‘Murphy Brown’ 11×12 Review: ‘AWOL’

At first glance, the title “AWOL” refers to Murphy’s planned story about Afghanistan. But it also applies to what’s missing from network news these days: a sense of independence, willingness to take risks, and faith that audiences can pay attention to lengthy, in-depth stories.

I wish I could say the absence was indeed without leave, but too many network executives are complicit in the disappearance of those things that were once at the core of journalism. They  have been replaced instead by the pursuit of ratings and clicks.

It is a great irony that in the midst of the information age, with so many resources easily available to us, we seem to be less informed than previous generations who had far fewer resources.

I nodded along with Frank and Murphy about the “good old days,” when every network had multiple overseas bureaus. I remember those days. But like Miles, I came into the business at a time when bureaus were starting to be eliminated. Now, anchors parachute into locations when something big breaks. But fewer reporters are covering overseas issues before they become crises. As a result, we have less understanding not only of issues but of cultures other than our own.

That is to the loss of all. In the words of President Harry Truman, “It is understanding that gives us the ability to have peace.”

No, The War Is Not Over

If you are not connected to the military in any way, it’s easy to forget that the U.S. is still at war in Afghanistan, 17 years after the 9/11 attacks that started it. The mastermind behind those attacks has been dead for seven years. But the war goes on, with little attention paid by the general U.S. population – and only slightly more attention paid by the U.S. news media.

Murphy has a huge potential story on the war, from an Afghan source who’s only been available via text. Miles manages to convince Diana (who’s cut from the same cloth as those other network execs I mentioned above) that the story should get a full hour of the morning show. (And I don’t think I want to know what kind of bargaining Miles had to do to get that concession.) The team believes this story could be for the Afghan War what the Pentagon Papers were for Vietnam – the poison pill that turned the country against the conflict.

Then Murphy’s source goes AWOL.

Without boots on the ground, CNC has no way of tracking down this missing source or possibly cultivating another one. Without the source, the story is dead.

And that’s where Avery steps in.

Avery At Loose Ends

After taking a defiant on-air stand against the Wolf Network, Avery’s been unable to get a new job. Even his mother’s network won’t hire him; Diana calls him 6’2” of kryptonite.

Avery’s been hate-watching Wolf, teaching his dog to ring a bell for treats, and generally moping about. He second-guesses himself about leaving Wolf. One of the things that struck me about Avery’s story was that the older generation was for the most part sympathetic and encouraging to him – except when he tried to take over the news meeting. But the younger generation, represented by Pat and Miguel, seemed to have a “you blew it” attitude. While it may be true that Miguel is in a more difficult situation, does it hurt to be kind? Even if you’ve been hearing Avery mope for weeks?

But one can only mope for so long. When Avery learns about the problems with Murphy’s source, he decides he will go to Afghanistan himself. He wants to feel like a journalist again.

That is the development that last week’s promo promised “you won’t see coming.” But it wasn’t really all that unexpected – at least not to anyone watching. It was unexpected for Murphy, who attempts to go Mama Bear but finally concedes she cannot stop him. It’s just another example of the respect Murphy and Avery have for each other as professionals.

Any worries one about Avery’s safety were immediately assuaged by his appearance in the promo for next week’s season finale.

From The Reporter’s Notebook

  • Great sequence of Murphy chasing down a Pentagon official who doesn’t want to answer her questions!
  • What’s with Corky’s day-of-the-week sweaters?
  • But she still gets the best topical dig of the night: “There’s always another tweet from the toilet!” You’re right, Corky. If he got just a little more fiber, it would make a difference!
  • They seem to have toned down Miles’ neuroses just a tiny bit, to just the right amount. (And I too would feel a bit neurotic if I wasn’t going to live to see the end of Game of Thrones!)
  • Wonderful to see an “Eldin Original” mural in Avery’s room!
  • Benny Brown is just too darned adorable… but I don’t want him giving my dog ideas about ringing bells for food!

The season finale of Murphy Brown will air Thursday night, December 20 at 9:30/8:30 Central.

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