Well, gang, I’m sad to report that last week’s brief foray into a plot not directly lifted from All Things Considered fanfic did not last. We’ve checked off the presidential tweet wars episode, the White House Press Corps episode, and now Murphy’s going to take down a crown prince of the culture wars. The show opens on the scene in Trump’s America, Rust Belt Division (i.e. at a bar in Buffalo, New York, “actual birthplace of the chicken wings”), where Avery Brown is moderating A Civil Conversation between opposing political/culture warriors, inspired by the release of Ed Shannon’s American Carnage, a book about how our cities failing because they are overrun by “crimmigrants.”
If you don’t know who Shannon is supposed to be, you’ll figure it out by the time Plumber John and Teacher Dorothy come to blows. “Ed Shannon didn’t come to Washington to drain the swamp,” she says. “He is the swamp. That’s why he wears three shirts and a tie, to hide his swamp scales.” (I realize I shouldn’t be “platforming” his wardrobe agenda, but Steve Bannon’s many shirts constitute the most important piece of political culture to me, Jacqui, in 2K18 America.) John, who lives in a 3,0000-square-foot house with a grotto, shouldn’t be so snide about “liberal elites,” Teacher Dorothy says, even if he did build it himself: “Next time, build a bookshelf and put a book on it!” That’s when Dwyer’s disgruntled clients join the fray, and before you know it, he’s flipped the table. Cut to commercial, Avery!
Back at home, the sun hasn’t even risen and Avery, fresh off a brisk morning run, is already judging his mother. “We have completely different ways of preparing for our morning shows,” he says. “I get up and run for two and a half miles and you get up and complain for two and a half hours. That’s why I need my own place.” He thanks her for letting him “crash” and explains that he, a large adult son with his own TV show living with his mother, is personally embarrassed by current circumstances: “If I don’t call it crashing, it starts to sound pathetic.” No, Murphy moans. She doesn’t know how to work the universal remote, and “who’s going to record all my Hoarders episodes?” A little “anything you can do, I can do better” bickering about ratings, and the day has begun!
At work, where everyone still hates the 4 a.m. call time, network exec Diana and her personal assistant Joffrey (her latte carrier) have come down to bring the team big news. Ed Shannon wants Murphy to interview him for the show. It’ll be like Gore Vidal debating William F. Buckley. “Did someone say Ed Shannon?” asks Frank. Speaking for beleaguered New York Times readers everywhere, he asks if they’re going to “do one of those normalizing pieces — Nazis, they’re just like us.” Pat Patel promises they can run Shannon’s deleted tweets in the background. Oh, that’s right; he knows how to find them. “I’m kind of known as the, uh, Tweet Raider … Like Tomb Raider, but with tweets!” Diana likes that. She does not like the fact that Murphy needs to think about it. With that, she departs, Joffrey trailing behind her with her latte and a snide expression for the gang. Joffrey looks a lot like Stephen Miller, which makes it satisfying when he misses the elevator and has to scurry up the stairs.
At Phil’s (seriously, I thought Phil’s wasn’t open at 9 a.m., what is this), Pat Patel brings word that Ed Shannon has sent a taunting tweet challenging Murphy to a debate, which Diana “gave three clapping hands and a Spanish dancing lady.” Murphy’s wishing they could ask Jim what he would do, just as Jim Dial walks in the door, bedecked in a double-breasted blazer, a captain’s hat, and salmon-colored trousers. JIM DIAL’S IN THE HOUSE!
He’s just back from Bermuda, he explains, where Bermuda shorts were invented — which are different from “clam diggers, which extend below the knee, and cargo shorts, which are of similar length, but typically baggy or less tailored.” (He concedes that perhaps he’s been alone on the open seas for too long.) When Phyllis comes over to take his order, our Jim is besotted. Phil’s sister, you say? “But you’re so attractive.” With a flourish, she shines a spoon on her apron and says, “Coffee’s on me, sailor.” I’m not sure how I feel about this particular flirtation, but it does remind me that Charles Kimbrough’s the best and that everyone in this cast is so good with physical comedy.
When Murphy asks him whether she should have Ed Shannon on the show, he says the answer is simple: No. “You’re creating a perfect example of a false equivalency,” he explains. “You don’t have to give equal time to someone who’s claiming Tom Hanks is running ‘a shadow government.’” Applause for the audience. Miles objects, but Jim tells Murphy, “Slugger, you know your own gut.” Exit Dial; cut to … a commercial for avocado toast, because I’m being personally attacked by the algorithm.
Next day, Murphy announces her decision on-air. She won’t be interviewing “the fourth horseman of the apocalypse.” Great, just great. As Corky puts it, this brave decision is going to work out well for her, Frank, Miles, Julius the Long Suffering PA, once and future Lyft driver Pat Patel, and “pretty much everyone else who doesn’t have your up yours money.” Miles says he’s okay: a 5-foot-7 Jew with small calves and colitis has had a lifetime of not getting what he wanted. Just as he heads upstairs to “face the firing squad,” here comes Diana, clapping sarcastically and marveling at Murphy’s integrity. Joffrey’s gone — “no longer with us, let’s just leave it at that” — which means that this time it’s Miles who misses the elevator and has to scuttle off to meet Diana back upstairs at her office.
When she heads over to Phil’s, Ed Shannon himself is there waiting for Murphy so they can have the back-and-forth that’s been denied to the Murphy in the Morning audience.
Shannon, in three shirts and a safari jacket, offers to buy her a drink, but then remembers, “You couldn’t handle your booze like you couldn’t handle me.” Uh, Murphy’s been sober for 30 years, buddy. Anyway, you know how this script goes. “Fact — I’m surprised you could even say that word without bursting into flames.” He refers to “the swarthy crowd,” “wah wah snowflakes,” “globalist cuck” Justin Trudeau, and skyrocketing crime rates; she reminds him that “swarthy” is what they used to call Italians and Jews and that crime is at its lowest in decades, except for his murder of … the truth (lol).
When he says that their allies, including Australia, have their hands in America’s pockets, Murphy says, “Oh, why pick on Australia? Their animals have pouches,” which is honestly the best and freshest retort she’s come up with. She winds up for her big finish: Shannon’s just “an old white guy who’s scared of losing his place at the table,” and “the good people, let’s call them the single-shirts, are going to stamp out your hatred and bigotry and they’ll replace you.” He’s a sad, sad, sad, sad dinosaur who’s going extinct, and he’d better hurry, because “Jurassic Park closes in an hour.” (IDK, Murphy, life … finds a way.) Miles, who was lurking, has been stripped of his executive parking spot and moved into the parking deck, where Joffrey’s probably buried, but he’s proud of Murphy. Even if he now has to climb out of his sunroof each morning.
Plopping down on the couch, Murphy tells Avery, “Your mama did pretty good today,” saving the world from — oh, Avery already knows, because he plays the clip for her — “a sad, sad, sad, sad dinosaur.” Someone at Phil’s filmed the takedown and it’s gone viral, and there’s even a dance-mix version. Avery’s proud, especially because her interview with Ed Shannon would have killed his ratings. Correct, son. But before they head off for their 4 p.m. bedtime, they watch that dance mix together.
Misc. & Assorted:
• When she hears about Ed Shannon, Corky exclaims, “We can’t have him on! He’s a racist! I’m already carrying a lot of guilt about that!” At first I thought that was a white-privilege joke, but then she explains that her uncle’s tombstone says that he “loved the cross … when it was burning,” and who am I to complain about an edgy joke that actually sort of succeeds?
• Thank God the plot did not center around, like, an Ed Shannon threat to Millennial Foil Miguel’s DACA status. I know something like that is probably coming, but for now I am at peace.
• Charles Kimbrough signed on for a three-episode arc, and while I’m worried that that leaves time for an assignation with Phyllis, I love Jim Dial too much to truly object. Speaking of which, do we believe Phyllis was NYPD Parking Enforcement, in a past life, or, as I suggest, just a Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist?
• Luckily for all of us, costume designer Patricia Field has been posting episode style guides on her website, so we’ll know soon know where Corky got that black-and-white pleated skirt.