ICYMI: Ashley Storrie on Murphy Brown
Extra! Extra! Stand-up Ashley Storrie gives us the inside scoop on trendsetting newsroom sitcom Murphy Brown
Murphy Brown (no relation to Jackie, Gordon or Foxy) was an American sitcom that ran for 10 seasons, with an 11th coming out during the great revival rush of 2018. At times it was the most talked-about telly in the world, and I hadn’t heard of it until last week. I say hadn’t heard – I’d heard it referenced a million times, but thought she was a real person and not a decade-defining feminist fabrication – so please excuse my ignorance!
Murphy Brown kicks off strong; the pilot opens on a montage of newspaper and magazine covers where we quickly learn that Murphy Brown is in her 40s, fabulous, a revered journalist, and can’t keep a boyfriend. In those 20 seconds we’ve got everything we need to know about Murphy. Boil it down, spit it back out and you’ve got the makings of a hero.
Played by the ageless Candice Bergen (paired beautifully with a full-bodied William Shatner in Boston Legal and Miss Congeniality), Brown isn’t on-screen when we first delve into the world of FYI, a fictional news magazine. Instead, she’s being talked about by her colleagues: she’s in rehab, she’s notoriously bad tempered and once stood up Warren Beatty (I had to Google this joke, apparently in the olden days Warren Beatty was like Zac Efron). Also within the first five minutes of episode one there’s a joke about bestiality. It’s edgy and makes me happy.*
I watched six episodes in one sitting and loved it. Murphy makes mistakes but she’s a good reporter who fights for the truth and asks the hard questions. In a world of fake news and info wars, I can understand why the 2018 reboot didn’t really take off. It’s too idealistic, watching newscasters fret about the validity of their source.
There were a lot of satisfying nuggets in the show; things in the background that I only caught at the last minute and running jokes that give the show a worn and comfortable feel. People pass money to each other in the background of scenes betting on Murphy’s bad behaviour, the patrons at the local pub shout angrily at newcomers to ‘Shut the door’ and Murphy’s got a strange live-in house painter who paints her ceilings like a loutish Michelangelo in dungarees and spats. For a workplace sitcom, it’s incredibly rich.
In later seasons, Murphy decides to have a baby and raise it alone. This caused public outcry when it aired, with senators speaking against Murphy Brown and the show’s writers for destroying American family values. At the time, showing a functioning, successful one parent family was controversial. She was a trailblazer, a fist to the glass ceiling.
Watching Murphy Brown, for me, was like meeting my friend’s mum for the first time. If you love 30 Rock, Gilmore Girls, Ally McBeal and Sex in The City then please meet their mumma; she’s a sassy blonde and she’s called Murphy.
Ashley is currently one of the stars of Up For It on BBC Scotland. Available on BBC iPlayer
* Watch the first ever episode of Midsomer Murders while you’re at it, and witness a sassy suspect pause very dramatically in the middle of the word ‘Constable’. That’s the edgiest thing I’ve ever seen.