Despite a predictable start, the Murphy Brown reboot shows promise in its season debut.
I am not a fan of reboots and revivals. Even with shows I love, I feel like reboots are unnecessary. I’ve mourned the ending of the show, found closure, and moved on. Revisiting isn’t part of my agenda. Beyond that, often the reboots, like spin-offs, don’t have anything else to add to the narrative. Why do we need to keep telling this story? If there isn’t a solid answer, there shouldn’t be a show.
That being said, when I heard there would be a revival of Murphy Brown, I was intrigued. Much has changed in the world of media and politics, the guts of the show, since it went off the air in 1998. Consider that before the age of Twitter, Murphy caused a stir when then-Vice President Dan Quayle criticized the show for having unwed Murphy elect to have a baby on her own. Even in the last season, Murphy’s battle with breast cancer (and use of medical marijuana) drew criticism. Certainly, such plots would be irrelevant in current society, but they pushed buttons back then in meaningful ways. Can that legacy continue?
This eleventh season picks up in present day with a montage of the 2016 election coverage. Murphy (Candice Bergen) watches the results, broadcast by her son Avery (Jake Dorman), donning an “Original Nasty Woman” shirt. Fast forward to the January 20, 2018 Women’s March. An active participant, Murphy misses her media career as she tells Phyllis (Tyne Daly), replacing Phil (Pat Corley, who died in 2006) as the friendly barkeep. The show wastes no time reuniting her with some of its original team members including perky anchor Corky (Faith Ford) and letchy reporter Frank (Joe Regalbuto), also no longer part of the broadcasting world. Unemployment and retirement don’t become them.
This first episode is an Avengers assemble set up as Murphy decides to make a return to television in a cable show called Murphy in the Morning. Nevermind that Avery has just booked his own competing show on a conservative network. In addition to Frank and Corky, former producer Miles (Grant Shaud) is tapped to produce the team. Jokes about conservatives fly and Hillary Clinton stops by as Hilary (one L), an applicant for Murphy’s secretary position who notes all her experience, including that with email. Some of the generational jokes are a little too obvious, such as social media guy Pat Patel’s (Nik Dodani) shock and delight that Murphy still has a flip phone.
An upgraded phone and a Twitter account later, Murphy is attacking Trump both online and on the air. Her new show is intended to have dignity, yet Twitter trolling by Trump leads her to compromise her own values, lashing out at him on her show as he tweets at her in real time. Regardless, she beats her son’s ratings, despite believing he has a superior show. This final beat of Murphy’s despair at how easily she was sucked into the media circus is the most compelling part of the episode. It speaks to how even those with intelligence and integrity can go astray in a world where media is a war zone.
Murphy’s reputation as a difficult woman was part of her brand, be it her spars with co-workers or her ever-rotating host of assistants. Yet it was never seen as a flaw. Instead, it was part of her tenacity, in the vein of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. Many female characters who followed her owe a debt to Murphy. Early in the episode, an older woman recognizes Murphy, to which her daughter replies, “Who’s Murphy Brown?”. My daughter asked the exact same question as we watched this together. Maybe the next generation is ready to meet Murphy.