‘Murphy Brown’ 11×04 Review: ‘Three Shirts To The Wind’

The Murphy Brown revival promised the nostalgia of an old favorite, and the promise of sharp, topical humor. Four episodes in, neither of those factors are as appealing as the mother/son dynamic of Murphy and Avery. Sadly, we got little of that in “Three Shirts To The Wind.”

The Fourth Horseman

Murphy is offered a chance to interview a former White House executive known for extreme racist views. The network’s big boss, Diana, wants this to happen. (And Diana reminds me a little too much of a few former bosses.) The news team is split; while the “get” would be good for ratings and social media, Ed Shannon ( stand-in for Steve Bannon) is still a bigot.

Murphy is torn. She considers Shannon “horseman number four of the apocalypse,” but knows this could be an important “get” in the competitive world of cable news.

It’s up to an old friend to break the tie. Charles Kimbrough makes a guest appearance as the now-retired Jim Dial. Life on a sailboat hasn’t dulled his journalistic sense, though; he says NO, emphatically and repeatedly. “If you put that human mudslide on the air you’re creating a perfect example of false equivalency,” he says.

False equivalency is frequently discussed in nearly every newsroom across the country, though I can think of a few where it is not; I’m sure you can too. Jim’s warning needs to be heard in all those newsrooms; not all “gets” are created equal, and some of them are better as “forgets.”

Eventually Murphy refuses to do the interview. But did anyone really think that horseman would ride away so easily? Of course not. Shannon shows up in his three-shirted glory to confront Murphy.

Yeah, as if that’s going to go well for him.

It’s nice to see Murphy in full-throated anti-bigot monologue mode again, but it didn’t feel quite as sharp as in days past. Her jab that Shannon is an “old white guy who’s scared of losing his place at the table” was truthful, but not as biting a truth as it might have been twenty years ago.

“Murphy Brown” Episode 11×04 “Three Shirts To The Wind.” Source: Twitter/@MurphyBrownCBS

Has Murphy Lost Her Edge?

The humor in this reboot has been hit and miss. Right after this episode, I spotted a Twitter comment surmising the problem is the prevalence of late-night shows doing the same type of topical comedy weeks before a Murphy Brown episode on the same subject can air. It’s not funny because we’ve already seen the joke.

That might be the problem for some folks, but I don’t watch any of those late-night shows. This 50-something fangirl has trouble staying up till 11 p.m. these days! (And would not mind Murphy Brown switching time slots with Mom.) Yet I also think the humor isn’t as biting as in the original run. Maybe it’s because of the stretch of time between the events that inspire episodes and when those episodes finally air. The real world news cycle has moved far past Steve Bannon, after all, so Murphy’s dressing down of his fictional analogue wasn’t quite so satisfying as last week’s confrontation with her old college professor.

What has worked best for me is the humor that centers around the characters I love, particularly Murphy and Avery.

More Avery, Please!

I’ve said this in just about every review; Avery is my favorite part of this reboot. Maybe because I’m a mom to a 19-year-old son, and I hope he and I can have the type of relationship I see between Murphy and Avery. (I envy Murphy that she NEVER has to tell him to clean his room! I dream of getting to that point someday…)

Avery bookended this episode. It opens with him in a live shot from hell. It closes with him and Murphy on the couch, checking out the viral video of Murphy’s showdown with Shannon. In between, we get a little of them lightly teasing each other about their competing shows. We also see their vastly differing outlooks on the dawn patrol –  Avery is up and jogging at 4 a.m.; Murphy can barely drag herself out of bed.

It was all nice, but I’m really looking forward to next week’s episode, when it seems we will get more of what I’m liking the best. Murphy, what the heck did you do to Barney???

Other Notes

  • I love that Candice Bergen is unafraid to look like a 72-year-old woman in dire need of more sleep. As a former member of the news dawn patrol, I can relate!
  • Move out?? Avery, are you nuts?
  • Diana is a frightening amalgam of some of the worst bosses I’ve ever had.
  • Looks like the “assistant of the week” gag is going to move over to Diana now. But her statement that Joffrey is “no longer with us” frightens me.
  • Great callout to Tyne Daly’s award-winning role on Cagney and Lacey. Phyllis tells a dawdling customer she spent 20 years “in one of toughest divisions of NYPD.” But it gets an extra twist – it was parking ENFORCEMENT. Emphasized with a knife! I need more Phyllis in this show, too.
  • So lovely to see Jim Dial back with the team, and his repeated, firm, “NO!” to every reason given for interviewing Shannon was a delight.
  • Murphy’s takedown of Shannon was good, but not as satisfying as I’d hoped for.
  • Oh, that title? Shannon always wears three shirts, “to hide his swamp scales,” according to one of his detractors.

Murphy Brown airs Thursday nights at 9:30/8:30 Central on CBS.

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