Murphy Brown, a CBS sitcom that aired from 1988 to 1998, notoriously pushed the envelope on questions of femininity and family. It aired during a decade when television was dominated by conservatively defined “family values.” But Murphy, the show’s eponymous lead, was an acerbic recovering alcoholic and hard-hitting journalist who became a single mother early on in the series, sparking a scandal that went beyond the screen. In 1992, then-Vice President Dan Quayle criticized her for “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone.” And America loved it all: the show won eighteen Emmys, including five best actress awards for Candice Bergen, who played Brown.
The trailblazing sitcom had a no-holds barred approach to taking on sensitive topics and a feminist stance. That’s part of what’s so exciting about the CBS Murphy Brown reboot coming tonight. With original show creator Diane English on board as executive producer, along with Bergen, we expect a full reprisal of the original program’s bold attitude. And we can’t wait.
The show positions itself to take on the reeling chaos of politics in America under Trump’s presidency — Bergen’s character has retired since the 90s, but she returns to TV in the reboot as a response to the inauguration of the country’s Trump-esque 45th president. The first episode is entitled “Fake News” — sound familiar?
Reviews have already started praising the show, Vanity Fair’s Sonia Saraiya noting its “wry sarcasm” and contrasting it favorably with the recent Roseanne reboot. It’s a professional rather than a family drama (“despite the touching and evolving dynamic between Murphy and Avery [Murphy’s son]”), and Saraiya suggests this helps it succeed at discussing “politics without getting mired in baked-in, bone-deep ideologies.” The show takes on politics through the quick-paced lens of the news cycle rather than trenchant, endless arguments of right and wrong. But Saraiya’s article is titled “The New Murphy Brown Was Made to Infuriate Donald Trump” — so we can expect that the sharp, critical political pulse that made the original Murphy Brown so successful will be just as striking in the reboot, and will leave us thinking about our real-world politics in different ways.
It’s also unfortunately a novelty (albeit a refreshing one!) to see a sitcom led by a seventy-two year old woman — and that will be the case here, with Bergen back in her old role as a later-in-life Murphy Brown. Avery, the son she chose to raise alone back in the 90s will be featured as a rival talk show host (played by Jake McDormand).
It’s inspiring to see women growing and thriving in their careers, no matter their age, and to see smart feminism and political commentary on broadcast TV. Here’s to round two of Murphy Brown’s controversial hot takes and to Bergen’s return to her iconic role.