the source material meant adapting something that I knew was so perfect. I knew the best job I could do adapting the original Watchmen was just being a really good cover band.

So is there a way to take this thing I love and be inspired by it, not erase it, but build upon its foundation? That depends on whether I have the right idea. The ideas started to come with what to do with Watchmen and then it didn’t really feel like a decision anymore but something I felt compelled to do. That sounds arrogant and full of hubris but when I haven’t made choices based on that feeling things haven’t turned out so well because then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. But when you get really inspired you have to chase it even if it leads to ruin.

You’ve said that the project is not a sequel and not a remake but a “remix” and I think some are confused by that. Can we accept that what happened in the comic/film happened in the past of your world? That if we re-read the graphic novel or watch Snyder’s movie that we have a firm handle on what occurred 30 years ago in this story?
Yes. Look, [the new series] certainly fits into the “sequel” box, and definitely doesn’t fit into the “reboot” box. We treat the original 12 issues as canon. They all happened. We haven’t done any revisionist history, but we can maneuver in between the cracks and crevices and find new stories there. But for all the reasons you just articulated, we wanted to make sure our first episode felt like the beginning of a new story rather than a continuation of an old story. That’s what I think a sequel is — the continuation of an old story.

After the Television Critics Association press conference this summer, some stories claimed Robert Redford was actually in your show because the president in HBO’s Watchmen for the last 28 years is “Robert Redford.” But the actor is not appearing, right? Were there any concerns about making a real person the president in your show and depicting their real-life liberal ideals as leading to a more totalitarian society without that person actually being involved?
The short answer is yes. I’ve had a lot of reservations about a lot of the creative choices made in the show. I don’t think any of the choices were made without reservations and conversations and ultimately a decision. I’m not entirely sure I’ll be able to defend every decision I made, but I’ll be able to explain why I made it. We had that conversation you’re suggesting. But the world of Watchmen is so heightened and so clearly it’s an alternate history that it will be clear to everyone we’re not talking about the real Robert Redford.

More importantly, the way we handle this story, you can’t blame Robert Redford for everything that’s happened in the world. The show says Redford has a liberal ideology, much like the actual Robert Redford, and he was incredibly well-intentioned in terms of the legislation he passed and the America that he wanted to create. But that doesn’t mean it worked out the way he wanted it to. And that’s not on him, that’s on us.

Can you tell us more about this alternative world beyond the lack of cell phones or Internet — which, of course, are also helpful to eliminate from a screenwriting perspective when telling dramatic stories?
Yes. We’re living in a world where fossil fuels have been eliminated as a power source. All the cars are zero emissions and run on electricity or fuel cells — largely thanks to the innovations of Dr. Mahattan decades earlier. There’s also this legislation that’s passed, Victims Against Racial Violence, which is a form of reparations that are colloquially known as “Redford-ations.” It’s a lifetime tax exemption for victims of, and the direct descendants of, designated areas of racial injustice throughout America’s history, the most important of which, as it relates to our show, is the Tulsa massacre of 1921. That legislation had a ripple effect into another piece of legalization, DoPA, the Defense of Police Act, which allows police to hide their face behind masks because they were being targeted by terrorist organizations for protecting the victims of the initial act. So … good luck sound biting that!

I saw the opening of your pilot depicting the massacre then Googled “Tulsa 1921” and — like you said in another interview — I was surprised and embarrassed that I hadn’t heard of this tragedy before. Why was that incident in particular, and Tulsa in general, the right setting for your story?
Like you just said, my ignorance of the fact that it happened made me feel compelled to educate others. And I could go around to my friends or put it on social media but I feel the biggest platform that’s been afforded me is I get to make television shows that potentially millions are going to watch. And for a show like Watchmen, which already had a built-in audience that has nothing to do with me, to use Watchmen as a delivery mechanism for this piece of erased history felt right as long as it was presented in a non-exploitative way.

Also, the superhero genre always feels like it takes place in New York, Gotham City or Metropolis. And Gotham City and Metropolis are just New York paradigms. So I was like: What does a superhero show look like in Oklahoma? That idea was interesting to me in terms of what it would look and feel like and kinds of people we would populate it with. I also just felt that tickle in my gut that was like, Do it here. That tickle has not always steered me right but it is the thing that makes me do the things I do.

In some ways, there’s also the added challenge of not just doing Watchmen but doing a superhero deconstruction story when there have so many other superhero deconstruction stories in recent years — from Kick-Ass to Deadpool to The Boys. Did that factor into your thinking as well? How do you break new ground on super anti-heroes when even that is now common?
That’s a great question. It’s almost like the truly subversive thing that you could do right now is to celebrate a superhero because the “dark” version, or deconstructed version, is so in the culture. And by the way, in the mid-80s, Watchmen and The Dark Knight both did it, so the idea of deconstructing the superhero myth is 30 years old.

Fully aware of that, I started to think that for Watchmen maybe the more interesting point is to think about masking and authority and policing as an adjunct to superheroes. In Watchmen, nobody has superpowers — the only super-powered individual is Dr. Manhattan and he’s not currently on the planet. In The Boys, you have superpowered individuals in capes that can shoot lasers out of their eyes and fly around and have feats of strength and turn invisible. Nobody on Watchmen can do that. So I felt like we wouldn’t be deconstructing the superhero myth because all the characters in Watchmen are just humans who play dress up. It would be more interesting to ask psychological questions about why do people dress up, why is hiding their identity a good idea, and there are interesting themes to explore here when your mask both hides you and shows you at the same time — because your mask is actually a reflection in yourself. What’s the trauma an individual has that goes into the mask they wear? All that felt Watchmen-y to me. Again, these are not original ideas, but ones I thought were timely when we all have these different identities in code now. 

You a sprawling cast. Is there somebody you want to single out who particularly surprised you with their take on they material?
I can’t say enough amazing things about Regina King. The opportunity to make her the star of the show is one of the reasons this was worth doing. It’s not that Regina hasn’t had opportunities to show the world what an incredible actor she is, but to be at the center of the show is a pretty big deal. She’s able to surprise me constantly with her choices as a performer even though I worked with her on The Leftovers for a season and I’ve seen everything she’s she’s ever done going back to 227 and Southland. Yet she’s still able to make choices that make me go, What? 

I also want to say that I’m constantly delighted — and I’m not a person that experiences the emotion of delight in my life — by what Jeremy Irons is doing in this show. I’m not only been a fan of his for decades, but I’m just delighted of the choices he’s making. 

And that’s not to the exclusion of anything that Jean Smart does, but she’s not introduced until the third episode. Tim Blake Nelson knocks my socks off. And last but not least — and again, there are others I’m not mentioning that are fantastic — Louis Gossett Jr. You don’t get to experience him much in the pilot but starting in the second episode and all through the season he’s a living legend and it was truly a gift to have him say our words.

I re-read your 2018 Instagram letter to fans about doing a Watchmen series and one line now pops out: “We also intend to revisit the past century of Costumed Adventuring through a surprising yet familiar set of eyes and it’s here we’ll be taking our greatest risk.” Does that refer to the fact that King’s character is an original creation yet the apparent focus of the story? I’m not sure — even after watching the pilot — I know what that means?
Very insightful. You should be in exactly the place that you are at the end of the pilot, which is: “I’m not sure what he’s talking about yet.” By the end of the sixth episode, it will be clear who I was talking about. There won’t be any space for debate. I think people will start to theorize who I was talking about prior to the sixth episode, but that’s the one that makes the subtext text.

Landing Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor as your composer was a big get for a TV show. He’s got such a specific style and the music makes a pretty big impact. What’s that collaboration been like?
It’s Trent and Atticus Ross, they do all their composition work together. We were talking hypothetically about composers and I love the composers that I’ve worked with in the past — like Michael Giacchino on Lost. With The Leftovers, I wanted the show to sound different than Lost so we got Max Richter, who was amazing. When talking about Watchmen, I had to start all over again with somebody I haven’t worked with before because the music is a big part of making shows unique and different from one another. At the top of my wishlist were Trent and Atticus. I called HBO and said, “Look, they haven’t done TV but it’s worth an inquiry.” And [HBO drama executive] Francesca Orsi said, “This is the weirdest thing but their reps called us this morning and asked about Watchmen.” Within 48 hours of that call, Trent and Atticus and I were in a room together and it turns out they’re huge Watchmen fans. They signed up on faith and faith alone. They get the scripts at the same time the actors do. They started writing the music even before we shot the pilot so we can get a sense in our heads of what it would sound like. It’s been incredible. They’re doing some cool stuff I can’t talk about stuff inside the world of Watchmen musically that I think is going to be really cool. They go deep.

I think perhaps your boldest move I’ve heard about so far is Regina said about in an interview we did that you’re not only diving into very hot button topics but you’re handling them in such a way that viewers can read whatever they want into their meaning. You’re avoiding moralizing at a time when popular entertainment is terrified of being misunderstood because there’s such a willingness online to accuse artists of bad intentions. Is that an accurate read? And does that kind of freak you out?
The read is completely accurate and yeah it freaks me out. But when I’m freaked out is when I get excited. I can’t write or create from a nervous scared space. If you stop and try to talk yourself out of doing something that might be upsetting or might make people onerous or confused or uncomfortable you’re never going to do anything interesting. You have to jump in with some degree of forethought and responsibility and then afterward you can ask yourself why you did it. The time for contemplation is not at the edge of the diving board because going back down the ladder is worse than the distance to the pool. I also kind of feel like, unfortunately, we live in a space where hate runs rampant not just on the internet but in real life and it’s important to remind ourselves this is a TV show. It is not real. Although it is dealing with real issues and it’s meant to generate and provoke conversations and emotions we have to contextualize that this is fiction.

That answer could also apply to another of your recent projects, the movie The Hunt (where a group of red-state conservatives are seemingly hunted for sport by liberal elites). From what I gathered from an early version of the script, the film, ironically enough, was attempting to satirize the same sort of divisive online political outrage that led to it being pulled from release. There was a lot of confusion about what the film was actually about. What were you trying to say with that one?
The Hunt is, and always was, a story about what happens when political outrage goes to the most absurd, ridiculous extreme. Because we wanted the movie to be fun and entertaining, we did our very best to make fun of ourselves while making it. The last thing we wanted to do was make a “message” movie. The audience doesn’t want to be preached at so, if anything, this is a story about what happens to folks who deem themselves holier than thou. Spoiler alert: Things don’t turn out great for them.

What was your reaction to Universal canceling the film’s release? Is there a chance of distribution somewhere else?
I’m a TV guy, so I’ve seen many shows “canceled” then revived, so, of course, there’s always a chance the same will happen for us. I understand why the movie was misunderstood, but I really hope people get a chance to see it and make up their minds for themselves.

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Tegan and Sara: The High School Years


The 5th avenue flagship of the New York Public Library contains all kinds of literary wonders: a Gutenberg Bible, Virginia Woolf’s walking stick, the original scruff-eared muse for Winnie the Pooh. And somewhere today, between the iconic pair of stone lions that guard the entrance and the map archives, sisters Tegan and Sara Quin.

They’re here, like almost every book lover in the building, to soak up the grand archways and ineffable moth-wing smell of the stacks — and to talk about the upcoming release of their own first book, a joint memoir called High School. If the patrons sneaking glances recognize them, though, it’s not as freshly minted authors but as the Canadian indie-rock juggernaut known as Tegan and Sara, whose skillful pairing of serrated lyrics and pop-sweetened harmonies have made them festival-circuit stars for over two decades.

The fact that at 38 they’ve been famous for more than half their lives is not lost on the Calgary-born twins, whose small frames and fine-boned faces are approximately identical but easy to find the small differences in once you spend a little time around them. “The concept of writing about making our records or getting signed seemed so boring to us,” Tegan says, of School, which aims instead to tell a frankly intimate story of teen angst and the pair’s long, often bumpy road to self-acceptance. “Our story is only interesting because of the ground level, the foundation that drove us to be musicians.

“Like for Sara and I, we replaced drugs and alcohol with music,” she continues, “and found common ground to connect with one another and make something. It was [actually] the only time we spoke to each other! This is our attempt to say that we didn’t always have it together. We were liars, we were homophobic, we hated ourselves, we struggled just like everybody else. It took years and years and years of development to get to a place where we were even a relevant band that anyone would write a review about… So the difficult arcs and the trauma of that is the part that I want people to relate and connect to, because I didn’t have anyone to connect to about what I was facing when I was 15 or 16.”

“I’ll see myself in the audience at our shows,” Sara says. “I see acne, body shame, awkwardness. I love those kids, and I want them to read a book not about how we became famous or how glamorous going to the Oscars was or whatever people always ask us to talk about. I want them to know that us back then was just like they are now.”

Tegan and Sara Quin on their 17th birthday

Tegan and Sara Quin on their 17th birthday

Tegan and Sara

It was looking back, fortuitously, that also led them to the book’s companion piece: an album culled entirely from demos created in high school — dusty cassettes and homemade CDs found amidst the old notes, photos, and other ephemera dug up in the discovery process. Reworked and repurposed, the 12 songs on Hey I’m Just Like You are a vibrant testimony to both the duo’s raw adolescent talent and a direct line to the polished, eclectic sound of their present.

“Some songs we knew 100 percent were strong enough that we could record them as is,” says Sara. “Other ones were a bit Frankensteined — only a verse and a chorus here, ‘Let’s take the chorus from this song and make it the bridge,’ that sort of thing.”

They’re both grateful, they say that they were able to hold on to that material as long as they did, and get the chance to make the best of it after more than two decades. “We’ve always embraced technology. We embraced Myspace, the digital movement, and moving music into streaming,” says Tegan. “Why wouldn’t we? But I’m terrified to imagine the kind of garbage we would have put online that would have lived forever, with how much drinking and drugs we were doing back then — how much messy, sloppy, embarrassing s–t would be out there.”

Sara on her electric guitar

Sara on her electric guitar

Tegan and Sara

As one of the last generations to straddle the era of smartphones and ubiquitous connectivity, the pair is glad, too, for the quieter advantages of growing up in a more analog world. “It’s good to be bored!” Tegan says. “It’s good to be on time because you can’t text and say ‘I’m going to be 15 minutes late.’ But also going deeper, I’m glad that there was no immediate gratification, no immediate stardom. We had to tour on a Greyhound bus because we didn’t have drivers’ licenses; we had the privacy to come out, to learn how to be out in the public eye. We had time to develop.”

Being one of the rare openly queer acts signed to a major label in the late ’90s and early 2000s came with its own, involuntary set of sand traps and obligations; not only to package and present their sexuality to the world at a bruisingly early age, but to represent the LGBTQ community at large — a heavy mantle for anyone, let alone two young women barely out of their teens, to bear.

“We used to say the most political act we can do is to step on stage and be ourselves,” says Tegan. “When we started, people used to be like, ‘How come you don’t talk about being gay onstage?’ And we were like ‘Lord, everyone there knows we’re gay! We talk about it in every interview.’ There were so many things we had to navigate with the press. And we had no peers, really, for the early part of our career. Every article about us always starts with our sexuality and how ‘weird’ that is — all that coded sexual twin-sister stuff. And so when we were young, I think we were mostly just embarrassed, and we didn’t talk about it [between] the two of us.”

“Some of these new queer artists,” Sara adds, “I reached out to them just like ‘Hi, welcome to the industry,” and they’re like “Holy s—, I listened to you when I was young!’ And others have no idea who we are. I’m not as interested in like, ‘Did I inspire another artist to come out or to be honest in the press about their sexuality?’ Because I think what’s more important to me is that we offer a safe place and a community for someone to feel comfortable with who they are, meet other people like them. And see a good role model — a role model with flaws.”

What they don’t want, she says, is to be “just an ‘It Gets Better’ story of hope and luck” — some glossy, oversimplified ideal that fails to acknowledge the messier realities of being a person in the world. “Some days I wake up and feel really good about who I am in my life, and other days I don’t. Some days I am proud to talk about my sexuality and some days I feel like I’ve done so much emotional labor that I want to just pack up and move to an island and give up. It sounds old-timey, but I don’t want to deny how long we’ve been around! Or that maybe we’ve had a legacy and influenced a generation of women who are queer or fluid or whatever. I just want to celebrate it.”

The pair keep bantering — about opening for 90,000 Lady Gaga fans in Quebec City (“absolutely f—ing thrilling”), the tribulations of road life (“like, a decade of diarrhea and ear infections”), and their recent meeting with Canada’s perennially sharp-dressed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (“We gave him some nice socks.”). But their publicist is signaling; there’s a lot more to get to today. So Sara jumps in on one of her sister’s soliloquies mid-thought: “Save that for the second book,” she says with a laugh as they stand up and walk back through the lions, their two heads together but separate, and disappear into the crowds on 5th Avenue.

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Inside The Good Places final season: This will be worth it


Welcome! Everything is final.

Just a time-knife’s throw from Ponzu Scheme, the stars of The Good Place have gathered outside a familiar frozen-yogurt shop to film one of their last-ever group scenes. It’s hotter than Hades (hmmm) on the Universal Studios lot, but a figurative chill fills the air as the cameras roll on yet another loaded goodbye for the series finale of NBC’s ambitious afterlife comedy. “I can tell you’re sad,” dopey, pre-successful Jacksonville DJ Jason (Manny Jacinto) observes of Team Cockroach. “You have the same look on your faces that my teachers did whenever I raised my hand in class.”

Creator and finale writer-director Mike Schur minds the minutiae, readjusting trays of oysters and a bong while tweaking punchlines involving “concussion sauce” and “younger bodies.” “There’s a lot of endings,” he teases of the finale, “and there’s a lot of resolution to a lot of the characters’ stories in certain ways.” 

Schur certainly won’t reveal the fates awaiting our scrappy in-limbo souls—reforming dirtbag Eleanor (Kristen Bell), overanxious ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper), self-consumed socialite Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason—or humanized Bad Place architect Michael (Ted Danson) and ever-evolving database Janet (D’Arcy Carden). But there are scads of colorful clues on set: a mini football field; people in matching outfits; a hybrid tanning booth/karaoke machine (leisure activity? torture device?). Oh, and Shakespeare has done something dramatic that’s the talk of…wherever this is.

We can’t disclose what the fork is going on, but it’s a cosmic swirl of joy, melancholy, loopiness, poignancy, and the profound. Some actors do battle with moistening tear ducts. “We’re supersensitive right now,” mock-warns Jacinto. Says Carden: “We’ve been trying to keep the tears inside of our eyes.”

Even the genial general of the show (make that: of TV) is feeling the sting. “It’s like, ‘Oh wait, we may be acting sorrow, but it’s creeping in here,’” offers Danson. “But there’s also a great deal of satisfaction and pride in being part of this chapter book about morality and farts.” Adds Jamil: “I’m f—ing overwhelmed. I’m in denial. I may never leave and just walk the lot like a ghost. I’ll dress up as Tahani and haunt tourists.”

However you cope with loss, prepare to bid farewell to one of TV’s most inventive com­edies — one thoughtful enough to explore the pursuit and value of goodness; one brave enough to feature giant toads, a bagel shop named From Schmear to Eternity, and references to Kierke­gaard and Hume. Only 14 chapters remain in this underdog series that toiled in overnight-ratings purgatory, built a dedicated audience online, charmed critics, won a Peabody, and recently nabbed five Emmy nominations. (It also mic-dropped one of the mightiest mind-melting finales of the new century when Eleanor deduced that she and her beleaguered companions were actually in the Bad Place, not the Good Place.) But before retirement (not the soul-disintegrating punishment facing Michael), a final test awaits (besides the can humans evolve? experiment): concluding this paradigm-shifting adventure on a heavenly note. “This will be worth it,” declares Bell. “It will give you a lot of feelings — and one is a strong sense of satisfaction. Not only will the ending be worth it, you’ll understand why the whole thing was worth it.”

Schur says the decision to end the series after four seasons “felt right” and “fell into place” once the writers decided to have Judge Gen (guest star Maya Rudolph) allow the Soul Squad a redo on Earth at the end of season 2. An early exit from No Exit-ville was arguably necessitated by design, as this show burns through plot faster than Eleanor through shrimp. Ever since Schur moved up Michael’s “discovery” about Eleanor — something that would seem like the logical ending of season 1 — to about the halfway point of the season, story speed doubled, “which means four seasons became eight seasons,” explains the creator. “I think that’s about right. The goal has been to chew through story and accelerate things twice as fast as the old system of network TV suggested.”

This fearlessness was something that he learned in the writers’ room of The Office when Greg Daniels (with whom he would eventually create Parks and Recreation) decided to advance the Jim and Pam’s Will-they-or-won’t-they? relationship. “It was among the many great lessons that Greg Daniels taught me,” notes Schur. “Sometimes the best thing to do is to just plow headlong into the scary thing and trust that you’ll be able to keep up the drama and the intrigue of the show. And in this case, we applied that lesson to literally every single aspect of the show.” Not that the news was easy for all to digest. “It’s the best-worst feeling in the world to be a part of something you love that’s ending,” says Bell, adding that it’s “so meaningful and impactful because the entire last season is such a lesson, a gift.” Shares Danson: “I was slightly stunned— you rarely get canceled by your creator. But it had so much integrity.”

That’s one quality the Soul Squad aims to imbue in the new test subjects for this not-so-modest experiment that could save Team Cockroach (plus all of humanity) from eternal torture via butthole spiders and spastic dentistry. When we left off eight months ago, Michael and the team showed Judge Gen that the points system for determining entrance into paradise had gone to hell — somewhat literally — and pitched a grand and desperate test to settle the score. Season 3’s finale unveiled the first two subjects — Chidi’s neuroscientist ex Simone (Kirby Howell-Baptiste) and Tahani’s gossip-blogger foe John (Brandon Scott Jones) — and now viewers will meet the other two human guinea pigs, also chosen by Bad Place boss Shawn (Marc Evan Jackson): a pleasant-ish Norwegian and a fourth soul who are “more abstract in the ways they are designed to drive everyone crazy,” hints Schur. Once test subjects themselves, the members of the Soul Squad face great challenges in mentoring this foursome, with Eleanor doubly taxed; this former lone wolf must lead the operation and tolerate the pain of spending quality time with memory-wiped beau Chidi, who is now what Schur calls “an ethical sleeper agent.” 

Also in this ambitious and bonkers fourth season (which begins Sept. 26): a new version of Janet; visits to old-school locales; returns of old friends/fiends; surprise guests (“I really couldn’t believe who I was standing next to on the screen throughout the season,” teases Jamil); a secret-spilling baby elephant made of pure light; and an episode modeled after a John le Carré mystery. “When we were told [about season 4], we had no idea,” says Harper with a chuckle. “There’s no way anyone’s going to conceive where we’re going with this.” “It’s like a board game,” adds Carden. “Not Monopoly. More Candy Land vibes.” Bell chooses a different analogy: life (not the board game). “It is frustrating, requires effort, hilarious at times, and in the end is really meaningful,” she explains. “And over too soon.” 

Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

As for that End, the cast found the capper to this comedy to be unexpectedly powerful and poignant. “It’s completion of our journeys in a way that I find satisfying, hopeful, and goes beyond our conventional understanding of storytelling,” declares Harper. Jacinto was compelled to action. “After I read the finale, the first thing I did was call my parents,” shares Jacinto. “I just needed to see them after that.” And Jamil just needed a moment to fully embrace it. “I raged against the ending ever so briefly when I first read it,” she admits. “I wasn’t ready for it, emotionally. But then, as the brilliance of it — the complete correctness of it — washed over me, I started to accept it.” 

How the audience will respond is both final frontier and great unknown, but rest assured that one of comedy’s brightest and most humane creators strove to answer those giant-picture questions that the series has been asking. “We didn’t pull any punches,” he says. “This show explicitly laid itself out like a book, in that we call every episode a chapter and it feels like an old-timey serial in the way that novels [were] published in magazines, one chapter at a time. That’s true to the way that the show was meant to feel, and the way we were creating it. But it also means it’s like, ‘All right, a–holes, whaddaya got? What’s the final chapter of the book?’ So it definitely feels like a tall order.” Fans aren’t asking for much—just a finale that unmasks the secrets of the universe, redefines the human condition, takes the Jaguars to the Super Bowl, and explains how to rig one of those dope shrimp-dispensing soda fountains.

Want more Fall TV Preview scoop? Get EW’s October issue for FREE on Apple News, orbuy a copy now. Don’t forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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Episode Recaps

Its a Brad, Brad, Brad, Brad World


Brad Pitt has a great laugh: a sort of staccato, slow-rolling ah-huh-huh-huh that makes you think of surfers and cowboys and movie stars. He uses it more than once to excellent effect as Cliff Booth, the laconic stuntman-cum-sidekick who stumbles into the dark heart of the Manson family in Quentin Tarantino’s showbiz Babylon Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and not at all in the lonely-astronaut epic Ad Astra (out Sept. 20), though it often punctuates his conversation with EW about both those roles. 

To say that one of the world’s most beloved and best-known celebrities is having a moment 30-plus years into his career feels, at this point, pretty much indisputable. But don’t call it a comeback, or a Brad-aissance; several times over the course of a friendly, sometimes philosophical interview he’ll insist that his only goal is “putting stories out into the world” — which in 2019 means not just starring in a pair of films that may well end up dominating the coming awards season but also continuing to head up Plan B Entertainment, the boutique production company responsible for a vanguard slate of films, including Vice, Moonlight, Beautiful Boy, and 12 Years a Slave

That laugh comes tumbling out again when he’s asked to find the thread between Hollywood’s Cliff, a sort of beach-boy Lebowski with a singular gift for sudden violence, and Ad Astra’s Maj. Roy McBride, an almost pathologically contained spaceman on a solo mission to Mars. “Well, Cliff is by far a much easier way to live, and certainly I would say what we’re all striving for,” he says, chuckling. “But to get to Cliff’s peace of mind and acceptance in the day, you’d probably have to go through Roy’s dilemma to get there.”

Andrew Cooper/Sony Pictures

Pitt quickly grows more serious, though, on the subject of Roy’s arc in Astra — an emotional journey that often finds the major struggling to maintain his NASA-trained composure even as the fate of both his family and the free world (and, the movie heavily implies, his soul, too) hangs in the balance. “Toxic masculinity, that may be a little harsh as a term? But certainly we’re questioning what is masculinity,” he muses. “Having grown up in an era where we are taught to be stoic, taught to be capable, not to show weakness, never be disrespected — that works for the pioneer spirit, I guess, on the plain when you’re trying to make your claim. But it’s also very limiting, because it doesn’t embrace the whole human being.”

And while he admits to having no special affinity for space movies (“Um no, not specifically. I mean, when I was a kid my dad took me to see Alien, and that’s still everything”), Astra did get him pondering the mysteries of the universe, as it were: “In all our concepts and constructs of how we understand life to work, there are powers there that we cannot even begin to understand,” he marvels. “Powers that can bend time, and gravitational forces that could crush a planet. And just that we ourselves are made from dying stars — I find that really awe-inspiring, just because of how much we don’t know and yet how connected we are to it.”

Astra director James Gray (The Lost City of Z), who has known Pitt for more than two decades, tells EW that though he didn’t pen the script for his longtime friend — “I never actually write projects with actors in mind, because you’re always disappointed when they don’t do it” — he did end up getting exactly the performance he hoped for: “In some ways, because he’s a star, Brad’s acting is underrated. To control a performance and still convey the ideas and the emotions necessary for the film I think is as difficult as anything, really. To be kind of showy — and by the way I’m not saying this about him in Quentin’s movie, which I think is wonderful — but sometimes a showy performance can lead us in a very obvious series of choices. But he understood it completely, this character who lives so much in his own head.” 

Heady isolation isn’t so much an option in Pitt’s other day job as the cofounder and CEO of Plan B, which often involves developing and championing the kinds of films that fall far outside his own lived experience. “It’s certainly not by design,” he says of the company’s particular track record with black auteurs like Ava DuVernay and Steve McQueen. “Myself and my partners Jeremy [Kleiner] and Dede [Gardner] have an extreme belief in equality and this want for justice in an unjust world, and I think we naturally are kind of guided that way. We were trying to get Selma made for years, and it wasn’t until 12 Years did what it did that it suddenly opened the door for all of these others.”

“Certainly when we started,” he goes on, “it was at a time when we saw that the studios just weren’t taking that kind of gamble on more complex mid-range budgeted films. “[And] I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to contribute to the zeitgeist…. But you know for every one that gets made, there’s another 10, so it takes a fight for all of them. And I can’t tell you how many talented, talented people there are still struggling to to be able to tell their story, the one that moved them. That’s where we were able to apply our muscle in a way that I never even expected when we started.” 

In fact since its 2001 founding, the company has already racked up three Best Picture wins (for The Departed, 12 Years a Slave, and Moonlight). But the thrice-nominated actor promises he’s not interested in gunning for personal gold, despite the growing buzz on Astra and Hollywood. “Oh, man. I’m gonna abstain,” he says of campaigning for either role (though his generous recent press schedule may belie that). “I mean, you never know, and it’s really nice when your number comes up. But the goal is for the film to land, to speak to someone whether it’s now or a decade from now. I find chasing it actually a disservice to the purity of your telling a story, and a shackling thing to focus on.”

He’s less circumspect when it comes to another, less expected career avenue: the world of prestige television, where A-list peers like Nicole Kidman and Matthew McConaughey have already blazed a trail. “Could I see it? Absolutely,” he says. “What I love about TV is that you get to spend more time with the characters. You have to let go of so many scenes in order to fit into the ‘film’ container, as far as running time and how it plays, and with a series, being able to break it up, you can expand so much more. I’m especially drawn to the comedies that are able to do that. That might just be romantic of me, I may have to go with the times, so we’ll see. We’ll see where it all lands, but that’s certainly of interest.”

In the meantime there’s more than enough to keep him occupied, between promoting his current projects and tending to a production slate that this year already includes Astra and the Sundance sensation The Last Black Man in San Francisco (which EW named the best film of 2019 so far this past June), as well as the upcoming Timothée Chalamet drama The King and Moonlight director Barry Jenkins’ Underground Railroad series for Amazon. So does that mean there could be some truth to a recent viral magazine quote that implied he’d soon be done with big-screen acting?

“I was just saying that it’s really a younger man’s game,” he insists. “Not that there aren’t still parts and interesting things to do. As I get older and transition does its thing, the great thing about producing is you still get to be part of what I love most, which is storytelling. Or maybe it’s just me, maybe I’ve just seen my interests broadening or shifting into other things. But no. No!” — one last, long ah-huh-huh-huh — “It’s not a claim of retirement.” 

How this years Toronto International Film Festival is shaping the 2020 Oscar race


Welcome to EW’s The Awardist: a weekly column offering (very!) early and in-depth analysis of the 2020 awards season. Check out last week’s deep dive.

On Monday night, at the storied Winter Garden Theatre in Downtown Toronto, a packed house twice burst into mid-film applause for the TIFF premiere of Noah Baumbach’s divorce drama Marriage Story. The first instance arrived courtesy of supporting star Laura Dern for a broadly comic monologue delivered with gusto; the second was for male lead Adam Driver, after he wrenchingly performed the Sondheim song “Being Alive” — the showstopper of the film.

Marriage Story had already debuted last week at Telluride to universal acclaim, and as the dust settled at TIFF — perhaps the most important showcase of the year for incoming awards contenders — it maintained its place as the critical darling of fall-festival season. Reception out of Toronto was no less rapturous than at its unveiling in the Rockies. Dern and Driver proved that they have the big moments that could take them all the way; Baumbach ought to compete across Best Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay; and leading lady Scarlett Johansson is firmly in the Best Actress conversation.

This is the kind of positioning that gets clarified out of TIFF — one of the world’s largest film festivals, where many campaigns truly begin and others quietly fade away. With TIFF’s opening weekend behind us, the race has come into considerably clearer focus. Just a few anticipated hopefuls now wait in the wings.

Along with Marriage Story’s success, Monday night delivered what may be the season’s biggest disappointment so far. Despite the heat behind it, Taika Waititi’s ambitious tragicomedy Jojo Rabbit has a lot to overcome to emerge as a significant Oscar player. It has passionate advocates and, on the surface, enthralled audiences during its late-night debut in Canada. But for a film juggling fine-line satire and surrealistic touches, the critical support simply isn’t there. The movie scored a 47 on Metacritic out of Toronto; over the past decade, the only Best Picture nominees to generate such mixed-to-negative reviews were Bohemian Rhapsody and The Blind Side, huge mainstream hits that grossed over $250 million apiece domestically, as well as Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which shares similarities with Jojo — a superb child performance at its center, a creeping earnestness — but is without its polarizing comic elements. Safe to say this was not the response those behind Jojo were hoping for.

As for other seeming contenders that probably won’t go the distance: Netflix’s The Laundromat is a disjointed Big Short-esque exposé of the Panama Papers scandal that, despite a stacked cast fronted by Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Gary Oldman, didn’t impress either in Venice, where it launched, or Toronto. And The Goldfinch, a blockbuster literary adaptation that has prestige written all over it, did not play well at TIFF and has effectively fallen out of the mix. Its theatrical release in September, early for fall contenders, won’t help matters.

If one Best Picture nominee was birthed in Toronto, look to A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. The Marielle Heller-directed tearjerker was kept tightly under wraps before its first TIFF screening; by the end, there wasn’t a dry eye left in the theater, and reviews were better than expected. It’s a feel-good movie with just enough bite and ingenuity to avoid being labeled as mere fluff, and the timeliness of the movie’s decency narrative sells itself. Matthew Rhys will have a tough go in a crowded lead actor field (more on that in a minute), but Tom Hanks’ Mr. Rogers should have a supporting nod locked down, and will go for the gold.

Other big TIFF premieres staked more of a claim in specific categories: While Hustlers earned respect across the board, the real campaign will go toward Jennifer Lopez’s career-best performance (in supporting). Biopics Harriet and Just Mercy feel a little too familiar to sneak into in the Best Picture field — though the advocacy behind the movies could give them an extra push — but Cynthia Erivo’s star-making portrayal of the Underground Railroad pioneer and Jamie Foxx’s electric supporting work as an innocent man on Death Row, respectively, cannot be denied. (TIFF’s programmers were sure to note at the latter’s first screening that Foxx also launched Ray at the festival.) Eddie Murphy makes good on his fans’ comeback hopes in the riotous Dolemite Is My Name, and Wesley Snipes is a compelling secondary candidate there; Long Island school fraud drama Bad Education feels like the year’s I, Tonya, still without a U.S. distributor but featuring a knockout lead performance (this time from Hugh Jackman) and a magnificent Allison Janney right behind.

Lots of names, and still a lot to see (The Irishman and Little Women, to name the two most anticipated). And still more that effectively built on their Telluride/Venice openings, like Ford v Ferrari — a muscular and involving racing drama that, alongside the meditative and distinctive Marriage Story, is the biggest awards breakout out of the early September haze — and The Two Popes, a Netflix sleeper with a never-better Jonathan Pryce. The witty, talky nature of it feels tailor-made for Academy voters.

Finally, there’s the Joker of it all: Todd Phillips’ incendiary pic is only gaining steam off that surprise Golden Lion victory out in Venice and Joaquin Phoenix’s special honoring at TIFF but continues to court backlash. (In her review for EW, Leah Greenblatt wrote, “A movie with the message this one hammers home again and again…feels too volatile, and frankly too scary, to separate from the very real violence committed by young men like Joaquin Phoenix’s Arthur Fleck in America almost every day.”) Between Phoenix, Driver, Murphy, Pryce, Ford’s Christian Bale, Uncut Gems’ Adam Sandler, and Pain and Glory’s Antonio Banderas, Best Actor options are overflowing in Toronto alone. Best Actress, meanwhile, is still taking shape, with Renée Zellweger (Judy) leading the pack so far.

Last September, an under-the-radar world premiere at TIFF by the name of Green Book won the event’s prestigious People’s Choice Award: a prize voted on by all attendees, and a reasonably good Oscar prognosticator — in 2018, especially good. Once again this year, it should set the tone. (The festival wraps Sept. 15.) Is A Beautiful Day really the movie we need right now? Can the Two Popes talk their way to the finish line? Will Joker’s artful nihilism receive yet another embrace? One thing’s for sure: We’re off to the races.

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Stream Queens: Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon on their TV reunion and how The Morning Show changed after #MeToo


Reese Witherspoon isn’t about to cause a scene. But she is freaking out a little bit. “Diane Sawyer came to visit and oh my God, it was amazing!” Sitting in a Los Angeles restaurant on a balmy August evening, the Academy Award winner throws her hands over her face to muffle her excitement. (There will be no Elle Woods-esque squeal here.) She’s recalling the day that the legendary broadcast journalist stopped by the set of her upcoming series with Jennifer Aniston, The Morning Show (Nov. 1). Her face still in her hands, Witherspoon continues in disbelief: “She sat at the monitor and watched me and Jen read the news!” The pair have come a long way since trading barbs at Central Perk.

The Morning Show — which marks Aniston’s major return to TV after Friends ended in 2004, and the pair’s first project together since Witherspoon guest-starred on the NBC comedy as Rachel’s spoiled little sister Jill in 2000 — takes viewers inside the world of daybreak news. “There’s something sort of bulletproof about morning shows,” Witherspoon says. “They’re a stalwart part of American culture.” After all, every day millions of Americans wake up and turn on the Today show, or any number of other programs, and are greeted by familiar faces they trust to deliver the news with just the right amount of personality. At least that’s the expectation. As you brew your morning coffee, they update you on the latest from the White House. As you pick out your clothes for the day, they let you know how the weather is looking. And as you prepare to head out the door, they amuse you with fun anecdotes about the internet’s buzziest viral video. “These shows are some of the last programming in the country that still tries to appeal in Los Angeles and New York and Des Moines and Mississippi,” says Morning Show executive producer Michael Ellenberg. “You have to introduce an idea of what America is that works for blue states and red states.” It was Ellenberg who brought the idea for The Morning Show to Witherspoon, whom he worked with on Big Little Lies, and Aniston in late 2016. (“I said to him, ‘I’m not completely closed down to television because it’s been pretty good,’” Aniston recalls.)

He can trace the idea back to 1989, when he saw Jane Pauley get replaced on Today. (It’s widely believed to be because she was “too old.” She was 39 at the time.) Then in 2012, Today’s veteran newsreader Ann Curry was reportedly driven off the program after less than a year as a cohost, a subject explored in journalist Brian Stelter’s 2013 book Top of the Morning, which Ellenberg quickly optioned. (Stelter is a consulting producer on the show, which uses his book mostly for background research.) “These are some of the most powerful women in America, and we watched them get screwed publicly, basically,” Ellenberg says. Witherspoon adds: “I was astounded by how honest a lot of female anchors were with myself and Jen. I think most people would find it shocking that women in that position, of what we perceive as power, are looked at as expendable.”

With Aniston, 50, and Witherspoon, 43, on board to star and executive-produce the series, it wasn’t hard to find The Morning Show a home. By August 2017, they’d met with Apple. Did we mention that Apple creates TV shows now? In March 2019, the tech powerhouse announced it was entering the streaming world. (Hey, all the cool kids are doing it!) Joining the relative elders — Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime Video — as well as the new class of streamers — HBO Max, Disney+, Facebook Watch, Snap Originals, Quibi, and too many more to count — Apple is launching Apple TV+, an app so shrouded in secrecy you’d think it was the nuclear codes…or the next iPhone. For instance, ahead of Tuesday’s 2019 keynote, Apple wouldn’t even confirm how much it will cost. (But the Apple execs do have jokes, promising to reveal how much it will cost if only a reporter would hand over her credit-card info.)

One thing that’s always been known is that The Morning Show would be a part of Apple TV+’s initial slate of programming. “It was day 2 or 3 of us being here at Apple when we heard the pitch,” says Jamie Erlicht, who is head of worldwide video for Apple alongside Zack Van Amburg. (Both came over from Sony Pictures Television.) “It was so undeniable, both in the story they wanted to tell and who was involved. We left the meeting and we literally didn’t even know how to order paper clips for the office — let alone a TV series — but we said we had to have it.” Fifteen minutes later, they called to make an offer. And, it seems, the enthusiasm was mutual. “The more ambitious this project was, the more I felt like Apple was the right place for it, because they were taking a shot too,” Witherspoon says. “They’re putting themselves out there to get into the content world.” (It also probably didn’t hurt that Apple agreed to pick up the series for two 10-episode seasons before they’d filmed anything.)

But the show Apple was originally pitched isn’t exactly what made it to the screen. “We started developing it in August, and by November, the whole world had changed,” says Witherspoon. Specifically, #MeToo happened. On Oct. 5, 2017, The New York Times published a piece in which Ashley Judd, among others, accused film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment. On Oct. 15, Alyssa Milano invited other women to speak out by tweeting “me too,” a movement originated by Tarana Burke in 2006. And by the end of November, accusations had come out about Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and even Today’s Matt Lauer. On Nov. 29, NBC fired their cohost of two decades following allegations of sexual misconduct. “When #MeToo happened…it’s like, we can’t not address it,” Aniston says, with Witherspoon adding, “I don’t think I’ve seen a time in my life where more people have lost their entire careers over misconduct. People who were seemingly untouchable. We had to start totally over and redevelop the show, but it actually turned out to be so much more potent and topical.”

Part of that redevelopment process involved a showrunner swap. In April 2018, Kerry Ehrin replaced House of Cards’ Jay Carson, who’d previously been attached to the project. “We realized that the story that was unfolding was not the story we all wanted to tell,” says Erlicht. “So we regrouped with the exec-producing team and we realized that, as fantastic as Jay is, we just saw a different vision for this particular show, and that’s where Kerry came into the picture.” Ehrin, who’d written for Friday Night Lights and Parenthood and co-created Bates Motel, came to the series ready to tackle the #MeToo of it all as well as tell a story through a female lens. “I love Broadcast News and I love Network, so it feels like an area where you can have a lot of humor but you can also get at some real subjects,” Ehrin says. “I’ve been a woman in a very high-stakes business for 30 years and I’ve seen all kinds of stuff. I wanted to write complicated female characters that weren’t perfect and that weren’t bitches.”

Those complicated female characters include Aniston as longtime Morning Show cohost Alex Levy and Witherspoon — sporting brown hair and a Southern accent — as West Virginia local news reporter Bradley Jackson. Levy is a seasoned anchor. A well-oiled machine. She wakes up every morning at 3:30, works out, grabs her Red Bull and coffee, and prepares to give America whatever it needs that day. Jackson is a bit of a hothead. She’s dangerously passionate about the truth, and from time to time that passion gets her in trouble. (She’s nicknamed “Two F—s” Jackson from a moment she let the F-bomb slip on air…twice.) But neither woman is prepared for what their lives are about to become when the series begins.

In the show’s pilot, the sun’s not even up in New York City when s— hits the fan: After 15 years of cohosting alongside Alex Levy, Mitch Kessler (Steve Carell) has been fired following allegations of sexual misconduct. And it’s Levy who has to go on camera and address the nation, just mere hours after finding out the news herself. Sound familiar? “[Matt Lauer] won’t think this has anything to do with him,” Aniston says sarcastically. And although Ehrin would like to remind everyone that The Morning Show is a work of fiction, “this is the world we live in right now and it’s impossible to ignore it.” If there’s one thing this show doesn’t do, it’s ignore it. “People don’t look the other way anymore,” director and executive producer Mimi Leder says. “We put a microscope right up to who these people are.”

That includes the accused, Mitch, who, like Carell himself, is a man America has fallen in love with, and is one of the last men they want to see accused of something bad. As Aniston puts it, “No one else could play that part. There’s nothing you could find about Steve in a closet.” And for Carell, the man best known for playing hilariously incompetent boss Michael Scott on The Office for six years, it was a chance to play a guy who refuses to take a long, hard look in the mirror. “Mitch is a very flawed human being and someone with enormous personal blind spots,” Carell says. But Mitch’s firing is just the beginning of the most in-depth exploration of #MeToo scripted television has seen thus far. What happens to the accuser? What happens to the accused? How are loved ones affected? “Sometimes the world is so confusing that the only way that you can understand it is through art,” Witherspoon says. “We don’t take sides in any of it. It’s about the humanity of these issues.”

As for Witherspoon’s Bradley, she finds herself in Alex’s orbit when a video of her arguing with a coal-mine protester goes viral and the Morning Show producers bring her on for an interview. We can’t quite get into where the two women go from there, but with everything that’s going on, Bradley is not Alex’s biggest concern. Because not only has Alex lost her partner, but her contract is up for renegotiation with the network — led by slippery man-in-charge Cory Ellison (played to perfection by Billy Crudup) — and let’s just say that she’s older than Jane Pauley was in 1989. As Alex tells her teenage daughter in episode 3: “Sometimes women can’t ask for control, so they have to take it.”

Back in Los Angeles, just hours before Witherspoon will get lost in her memory of Diane Sawyer’s set visit, Aniston is sitting poolside at her sleek hilltop home, holding a bottle of Smartwater like the dedicated spokeswoman she is. Her blue eyes still sparkle the same way they did when she first walked onto the Friends soundstage. But by now, they’ve seen some things. “This role never could’ve come to me any sooner than now,” she says. “It’s one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. I knew I was up to the task, but then there was the excavation of all the emotions in order to create this world for this woman. All of her lifelines are falling away. I would walk out of some of those scenes feeling like a manhole cover just came off my back.” Because, much in the way that America feels like it knows Alex Levy within the world of The Morning Show, America feels like it knows Jennifer Aniston in real life. “I understand that, with people having connections to Friends,” Aniston says. “I understand the isolation — not wanting to be seen, not wanting to be public, not wanting to have to go on a red carpet. It’s not always easy to go out there and have to be the person that you have to be.”

But when the lights come on and the cameras are pointed at you, you just figure it out. Especially if Diane Sawyer is watching.

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  • Jennifer Aniston,
  • Reese Witherspoon,
  • Steve Carell
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