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What Happened When ‘Murphy Brown’ Tried to Tackle Sexual Assault

(Source: theatlantic.com)

Murphy Brown, in its rebooted episodes, has mostly failed to do the thing that made the show’s original seasons, during their heralded run in the late ’80s and ’90s, so remarkable: to fuse, through the concentrated heat of humor, the events of the actual world with the show’s familiar fictions. The new Murphy Brown—back with Candice Bergen as Murphy, Joe Regalbuto as the investigative journalist Frank Fontana, Faith Ford as the former Miss America Corky Sherwood, and Grant Shaud as the no-longer-a-wunderkind producer Miles Silverberg—has tried, definitely, to rekindle some of the old magic. There are timely and topical jokes about comfort animals and Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Steve Bannon and Donald Trump; very few of them, however, are terribly funny. Most are cringeworthily awkward. (“I wish I knew how to quit you,” Miles tells his former colleagues as they decide to get back together for a new morning show, making a reference to Brokeback Mountain that Murphy’s writers had apparently been waiting for 13 years to deploy.) The owner of the old Murphy mainstay, the bar/restaurant Phil’s—Phil’s sister, Phyllis (Tyne Daly)—conducts a job interview with Miguel (Adan Rocha), a prospective dishwasher. He informs her that he’s Mexican. They talk about the wall. And then: “I’m DACA,” Miguel says. “So you’re a dreamer,” Phyllis replies. “Me, too: As in, I never dreamed I’d be doing this.” She means managing a bar. But he replies, with a grin, “What, talking to a Mexican?” The studio audience guffaws.

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Later, there are several jokes made of the fact that Miguel, hired by Phyllis, works at a bar where, yes, ICE is served. They are not funny. But they make extremely clear who, this CBS sitcom believes, has the distance from ICE raids to find them humorous—and who, among its viewers and in America, currently enjoy the privileges of laughter.

Several episodes in, the #MurphyToo plotline has, to some extent, been an exception to that moral narrowness: It is relatively nuanced. It explores, through its protagonist, the self-doubt that so often accompanies harassment and abuse. (“I keep going over it in my mind,” Murphy tells her son, Avery (Jake McDorman), now 28, of the way the episode has haunted her, decades after it took place. “When he would ask me for coffee, I would say yes. When he gave me small gifts—a book, a special pen—I would accept them. Maybe in some way I was sending a signal that I was interested.”)

The treatment also pays attention to Murphy’s reluctance to feel like a victim. And it features Murphy, finally, confronting the professor—and him insisting to her that “everything you’ve accomplished, Murphy, was because of me.” The story line offers, essentially, nods to nuance within the deeply constrained format of the television sitcom: a treatment of sexual abuse that takes into account how far-reaching the effects of a moment can be in the life of the person who has lived through it. “You made me doubt myself,” Murphy, a character defined above all by her effusive self-confidence, tells the professor. “I always wondered if I deserved that praise or if you singled me out for your own reasons.”

More Info: theatlantic.com

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