Murphy’s welcome return
The timing could not have been better for the rebooted Murphy Brown, writes Hank Stuever.
Does the unseen hand that guides the universe also keep a firm grip on the remote control? How else to explain Murphy Brown’s boisterous and welcome return to TV on the very same day Christine Blasey Ford was scheduled to appear before the US Senate Judiciary Committee and recount how ultra-conservative Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was later confirmed, allegedly assaulted her more than three decades ago?
No one could have possibly planned this convergence of pop culture, feminism and the fate of the judicial branch, yet here we are, wandering through a hall of news clips, sitcom memories and funhouse mirrors. What year is this? What planet is this?
I don’t know any more, but what I can tell you is that Murphy’s comeback is as reassuring and entertaining as it is timely.
The series, which returned on September 28 (TVNZ OnDemand) with great anticipation, ably harnesses the feminist anger and modern media frustrations of its lead character and its creator, Diane English. It’s resulted in a sitcom that’s about as blunt and politically fired up as anything we’ve seen since ... well, since Murphy Brown ended its initial 10-season run in 1998.
Actually, that’s not entirely true. Two other US network reboots in the past year came on almost as strong and topical: NBC’s Will & Grace rose from the dead to express its dismay at the state of the world since Donald Trump’s 2016 election.
Contrast that to ABC’s Roseanne debacle, an admirable concept (portraying an old friend in the US Midwest who, in the years since we last saw her, became an ambivalent Trump supporter), but which lacked the courage of its convictions and was sandbagged by bizarrely racist tweets of unpredictable star Roseanne Barr.
Murphy succeeds simply by being more of what it originally was: fast, sharp and unwaveringly pointed. Candice Bergen plays a noticeably older though no less feisty Murphy – retired and still living in her Washington DC townhouse and so tormented by politics she agrees to come back to television, this time as the host of a new cable news show called Murphy in the Morning.
‘‘There is such insanity out there that I became a nut job yelling at the TV,’’ Murphy says. ‘‘I’d rather be on TV, yelling out.’’
Murphy’s son, Avery Brown (Jake McDorman), shows up from New York with similar good news: at the tender age of 28, Avery has been offered a job hosting a morning show at the right-leaning Wolf Network – in direct competition with his mother.
In case you’ve forgotten, Avery is the baby boy Murphy had as a single mother in 1992 – an event that caused the nation’s real-life vice president, Dan Quayle to bemoan the decline of responsible fatherhood in America.
A pre-Twitter version of a raging firestorm soon followed, and it’s a backstory that makes things all the richer now, seeing Avery wind up at a Fox News-analogue.
Murphy decides she can’t do her new show without her old colleagues from the FYI news magazine days. Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) and Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) are as eager for new work as Murphy, but producer Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud) is a wreck, comically holed up in his Watergate apartment, still scarred from his recent experiences as producer of The View.
Yet even Miles comes around to Murphy’s desire to deliver a cablenews show that prefers fact to rumour, and research to punditry – a noble aim that quickly crumbles the second Murphy surrenders her ancient flip-phone for a smartphone and acquires a Twitter account. Almost right away she tweets about her long-ago date with Trump. Soon enough he’s flaming her in real time during the show. The ratings go through the roof, and Murphy has participated in the sort of antijournalistic noise and nonsense she deplores.
And so, aside from the pleasing addition of Tyne Daly as Phyllis (the sister of dearly departed Phil, she’s now the owner of the show’s watering hole) and a surprisingly lazy caricature in the form of Pat Patel (Nik Dodani), who is Murphy in the Morning’s obnoxiously millennial techie and social-network producer, things proceed as if Murphy Brown had never gone off the air.
Though their punchlines can often be spotted long before arrival, Bergen and her co-stars haven’t lost much in terms of timing and fleetness. In the weeks to come, Murphy will sneak into the White House briefing room to lecture Sarah Huckabee Sanders on withholding information and facts from the people, which Sanders deems an ‘‘inappropriate’’ outburst.
‘‘If you really want to talk about what’s inappropriate, how about the way you do your job?’’ Murphy demands. ‘‘The role of the White House press secretary is to create transparency in the government and to tell the American people the truth, but that’s not what happens in this room. Whether it’s a meeting with Russians in Trump Tower or a madeup mandate that requires separation between parents and children at the border, it all comes down to the same thing, so here’s my question: Why do you lie?’’
Mic duly dropped, Murphy implores the other reporters to get up and walk out with her in protest.
None of them do, and it’s a welcome sign that English, Bergen and company still grasp the satirical line between scathing and saturating. Murphy, after all, is trying to have things both ways – championing journalistic values while descending into diatribes that more or less echo last night’s MSNBC lineup.
One way Murphy Brown worked then and still works now is when Murphy experiences those moments where she knows she’s right, but also discovers she has an important part of the story wrong. – Washington Post
Incensed by the state of US politics, Murphy Brown decides to get back into journalism.
The cast of the first Murphy Brown, which launched in 1988.