Mur­phy’s wel­come re­turn

The tim­ing could not have been bet­ter for the re­booted Mur­phy Brown, writes Hank Stuever.

Sunday Star-Times - - APPOINTMENT VIEWING -

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.

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