The return of "Murphy Brown" set its sights on Donald Trump, climate change, social media, and Fox News, with jabs for Roseanne Barr and "The View," too.
Everything old is, well still "Old" according to Donald Trump in the new "Murphy Brown" premiere. The revival fearlessly tackled plenty of hot topics and even featured a surprise appearance by Hillary Clinton, spoofing herself.
We don't know if Hillary was playing herself pretending to be another woman, or another woman who just looked exactly like Hillary Clinton, but either way her interview with Murphy (Candice Bergen) was filled with plenty of clever in-jokes about emails and previous secretarial experience.
It was just one of the current events tackled in the ambitious premiere episode that was nearly overwhelmed by trying to do too much in a single half hour. "Will & Grace" suffered a similar misstep in its revival premiere as it went in way too hard on being topical and current, at the expense of its characters.
"Murphy Brown" has always been topical, so the balancing act was expected. Unfortunately, the characters again got the short end of the stick. Miles (Grant Shaud) in particular seemed to get the most awkward re-introduction. When the gang checks in on him, he is uncharacteristically hysterical and holed up in his apartment at the Watergate.
Everything is so over-the-top and shrill, we got a little concerned that maybe 20 years off the air was too long and they wouldn't be able to recapture the magic. Luckily, it looks like it was just the "catching up" portion of the show that was a little awkward.
The network probably should have afforded the show a full hour to give everyone time to catch up with these characters from a generation ago. For one thing, many of the people in that coveted 18-49 demographic have never even heard of "Murphy Brown," much less seen it. The show spoofed this by having a mother excited to see Murphy Brown and her daughter asking, "Who's Murphy Brown?"
It's a valid question, both in general and for who the character is now, as a retired journalist in her 70s who decides to go back on the air. By the end of the premiere, both Murhy and her son Avery (Jake McDorman) were on the air with new shows competing in the same time slot.
It was a lot to pack in, but once that heavy lifting was done, the show was able to settle in to what it does best and that's absolutely skewer what's going on in the world around us. Below are five topics "Murphy Brown" laid into this week:
One of the best recurring themes of the original run of "Murphy Brown" was her constant firing and hiring of secretaries. When the show became a Top 10 hit in the ratings, it was able to score bigger and bigger guest stars for this short-lived role, and clearly her legacy preceded her in this revival, as the first person interviewed was none other than Hilary Clendon.
Wait, is that spelled right? This is Hillary Clinton right?
"I know, I get that a lot. But my name is spelled with one 'l,'" Clinton said, insisting that she was not the former First Lady. So Murphy went ahead with the interview:
Do you have secretarial experience?
"Absolutely. For four years I was the Secretary-- I was the secretary of a very large organization."
And you're familiar with the tools of the trade, like email?
"I-I do have some experience with emails."
Clinton was game for the jokes, and the whole cameo proved a lot of fun. It was also a good tension breaker after the hectic opening act as Murphy got the band back together, as she put it.
In the very first episode of their new show, "Murphy in the Morning," the gang brought on the new senior manager of the Environmental Protection Agency who got her job because, "I ran the gift shop at Trump Tower." She tried to argue against climate change because it was cold where she was in Alaska, and she didn't see any ice melting.
This allowed Murphy, Frank (Joe Regalbuto) and Corky (Faith Ford) to counter with the science behind climate change supporters' claims, even if Corky was suffering a rather severe hot flash at the time. It's her turn to go through the change of life, which is a nice human touch to put on the show.
And then, while they were arguing with the woman, who looked perplexed by their scientific claims, the woman literally fell through the ice, making it pretty clear which side of the argument "Murphy Brown" lands on.
This segment led right into an on-air Twitter fight between "Old Murphy" Brown, as he dubbed her, and Donald Trump. It was a disappointing moment for Murphy, who had just touted that "Murphy in the Morning" was going to be something different.
Frank Fontana, Corky Sherwood and I will be dealing in something we've seen far too little of lately, the truth," Murphy said of their show. And then, she didn't. Instead, she quickly became the very thing she despises, the very thing that is feeding and cultivating the divisiveness in our nation. She became that screaming partisan voice railing against the "other side."
News shouldn't have sides. News is just that, it's the news. It's what happened. It's based in fact and not opinion and never should it be based on emotion or an agenda or a point of view. And yet, within minutes of opening her broadcast, Murphy proved herself all of those things, and showed how difficult it is to strip away all of that in the modern political climate.
And yet, it absolutely must be done. It's a message the show started preaching right away when Murphy's son, Avery, announced he was getting his own show on the Wolf Network -- a clear parallel for Fox News. " I actually think I can make a big change there. I can change the culture and be the voice of reason," he told her.
Murphy described the network as the place "where all the male anchors are conspiracy theorists and the women are dead behind the eyes." And that's the real challenge in modern journalism. Everyone has strong opinions and deeply-held beliefs. The job of a journalist is to set all that aside and stick to the story.
Even seasoned veterans like Murphy Brown can struggle with that, and especially if their convictions are being challenged. "There's a difference between good television and journalism," Murphy argued after Avery told her she made her show entertaining. "This is why the people don't trust the press anymore."
And to make matters worse, she absolutely killed her son in the ratings. On the one hand, she can be thrilled that her return to the airwaves is a hit. But it also proves that sometimes the people want the wrong things. Murphy gave them "good television" and they ate it up. But what they need is good journalism, and ratings be damned.
Another thing that's new to the world of Murphy Brown and "Murphy Brown" is the advent of social media, which has come to dominate every aspect of life. We kind of loved the bit where Murphy pulled out her trusty flip phone and said she didn't need all that fancy stuff on smart phones because she uses her device to call people. How quaint.
Murphy's take on social media is actually pretty spot-on, though. "I'm not on any of that stuff," she said of the various platforms. "That's where people go to nurse their outrage and express their opinions and as we all know, I don't care what other people think."
By the end of the hour, of course, she was tweeting that she once went on a date with Donald Trump -- a fun detail pulled from Bergen's own life. In a clear nod to last season's big revival, "Roseanne," Avery warned her, "Just think before you tweet, Mom. Shows have been canceled for less."
"Remember when people used to go to brunch on the weekends? Protest marches are the new eggs benedict." --Phyllis (Tyne Daly)
"Is that an Ivanka Trump pump? It is!" --Murphy
"I couldn't help it, they were cute, and on sale. $1 apiece." --Corky (times are rough for Ivanka's clothing line)
"Murph, he didn't ... grab anything, did he?" --Frank (after Murphy revealed she went on a date with Trump.
"Oh come on Frank. The guy is a lot of things, but he's not suicidal." --Murphy
"I have met a lot of people, good people who care about this country. You know, people who drive pickup trucks and have kids in the military and save their coupons and go to church on Sundays. They deserve a voice." --Avery
"They've got one. It's orange, lives in the Oval Office and is Facebook friends with Putin." --Murphy
"You took that job we told you not to." --Corky
"I thought it would be a piece of cake but I was wrong. So wrong Two years on 'The View' nearly killed me. Those women. The gossip,, the backstabbing. Every day was like an episode of 'Game of Thrones.'" --Miles
"Murphy Brown" airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on CBS.