'The Morning Show' review: Season 3 gets lost in space, despite terrific Reese Witherspoo

In its crackpot new season, “The Morning Show” doesn’t just jump the shark. It literally hurls itself into space.

When we pick up with Season 3 of the Apple TV+ drama (★★; streaming Wednesday, then weekly), veteran newscaster Alex Levy (Jennifer Aniston) is preparing to shoot a segment aboard a tourist spacecraft as its tech billionaire owner (Jon Hamm) negotiates to buy the network. But after a spat with her double-dealing boss (Billy Crudup), Alex blows off the broadcast at the last minute, forcing another familiar face to launch into orbit without any prior training or preparation.

No longer content to merely defy logic, "The Morning Show" fully incinerates it this year. During a building-wide power outage caused by a potential gunman, evening news anchor Bradley Jackson (Reese Witherspoon) opts not to go into lockdown with her colleagues. Instead, she hops into an elevator, which predictably breaks down and traps her inside. Later in the season, Alex is shocked when her reporting is overshadowed by her high-profile office romance ― a relationship that violates all sorts of journalism ethics, apparently a foreign concept to anyone at the fictional UBA network.

'The Morning Show':When does Season 3 come out? Release date, cast, trailer

Stella (Greta Lee, left) and Mia (Karen Pittman) get compelling stories in the new season.

Flummoxing choices combined with ham-fisted dialogue make for a sort of Lynchian fever dream that is strangely addictive the more you watch. Like a car crash, or Max's similarly batty "Sex and the City" sequel, you simply can't look away.

When “The Morning Show” does succeed, it’s because of its performances. Greta Lee (“Past Lives”) and Karen Pittman (“And Just Like That…”) are captivating standouts as Stella Bak and Mia Jordan: two women of color navigating a minefield of power dynamics at the network.

Nicole Beharie also delivers a searing turn as Christina Hunter, a newly hired anchor who learns she was the target of a racist remark by longtime UBA chairwoman Cybil Richards (Holland Taylor). In a tense on-air interview, Christina confronts Cybil about diversity practices and her inherent racism, proving that the series is capable of nuance when it allows its characters to just sit in a moment for longer than five seconds.

Alex (Jennifer Aniston) fights to be heard behind the scenes, all while navigating a major conflict of interest.

With her disgraced (and now deceased) former co-host Mitch Kessler (Steve Carrell) out of the picture, Aniston’s Alex is oddly given very little to do in the season’s first half, although her coverage of Roe v. Wade takes center stage in later episodes. Bradley is also saddled with some of the show’s most far-fetched storylines, but Witherspoon's exceptional performance grounds the material.

She’s deeply affecting in a flashback to the first year of the pandemic, as Bradley quarantines with then-girlfriend Laura Peterson (Julianna Marguiles, making a welcome return to the series). Isolation and a COVID-related death eat away at Bradley, who struggles to let her guard down with Laura.

Scenes between Julianna Margulies, left, and Reese Witherspoon are highlights of Season 3.

In the season's wildest sequence, we discover that Bradley was inside the U.S. Capitol as it was being stormed by right-wing extremists on January 6, 2021. Her incriminating smartphone footage of the attack opens up some intriguing narrative doors, as long as you don't think about them for too long.

Like other dramas that have attempted to comment on current politics, including HBO's "Succession" and "The Newsroom," "The Morning Show" can't keep up with the hamster wheel of 24/7 media coverage. The series rehashes debates around masks and vaccines with no fresh insight, and limply attempts to satirize Elon Musk though Hamm's character, while the real figure still looms larger and more ludicrous. Discussions about abortion and Ukraine also very rarely go beyond surface level.

Unenviably, "The Morning Show" can never quite shake the feeling that it’s old news. But with a cast this starry – and this committed – at the anchor desk, it's hard to stop tuning in.

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