September 28, 2018

SHOWBUZZDAILY Series Premiere Review: “Murphy Brown”


MURPHY BROWN:  Thursday 9:30PM on CBS

MURPHY BROWN was Prestige TV comedy before that concept really existed.  When it went on the air 30 years ago, it was a year before the arrival of Seinfeld, and 5 years ahead of Frasier, and while there were other intelligent, funny sitcoms on the air, Diane English’s show particularly prized wit and topicality–the latter to the extent that it was famously criticized by the then-Vice President of the United States, in an early example of what came to be known as the Culture Wars that rage today.  So if we’re going to live in a world of rebooted IP, the return of Murphy Brown seemed like it should be one of the more welcome examples of the form.

Tonight’s Season 11 premiere/re-pilot/whathaveyou, however, was a reminder that three decades is a long time, and that the cutting edge can all too easily become the creaky.  English wrote the script, and there were strenuous attempts to update the material, but they just tended to increase the must:  a laborious sequence where Murphy’s now-grown son Avery (Jake McDorman)–a reporter himself with a show on the none too subtly named Wolf News–taught his mom (Candice Bergen, of course) how to use Twitter, or a cringe-worthy bit that attempted to make a meta-joke of the fact that the show-within-the-show’s social media expert (Nik Nodani) is a young Indian-American character.  The stunt of having Murphy’s first new secretary be Hillary Clinton was too much, too soon, and it briefly turned the show into a Saturday Night Live sketch.

In other ways, the new Murphy Brown was at pains to duplicate the original as much as possible.  Most of the cast is back, not just Bergen but Grant Shaud as nervous Executive Producer Miles Silverberg, Joe Regalbuto as investigative reporter Frank Fontana, and Faith Ford as bubbly (and now menopausal) reporter Corky Sherwood.  Phil’s Bar is now run by Phil’s sister Phyllis (Tyne Daly).  It may just be that the cast is out of practice, but even with ace multi-camera director Pamela Fryman overseeing the action, the rhythms seem forced and a beat slow, unlike Will & Grace, which has issues of its own, but which snapped instantly back into its ensemble form.

There’s also the fact that as a sitcom that shoots some weeks in advance, Murphy Brown can be only so topical, in an era where we’re practically buried in instantaneous Trump-related comedy online and from the nightly interview shows.  Nevertheless, there are moments that have a bit of the old pop, especially when Murphy dueled on-air with a Twitterstorm from the Commander In Chief, and certainly there’s reason to hope that all the participants will revert to their old form before long.

The new Murphy Brown will have a solid lead-in from Mom, and its comedy competition is the uncertain I Feel Bad on NBC, so it will have a chance to succeed.  Whether its appeal will be limited to liberals who are old even by CBS standards is yet to be seen.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."