As with so many recent revivals and remakes, some things are best left in the past. However, if any show is suited for these times, it’s “Murphy Brown.” It was always an idiosyncratic, politically engaged sitcom and, given the state of current events, it is thus a genuine delight to have Candice Bergen back as the uncompromising yet flawed reporter, angry as hell and ready for a fight.
Creator Diane English brings the show about the making of a television news show into 2018 by having Murphy, accompanied by longtime colleagues Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) and Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), anchor a cable news morning show — one that happens to be in direct competition with a show hosted by Murphy’s adult son Avery (Jake McDorman) on the “Wolf” Network.
It may be a sitcom shot weeks in advance, but Murphy and her team very much live in our world. (Fun fact: Apparently, you can say the word “cuck” on CBS.) Episode 2 of the revival, “I (Don’t) Heart Huckabee,” goes so far as to incorporate footage of Sarah Huckabee Sanders from her press briefings, with a Sanders impersonator delivering some lines off-screen. (The show might be pressing its luck here; the episode is set to air Oct. 4, so if Sanders experiences the same sort of job turnover endemic to this White House, they’ll have to do some significant rewriting.)
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Meanwhile, in the first episode, fake tweets featuring Trump referring to Murphy Brown as “old Murphy” — a nickname so weak and banal it’s believable as a Trump original — are spotlighted; there’s no doubt, though, that should @RealDonaldTrump choose to respond to the show, those real Tweets will be referenced. In fact, English told reporters at the TCA summer press tour that what she’s hoping for.
In the first three episodes provided to critics (the screener for the premiere was missing a key scene featuring a “special guest star” who hasn’t been revealed), underneath the familiar sitcom patter lies a recognizable sense of anger and exhaustion. However, it’s all anchored by these well-defined characters played by true veterans of the genre, who bring an ease to their scenes while also maintaining the original show’s energy.
As far as the new cast additions, McDorman proves to be more than nimble when it comes to the multi-cam format. Best known for his roles as the star of CBS’ “Limitless” and a one-season run on Showtime’s “Shameless,” his rapport with Bergen goes a long way toward selling their unconventional mother-son relationship; the affection is there, as well as the competitive streak that defines both characters as connected by the same genetic strands.
In addition, Nik Dodani, as social media expert Pat Patel, could have been a major landmine for the series — on the surface, the stereotype of his character and casting is pretty blatant — but the giddy glee Dodani brings to his scenes helps define him as a unique comic presence. And English even added another TV icon to the cast with Tyne Daly as Phyllis, who has inherited the iconic Phil’s Bar but serves the same function as the deceased Phil (Pat Corley). (Elgin, played by the late Robert Pastorelli in the original series, also gets a moment of remembrance.)
Easily the best aspect of “Murphy Brown” is how it acknowledges the meta elements of its existence without sacrificing the quality of its comedy or breaking the fourth wall. (For an example of how not to do this, there’s the flat-out painful cold open that reintroduced “Last Man Standing” to the airwaves). The writing never forgets just what a trash fire the news can be today, but in unleashing Murphy on the world, there’s the faintest glimpse of hope that maybe, just maybe, change is possible. As Murphy shouts in Episode 1, “Bring it on!”
“Murphy Brown” premieres September 27 at 9:30 E.T. on CBS.