THE SERIES "Murphy Brown"
WHEN | WHERE Premieres Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on CBS/2
WHAT IT'S ABOUT In this 11th-season revival, veteran anchor Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) awakens in the middle of the night to learn that Donald J. Trump is the new president — news delivered by her own TV reporter son, Avery Brown (Jake McDorman), no less. With that, Murphy decides it's time to get back into the arena. Before she launches a new morning show, "Murphy in the Morning," she enlists members of the old gang, Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) and Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud). This time, Murph has a social media expert, Pat (Nik Dodani), and a new bartender at Phil's, Phyllis (Tyne Daly), to help take off the edge. The first three episodes were made available for review.
MY SAY After 20 long, tumultuous years, "Murphy Brown" has returned like some wide-eyed novice who marvels at all the newfangled stuff there is to play with, and at all the huge targets there are to take shots at. In fact, based on these first three episodes, little has changed with "Murphy." The whole shebang — including beats, rhythms, jokes and setups — is updated but otherwise identical to those 10 Emmy Award-winning seasons, if perhaps a half-step slower. (Hey, it's been 20 years. We all got a half-step slower.)
Same goes for most of the cast. Frank is still Frank, Miles is Miles. Corky still gets the kind of lines only Corky would get. Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough) — who makes his crowd-pleasing cameo by the third week — hasn't lost the starch. His beloved "Slugger" is still scrappy and truculent. She's battled cigarettes, alcoholism, sexism, breast cancer and, in one surreal instance, Dan Quayle. Here, she squares her shoulders, and sets her jaw, as if to say that the current interloper in the White House better not get in my way.
What's changed, inevitably, is the world of TV and politics. (And how.) These first three episodes meet that change and that challenge, too. But they meet it only halfway. That's to be expected and was probably inevitable anyway. "Murphy Brown" was engineered for a gentler era, and engineered for a middlebrow network that wasn't about to speak truth to power, especially when that power had the wherewithal to strip broadcast licenses. The show backed into the culture wars almost by accident, when Vice President Quayle criticized Murphy's "lifestyle choice" as a single mother back in 1992.
But in 2018, TV — notably CBS' Stephen Colbert --- has taken the fight to the White House, consequences be damned. If viewers want merciless, occasionally fiercely funny anti-Trump comedy, all they need to do is turn on that TV, and the later at night, the better. By contrast, "Murphy's" attempts at takedown are tame, safe or delivered from a soapbox.
Example: In the third episode, Murph defenestrates a Steve Bannon-type firebrand named Ed Shannon — a wasted performance by the brilliant David Costabile, who barely gets in a word — with "I get what's going on under all that clothing — you're an old white man who cares about losing his place at the table. This is your last gasp, your last chance at preventing progress."
She finishes him off with "[you're] a sad, sad, sad dinosaur who went extinct," followed by "Jurassic Park closes in an hour."
This revival checks off the boxes and names the names. Fox News is called the Wolf Network, "where all the male anchors are conspiracy theorists and the women are dead behind the eyes." Before he's hired for the morning show, Miles had become a hermit because "it's bad out there, so bad . . . mass shootings, North Korean nukes and" . . . beat ... beat . . . "Matt Lauer."
For her first tweet, Murph reveals that she once went on a date with Donald Trump. "He made us split the check."
Ho-hum. But that's the new/old "Murphy Brown." Ho-hum.
BOTTOM LINE There is some pleasure in reconnecting with the old gang, but that eventually wears off. This revival feels so last century.