I was eight-years-old when Murphy Brown first hit the airwaves. I watched it because my parents watched it, and it was during the days of one TV and no PVR, when choosing what to watch was survival of the fittest.
It wasn’t until the infamous Dan Quayle story arch that I saw Murphy Brown for the ground-breaking show it was.
Murphy give birth to a beautiful baby boy, and the former vice-president was not a fan of this unabashed glorification of single-motherhood. While the show was certainly known for weaving real news stories into its fictional storylines, this time the writers took it a step further, knocking down the fourth wall and addressing Mr. Quayle directly.
Addressing might be a euphemism – they handed him his ass. The fictional Murphy responded to the real Dan Quayle’s remarks by welcoming a group of single-parents into the TV newsroom, and admonishing him by staring directly into the camera. I may not have caught all of the political references in the show, but I knew about different types of families. I saw the integrity in Candice Bergen’s eyes, and I never forgot it.
Flash-forward thirty years, and all things old are new again. The hippest new trend in TV is bringing back old shows. Theoretically, this gives us the warm fuzzies. Who wouldn’t want a part of their youth back? Practically, though, a lot of these reboots fall way short. Fuller House showed us that 90s camp doesn’t translate well to the 2010s. Roseanne ruined the memory of our favourite TV mom when star, Roseanne Barr, reminded us that she is a terrible human being. Most of them simply try too hard to be relatable to current times, or become too meta with the constant past-self referencing.
When I heard Murphy would be coming out of retirement, along with nearly all of her former costars, I was ecstatic but hesitant. The original show shone a spotlight on society, highlighting trouble spots and pushing for change through satire. If ever we needed a show like this, it’s now. Who better to take on Trump and his entourage, or the dumpster fire that is the current world dynamic, than Ms. Brown herself? But what if it didn’t hold up? The show succeeded on biting commentary, did it have the same chops so many years later?
To find the answer, we didn’t need to look any further than Murphy’s couch in the pilot episode of the reboot. Sitting in plain sight was a pillow, carefully embroidered with “Tired-Ass Honky Ho,” referencing a comment on Bergen’s Instagram. She was so amused by this troll’s remark, she put it in her Instagram bio, and on Murphy’s couch. The pillow, in all its cross-stitched glory, perched on the couch like a billboard announcing 2018 Murphy had no intentions of being demure or diplomatic.
Unlike the other recent reboots, Murphy Brown remains sharp and relevant. It does not try to recapture its former glory by reminding audiences what it used to be, but rather reaches out to its current audience and earns our views in the present. It’s still funny. It’s still poignant. Its characters still feel familiar and true to themselves.
But more than entertainment, Murphy’s return does us a great service. Being a fictional journalist, not bound by an actual professional code, Murphy and her team are able to be the press we need right now. They can comment on actual politicians and current events without having to maintain objectivity, or worry about fallout – and despite being fictional, they are credible. Their jokes are rooted in fact, and what they say is true to life.
One episode tackles the Me Too movement, contrasting Murphy’s cognitive dissonance surrounding behaviour by a former mentor from her youth, with her grown son’s progressive approach to seeking consent.
Another episode takes on the idea of false equivalency as the newsroom decides whether or not to interview a high profile, but hate-mongering guest. After careful consideration, they choose not to give this person airtime for fear it will create the idea that all opinions are equal. This is a clear criticism of many news outlets who, in an effort to appear partisan on issues from gun control to climate change, bring in “experts” from both sides to debate as though their arguments are on a level playing field.
Real journalists need to consider things like ratings, audience, and keeping up the appearance of being impartial – Murphy can tell the truth without such obstacles. She can hold both politicians and the press accountable.
Beyond blatant rhetoric, Murphy Brown continues its traditions of being progressive in more subtle ways. Its newsroom crew is highly diverse, and features at least one employee who wears a hijab. But unlike many shows, the writers don’t feel the need to point this out. A diverse workplace is simply accepted as normal, as it should be, without self-congratulatory back pats for being so inclusive (looking at you, Roseanne).
Perhaps the most delightful thing about this reboot is the celebration of a vibrant, quick-witted older woman on primetime. In its first incarnation, Murphy was an example of the mythical middle-aged female news anchor, which was revolutionary in its day, and very likely instrumental in changing the faces of the news anchors on our current television sets. Now Murphy is a senior citizen, and every bit as vivacious, sexy, and competent, proving once again we should never take a woman for granted, at any age.
Whether you watched the original series or not, Murphy Brown is a must-watch now. If not for the benefit of society, watch it because it’s simply a great show.