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On the heels of the Kavanaugh hearing, 'Murphy Brown' returns just when we need her the most

On the heels of the Kavanaugh hearing, 'Murphy Brown' returns just when we need her the most
Skeptical TV anchor "Murphy Brown" returns to CBS just in time for Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation hearing showdown. The series stars Candice Bergen, center, in the title role, with Joe Regalbuto, left, and Faith Ford, right. (David Giesbrecht / AP)

It’s election night 2016 in the opening minutes of the rebooted series “Murphy Brown.” Dressed in a T-shirt that reads “Original Nasty Woman,” the retired news anchor (the indispensable Candice Bergen) has dozed off on the couch while waiting for the results. And she’s having a nightmare.

It’s a furious barrage of news clips surrounding the election, including footage of actual news anchors struggling with how to repeat then-candidate Donald Trump’s phrase “Grab ‘em by the.…” She jars awake to the election results, and a resounding “Noooooo!” is the first word we hear from Brown in 20 years.

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Brown and her creator Diane English, who has described the show’s namesake character as “Mike Wallace in a dress,” couldn’t have returned to the fold at a more opportune time … even down to the day the CBS series premieres.

“Murphy Brown” reenters the fray Thursday, the same day Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford are scheduled to testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding her allegations that he tried to rape her at a house party in their high school years.

Their testimony, if televised, promises to fuel a news cycle as frenetic and disturbing as Brown’s show-opening nightmare, a feeding frenzy that will undoubtedly spill over into the series’ prime-time slot.

Brown’s real-life peers such as Andrea Mitchell will be recapping the most contentious SCOTUS confirmation hearing since Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill testified in 1991. It was a nationally televised spectacle many Americans thought they’d never witness again: a room of all male politicians grilling one woman about her sexual harassment claims against a former male superior. Thomas was up for a lifetime appointment to nation’s highest court of law, but it was Hill who was scrutinized, grilled and ultimately dismissed.

Back then, the always-topical “Murphy Brown” dedicated at least one episode to the painful chapter in American politics, and in it, Brown the journalist refused to reveal her sources to a condescending group of senators who looked awfully familiar. In that version of Senate inquest, she did what Hill could not – fight back. The lines between TV and reality were further crossed when a year later Vice President Dan Quayle expressed moral outrage about Murphy deciding to raise a baby on her own.

A Kavanaugh, Ford and other accusers-inspired episode can’t be far off.

That’s because Brown, who returns to journalism in the rebooted series, once again has a podium from which to debate and satirize current events, and poke fun at how those events are covered. Breaking news in the last week alone is a cornucopia of material compared with what she had to work with back in the day.

And if the first three episodes available for review are an indication of what’s to come, she’s prepared to slay this time around. And how is it that this sitcom character created in the 1980s does a better job at skewering our modern media culture, and showing us how far we haven’t come in terms of women’s fair representation, than most of her present-day scripted competition?

Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown and Grant Shaud as Miles Silverberg in an upcoming episode of the revival.
Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown and Grant Shaud as Miles Silverberg in an upcoming episode of the revival. (John Paul Filo / CBS)

Brown’s driven back into journalism after she realized during the first Women’s March that she still had plenty to say, and rather than screaming at the television she figures why not scream outward toward viewers. She’s passionate about combating fake news, speaking truth to power and only being shot from the waist up so she can host her new morning cable show, “Murphy in the Morning,” in pajama pants.

She’s gotten the old team of Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) and Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud) back together. They’ll hopefully counter all the misinformation peddled on the Wolf News Network, where “all the men are conspiracy theorists and the women are dead behind the eyes.”

So we see Brown sneaking into White House press briefings in disguise after being banned, starting a Twitter war with Trump on air and refusing to interview a Steve Bannon-like character despite the pressure from the network’s CEO. Brown makes the tough decision after speaking to another veteran journalist that fans will recognize (no spoilers here). They argue that if Brown gives “that human mudslide” airtime to justify his racist policies and conspiracy theories, she’ll be giving a false news equivalency to the racist propaganda she seeks to eradicate.

It’s one of many present-day journalism conundrums that’s tackled in the half-hour show with nuance, smart humor and a still surprisingly sharp edge.

If the confirmation hearing addressing the mounting sexual misconduct allegations against Kavanaugh does take place Thursday, or any other time in the near future, it will no doubt be a font of disturbing and infuriating material for the outspoken Brown to satirize.

Brown knows what to do because, sadly, we’ve been here before.

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‘Murphy Brown’

Where: CBS

When: 9:30 p.m. Thursday

Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)

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