Of all of the reboots of older properties we’ve seen on TV of late, “Murphy Brown” has been the least necessary and the most sociopolitically ham-handed. The show had always thrived, during its original run, on topical political humor. In 2018, topical political humor more or less revolves around Donald J. Trump. You may begin to see why a show banking on this is superfluous, no matter how familiar you may be with the characters.
Just 13 episodes after its initial airing — which was complete with a dubious Hillary Clinton cameo — “Murphy Brown” is wrapping up its time on CBS. And while it’s not going out just yet, what better way to ramp up to the finale than an episode in which Trump supporters physically assault reporters?
According to Entertainment Weekly, the show’s plotline features Frank Fontana, a reporter in the show, getting beaten after covering a political rally.
“I really miss being out in the field,” Fontana says after agreeing to cover the Pennsylvania rally, which is apparently the reportorial equivalent of being a cop and saying it’s your last day on the job and you’re going to retire into the country to raise alpacas. At the rally, “President Trump” begins riffing on the titular character and her reporting.
“Anybody catch Old Murphy on TV this morning?” the actor playing Trump tells the audience. “Yes, she was at it again sitting there with her flunky friends, telling their big lies, planting their fake stories about our great country.
“I hear Old Murphy’s partner in crime, Fibbing Frank Fontana, is here tonight. Where is he? There he is. See him? That’s right. Let ibbin’ Frank know what you think of him. Maybe a good body slam. What do you say?”
So of course, the Trump zombies oblige, putting “Fibbin’ Frank” into the hospital; after he leaves the press pen, all of the Trump supporters do exactly what they were told by the president, because that’s just who they are.
“Next thing I know I was surrounded by a sea of red hats,” he says, as Murphy and her reporter son gather around his bedside.
So her son goes out and finds the woman who first hit Fontana, asking her why she did it. I warn you that if you thought this was painfully bad before, we were just taxiing to the runway of heavy-handedness. We’re about to take off, so make sure your tray tables are in their upright and locked position and your barf bags are out and ready.
“He had it coming,” the woman matter-of-factly tells Brown’s son. “He’s fake news. He’s the enemy of the people.”
“He’s a journalist,” Brown’s son responds. “He was just there to cover the rally. That is what the free press does. That’s what separates a democracy from a dictatorship. Or maybe a dictatorship is what you’d prefer.”
Yes, we’ve ventured into very-special-episode territory. And we stay there, too. Witness Frank Fontana’s profession about our country after his ordeal: “If this is the way it’s going to be, I’m not so sure I want to do it anymore. It’s a different profession. No one would ever call Huntley or Brinkley enemies of the people.”
I can’t remember anything this didactic on network television since that episode of “Saved by the Bell” where Jessie has to be saved from the throes of caffeine pill addiction. I’m sure I missed something, but it’s more or less pitched at that level — and yet, it pretends to be a serious commentary about Who We Are In 2018.
The episode basically invents a threat out of whole cloth. What’s funnier is that you’re exponentially more likely to see Trump supporters getting attacked than doing the attacking. Not one incident of the type portrayed in Thursday night’s episode has actually happened.
I write this fully aware that conservative reaction is exactly what the producers want. It beats no reaction at all, which is what “Murphy Brown” has been getting. The show’s run is supposed to end Dec. 20; The Hollywood Reporter notes that “the rebooted series was always intended to be a closed-ended order of 13 episodes.” However, if it had done well in the ratings, one imagines it probably would have been picked up. It hasn’t, having underperformed with 6.2 million total viewers and a 0.9 rating in the 18-49 demographic coveted by advertisers.
That being said, THR noted that it “remains in consideration for a renewal,” which makes me wonder what they’ll cook up between now and Dec. 20. Trump nuking California? Trump shooting a guy down South just to watch him die? A secret plot in which the cloth used to make “MAGA” hats secretly turns its wearers into controlled agents of the CIA?
Whatever works, I suppose. Those probably get a bit heavy, but Thursday’s episode demonstrates there’s no bottom for “Murphy Brown.” You’ve only got a few weeks, folks. Anchors aweigh!
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