On Thursday night, after an agonizing, devastating, infuriating day of Kavanaugh hearings, Murphy Brown returned to prime-time television for the first time in two decades, after its initial final episode aired in 1998. Set in the present after Murphy Brown’s (Candice Bergen) retirement from televised news journalism, it just underscored the day’s overwhelming sense of early ‘90s déja vu. The question was, though, could a revamped Murphy Brown still reflect a feminist climate—and demonstrably change its culture—the way it did in its initial 10-year run, which encompassed a moment when women were really discussing our positioning in the workforce and, as now, the so-called “Year of the Woman”?
On its premiere episode, Murphy Brown was light on nostalgia for itself and more interested in positioning its characters in the profoundly politicized present. Beginning on election night with Murphy crashed on the couch in a pink “Original Nasty Woman” t-shirt, she wakes up just as she sees her son Avery (Jake McDorman), also a TV news anchor, announcing Trump’s win. Her first line: “Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”
Show creator Diane English has done an effective job of showing how those ‘90s women, just beginning to thrive during feminism’s second wave, are now attempting to relate to our new reality, in which the most basic women’s rights are fundamentally threatened from the very top on down. In this context, Murphy’s acclimated in ways both symbolic (her slogan sweatshirt; a needlepoint pillow on her couch reading “Tired-Ass Honky Ho,” referring to a real troll) and tangible: After a new network, CNC, gives her a roundtable morning news show with all her old cronies, including a menopause-afflicted Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) and Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), she is forced to acclimate herself to the new way of reporting, where allegations of “fake news” are a distraction and she is made to create a Twitter account, with which she immediately attracts the ire of “Trump.”
I cannot say I’m much inclined to watch CBS sitcoms in the era of prestige TV—the two I watched for the first time beforehand, Young Sheldon and Mom, were dismal half-hour stabs at comedy (Allison Janney deserves better than a canned laugh track!). But even in that context, and despite the occasional sitcom-trope (Corky’s hot flashes; Nik Dodani as Pat Patel, her show’s new social media editor, and his slightly overacted squeals), Murphy Brown delivered some much-needed laughs, particularly via her glee at provoking “Trump’s” tweet-ire after a tweet of hers about once having gone out with him on a date. (A real-life thing that was afflicted upon our long-suffering Candice Bergen.) The Murphy Brown reboot’s adherence to real life is done delicately, not too close to home to watch, but a nice continuation of what the show did in its prime: mirroring and adding levity to the sentiments of a particular subset of American women—Hillary Clinton makes a pun-filled cameo as an applicant for Bergen’s new “secretary.” At this moment in history, it’s nice to know we have this cathartic 30 minutes for another go round.