Dec 07, 2018

Art imitating life: in praise of the Murphy Brown reboot

Who knew that writing an article about the new iteration of Murphy Brown would broaden my education? And sharing that with you, just in case it’s also news to you, it turns out (according to Wikipedia) that the phrase that I’m familiar with, that “life imitates art”, was not only first voiced by Oscar Wilde, but was done so in opposition to the Aristotelian mimesis (which, apparently, means imitation or copycat) that “art imitates life”.

And with the Murphy Brown reboot now showing on our televisions, in my opinion it’s the Greeks who have nailed it. In saying that, this new version isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. The New York Times doesn’t like it, on the basis that it’s the same old, same old formula while the times have changed. Time itself, however, does like it, especially the sardonic Candice Bergen/Murphy Brown. And The Sydney Morning Herald likes it a lot and thinks it’s pitch perfect. Which only goes to show that – as another saying goes – you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

There are two reasons why it does please me, very much. And the first is that I just love the fact that, finally, American television is acknowledging the real-life fact that old people of our 21st century are highly employable and are increasingly demonstrating that in the workplace. So, 20 years on, the show is using the same four cast members of the original show to reprise their roles in the current one. And so, we have Candice Bergen who, at age 72, is the only one of the four who has continued to have a substantial career in front of the cameras (most recently co-starring in the film The Book Club), Joe Regalbuto (69 years old) as reporter Frank Fontana, Faith Ford (54) as fellow reporter fanning herself in the throes of hot flushes, and Grant Shaud (57) back as neurotic producer Miles Silverberg.  As a bonus, 72-year-old Tyne Daly (Lacey of the long-running multi-Emmy-awarded Cagney and Lacey series) is introduced as Phyllis, the new owner of the bar used by the group.

And secondly, being a left-leaning anti-Trumpist, the set-up and humour absolutely work for me. I started watching it mainly out of a sense of duty, because of Reason 1, but pretty early on I was enjoying it on its own merits. You have capable, small ‘l’ liberal people coming out of retirement to get back to what they are continuing to do well, you get sharp and very funny political commentary that is totally topical, and you even get an interesting situation with Murphy Brown’s now adult son (whose arrival to single mother Brown in the original show caused a real-life political storm initiated by Vice-President of the time, Dan Quayle) also having a morning television show at the same time as his mother’s, but as the token liberal on the not very subtly named uber-right-wing Wolf network. And, for those many millions of women for whom menopause is still a dirty word, you have 50-something Corky outing it as something you just gotta deal with.

It’s also worth mentioning that this series is once again the work of the original creator of Murphy Brown, now-70-year-old Diane English. All of this adds up to a significant moment in mass television and – hopefully – will contribute to a groundswell of action against ageism in the workplace, in a circle of art imitating life, imitating art.  So, my congratulations to CBS for making this happen, and to its new Australian arm, Channel 10, for putting it on here. And for those who enjoy a good laugh (also reputed to be good for health and longevity), this show is worth checking out, to see if it tickles your funny bone.

Image: CBS.

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