Thursday, September 27, 2018

REVIEW: 'Murphy Brown' - Murphy and Her Son Receive Competing Morning News Shows in 'Fake News'

CBS' Murphy Brown - Episode 11.01 "Fake News"

Back in the game after a brief retirement, and faced with a world of 24-hour cable, social media, fake news and a vastly different political climate, Murphy is determined to draw the line between good television and honest reporting, proving that the world needs Murphy Brown now more than ever.

It has been 20 years since Murphy Brown went off the air. The world of politics and journalism has changed considerably since then. The expansion of cable channels and social media has fed into the ideas of connectivity and the need to be satisfied at every moment of every single day. As such, it's enticing to see Murphy and the team reunite in order to move into the modern age. This premiere basically functions as a premise pilot. It needs to first establish what the lives of the characters have been like since the audience has last seen them. Then, it needs to move them into the situation that will come to define the story for this new season. The premiere opens with a montage of the 2016 presidential campaign. When Murphy is first seen, she is waking up to the news that Donald Trump has been elected as President. It's even more shocking because her son, Avery, is the political commentator on the screen actually delivering the news. Then, the story moves forward to January 2018 and the second Women's March. That too is a very momentous occasion. It's the event that allows the old team to gather at Phil's bar once more. Sure, Phil is no longer the owner of the establishment. That honor now belongs to his newly discovered sister, Phyllis. But this moment also provides an update on the lives of Murphy, Corky and Frank. They are all basically the same just older now. Murphy has retired from the life of a reporter. Frank is teaching instead of investigating stories. And Corky was recently fired from a morning news show in favor of a more attractive weather girl. This establishes the mood right away that none of them seem all that content with the lives they are currently living. They miss doing work that actually matters. They want to still be seen as relevant and important. They don't want a new generation of engaged citizens to have absolutely no idea who they are.

As such, that fuels yet another jump in time. This time two months has passed and the Brown family has some big news about their careers. Murphy is returning to the news as the anchor of a new morning show for CNC. Meanwhile, Avery has also been offered his own show for the rival Wolf network. Now, these are some very thinly veiled stand-ins for CNN and Fox News. Murphy's new environment is one that embraces panels and technological advances when it comes to reporting the news. Avery's show is on a very conservative network where the other anchors are all spouting conspiracy theories about the various antics going on in Washington to keep the president from doing his job. But it's much more important once Murphy and Avery realize that their shows are on at the same time. That's the hook of the new series. Murphy and Avery have entered into the world of cable news. They are competing against each other. It's a very friendly competition. But one that also highlights the differences in the way the news is reported in 2018. Murphy sees the value in having experts on her show to offer well-researched arguments about actual news stories. She wants to do some actual journalism instead of just blindly reacting to the crazy tweet of the day from the president. Meanwhile, Avery is taking his show on the road. He is broadcasting live from all over the country and interviewing real Americans to hear their perspective on the issues currently facing the country. They are both ideas that have worked in the real world. They have their value. But it's also fascinating to see which one of them is able to stick to their guns while the other struggles with impulse control.

Murphy fears that she may no longer be as relevant as she once was. Her voicing those concerns is also a very meta moment for the show. The original run was so successful and timely. It spoke to that era's political environment. It got so much power from addressing the many issues that were being dealt with at the time. It's easy to fear that Murphy and company may not be able to make the transition into 2018 where it seems like every day there is some new bombshell report coming out of Washington. It's made the entire public completely aware of politics in a way that has never been on display before. That's reflected in this initial broadcast for Murphy as well. She has a script and story she wants to stick to for her opening episode. The reports Frank and Corky have been working on delve into global warming and the ongoing debate of whether it's a real thing. It's an amusing idea to connect the changing weather patterns to a woman going through menopause. Of course, the show mostly uses that idea in order to serve some broad humor with Corky almost revealing herself during a live broadcast. However, the entire team quickly gets distracted by a tweet from the president. Murphy had already poked the bear the previous night when she first joined Twitter. It's insane that she once went out on a date with Trump. It's her first real entry into social media as well. The show probably gets a little too much amusement out of Murphy now being an older woman who doesn't understand how to work technology. She still functions with a flip phone and uses "password" as her password for every account. She is rightfully ridiculed for both things even though it's not all that smart observational humor. It's the show mostly just saying that Murphy comes from a completely different era. She now lives in a new world and easily gets caught up in the heat of the moment.

And so, Murphy's first broadcast basically turns into a shouting match between her and the tweets from the president. The show does a solid job embodying the voice of the president with him giving Murphy an unflattering and derogatory nickname while also just using sad as his go-to adjective whenever discussing someone or something critical of his work. Sure, it's also not as funny as the show believes it to be to have Frank doing his Trump impression while reading this tweet. That too is a gimmick that has become very popular amongst commentators when it comes to this presidency - especially those who take a satirical look at the news. However, it shows how Murphy can feel the impulse to take the bait and punch back. That's simply who she is. She had lofty ambitions for this show. She wanted to honor journalism by actually reporting on the facts. She didn't want to just present a case of people only shouting their opinions at one another. And yet, that's essentially what this first episode becomes. Trump sends out his tweets. Murphy reacts because she can't help herself. Head of social media Pat is even encouraging her to do this. It's a tactic used by reporters now because it can be very entertaining. It's a lot of fun seeing people get worked up. Even Avery says that it was a compelling show. Murphy is ashamed of it though. She believes it's not in the spirit of what she wants to do. Frank, Corky and Miles are all trying to tell her not to do it. In fact, Frank and Corky even have to hold her back from going even further with what she wants to say. It's just a brief moment. But it's also clearly the moment that best defines this opening episode for Murphy in the Morning. It's the thing the team will remember from coming back to tell the news.

And then, the ratings ultimately support Murphy. Mother and son are together when the first judgments of their shows come in. It too is a story that very much feels connected to the way Trump sees the world. He is so obsessed with ratings. When those initial ratings reports come out shortly after broadcast, he will talk them up so immensely if he supports the project. Even if something doesn't perform well, he will just lie and say that it was the number one for the night. And so, it's a big deal that Murphy can point to ratings success with her show-within-the-show. She defeats her son in their first head-to-head showdown. Of course, both of them had the opportunity to watch what the other was doing. They liked the material they were highlighting in their news reports. In fact, Murphy has nothing but praise for the way that Avery has changed up the formula for this kind of reporting. She may actually be envious of it. Sure, it's also just easy for her to say that because the show offers no evidence of what Avery's program actually looks like. It doesn't spend any time on his set as he's making the decisions for what stories to cover and how to react to the various tweets from the president. It's easy to assume that the show spends all of its time with Murphy in the Morning because it's the closest way to recreate what the basic premise was on the original show. A split focus could be distracting. It would have to welcome in more new characters. However, Avery is a very successful addition here. His relationship with his mother is very warm and compassionate. They have no problem making fun of each other for the mistakes that they make. But they love each other so much. Murphy may have won in the first round. But they have another show to do in the morning. And so, Avery is determined to keep fighting believing that the better content may actually win out in the end. Murphy won initially because she is still a recognizable name that people trust. If she doesn't offer something new and meaningful though, then her show could quickly be cancelled. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "Fake News" was written by Diane English and directed by Pamela Fryman.
  • For two months now, it has been teased that there was a very special guest star who would appear in the premiere through the running joke regarding Murphy's rotating secretary. That guest star turned out to be Hillary Clinton, though not playing herself. That's a little strange. The story treats her as someone with an uncanny resemblance to the presidential candidate. Some of the jokes are easy. However, it still put a smile on my face because she does have a sense of humor. It's just curious why CBS was comfortable saying she'll appear in an upcoming episode of Madam Secretary and not the premiere of Murphy Brown.
  • The show also has to mention all of the cast members from the original show who have passed on or retired since the final episode aired. Pat Corley's Phil is just dead with his sister having taken over the bar. Robert Pastorelli's Eldin died while running with the bulls. Meanwhile, Charles Kimbrough's Jim has just retired. He went out to sea afterwards - with the creative team saying that Kimbrough will appear again at some point this season.
  • It's so amusing to see how neurotic Miles is in relation to everyone else who has worked with Murphy. The team makes a bunch of jokes about him now living at the Watergate. However, it's just as intense listening to him talk about his mental breakdown after working at The View for two years. That almost broke him. And now, he's reuniting with Murphy Brown in the hopes that it will lead to more sanity and stability in his life once more.
  • It's very sweet and sentimental when the show uses Murphy's Twitter password as a way to honor Aretha Franklin. It creates an even stronger connection to the real world that has absolutely nothing to do with politics. It respects the love that Murphy had for the artist. However, it just completely ignores the fact that most passwords now have to feature upper and lower case letters, a number and a special character in them.
  • Obviously, the tweets the show uses to describe the world we are living in under the current presidential administration are completely fake. The show just uses them to feature how riled up Murphy can be on these issues. However, it is really going to be interesting to see if Trump responds to the Murphy Brown revival in some way because this is a very political episode and one that absolutely condemns him and his policies.