The new 'Murphy Brown' really wants Donald Trump to tweet about it

·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
From left: Joe Regalbuto, Candice Bergen, and Faith Ford in <em>Murphy Brown</em>. (Photo: David Giesbrecht/Warner Bros.)
From left: Joe Regalbuto, Candice Bergen, and Faith Ford in Murphy Brown. (Photo: David Giesbrecht/Warner Bros.)

If you think Joe Scarborough and Morning Joe are sources of both wisdom and entertainment, you’re going to love Candice Bergen and the return of Murphy Brown. The liberal MSNBC morning news show is the model for Murphy in the Morning, the new production that brings Bergen’s Murphy out of retirement. This is the hook creator-writer Diane English dreamed up to bring the gang back together: Murphy, along with reporters Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) and Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), and producer Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud). (Charles Kimbrough, now 82, will appear only occasionally as stuffy anchorman Jim Dial.)

Why a Murphy Brown revival now? President Trump, of course. The original Murphy Brown hit its pop-cultural zenith when it was attacked by Republican Vice President Dan Quayle in 1992 (he scolded the show for making Murphy a single mom — oh, for such innocent times again!). So CBS must have agreed with English and Bergen that a Murphy 2018 might strike ratings gold if it could come back with the left-leaning Murphy zinging the radically right current administration.

The challenge for any TV revival is to remind you why you liked the original while offering enough new material to amuse old fans and attract some younger viewers. Alas, it’s the new material here that is the weakest aspect of the show. If late night hosts and Saturday Night Live can barely keep up with Trump’s nonstop barrage of insults, gaffes, and much worse, how could a taped sitcom on a staid network like CBS possibly hope to offer anything fresh? This show expects you to find these things funny: Murphy wearing a sweatshirt that reads “Original Nasty Woman”; the punchline “Trump is Facebook friends with Putin”; and the observation “O.J. is out, Nazis are in.” Are you laughing yet?

Bergen is downright impish and energetic at age 72 — you really believe Murphy wants to make a comeback as much as the actor playing her does. There are a few new characters around to youth the show up a little. Jake McDorman is fine as Murphy’s grown-up baby boy, Avery. Nik Dodani takes the role of Pat, Murphy in the Morning’s social media guy, and manages to make the character likable instead of obnoxious.

But the most interesting character by far proves to be Grant Shaud’s Miles, who has aged into a miserably self-aware failure given a slight reprieve from despair with the offer to produce this new show. Miles was always a neurotic character, scarred from youth by oppressively demanding parents, but now he’s become a deeply melancholy man fully aware of how pathetic his youthful ambitions were when he oversaw Murphy’s old newsmagazine show, FYI. The idea that Miles is returning to work with Murphy after spending two years producing The View, which left him a frazzled burnout, is the cleverest notion English had for this reboot. Fully up to the challenge, Shaud gives the only subtle performance in Murphy Brown. I’d watch a spinoff of him and this character if it were written by another CBS team — say, The Good Fight’s Robert and Michelle King.

By the time I plowed through the third episode, which showcased Murphy debating a Steve Bannon-ish blowhard, I was left wondering who the audience for a sitcom version of Don Lemon’s worst CNN segment ever could possibly be. If, to return to my observation, Murphy in the Morning is supposed to remind a viewer of Morning Joe, it’s hard to understand CBS’s path to success here. Scarborough and his gang of libs on MSNBC never beat Fox & Friends in the morning ratings, which also means Joe draws a tiny rating compared to what a primetime network sitcom is expected to attain. Maybe that’s why Murphy Brown has been scheduled at 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays behind Mom. Rather than being the big hit it used to be, the reboot is starting off needing all the scheduling help it can get.

Murphy Brown airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBS.

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