overnights

Murphy Brown Recap: Dial ‘M’ for Murphy

Murphy Brown

The Coma and the Oxford Comma
Season 11 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****

Murphy Brown

The Coma and the Oxford Comma
Season 11 Episode 8
Editor’s Rating *****
Photo: David Giesbrecht/WBTV

This week’s episode revisits a familiar theme from the show’s earlier days: Murphy and Corky’s profoundly different outlooks on life. When Corky’s old friend Holly Mackin Lynne (guest star Brooke Shields) miraculously awakes from a decade-long coma, the anchors argue anew about whether the woman’s husband deliberately injured her. It’s not Corky’s journalism skills or seriousness that Murphy challenges, but her idealism.

This show has always relied on the contrasts between Murphy and Corky, of course, but this episode rounds out Corky’s character in more subtle ways. She’s not an avatar of hyperfemininity or a walking backwoods stereotype or an intellectual lightweight whose occasional seriousness is worthy of a Very Special Episode. In this case, her instincts as a journalist fail her because she wants to believe her friend, and this is a conundrum that any of the characters might face.

Corky’s known Holly since their beauty pageant days, when they bonded over stuffing each other’s back fat into their evening gowns, but Holly’s been in a coma for a decade after a fall (or a shove) down a flight of stairs. Her husband, Charles, was accused of attempting to murder her so that he could get remarried without having to split the fortune he earned in the tech industry. (Murphy covered the dramatic trial, known as the Sleeping Beauty case, at which he was acquitted.) Ever since the acci-attempted-murder, Corky has visited Holly once a month. On this day, she’s sprucing Holly up with a little blush when, miraculously, her friend comes out of her coma. She sees Corky and says … “Pam!” before passing out again. Who’s Pam? We don’t know. That’s two mysteries so far in this episode.

At the studio, Secretary #97 wants to review some outgoing correspondence with Murphy. While she’s impressed that there are no dangling participles in Murphy’s letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (why do the secretaries never seem to know anything about current events or politics?), the frequent use of the transitive verb sucks could be a problem. She further suggests that the Oxford comma might be put to good use in Paragraph Three, at which point Murphy hands her a note that says, “You’re fired!”

Corky is eager to share the news about Holly with the gang. Everyone sees an opportunity for an exclusive story, except for Pat, who was busy doing other things (i.e., “telling God I’d stop touching myself if he got rid of my acne”). They explain to him that many people, including Murphy, believe that Charles is guilty; Corky steadfastly believes in his innocence. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that even Corky wants to pursue the story — her friend just woke up from a coma — but I suppose she wants to clear Charles’s name as much as everyone else wants to prove his guilt. Miles assigns the team to take shifts in Holly’s hospital room, pull research on the trial, and set up a live feed for an interview. They’re on the case!

Just as Murphy’s about to go dig around in her files in the basement, Avery asks her to watch his new Wolf Network promo with him. “A lot of journalists like to hear themselves talk,” the narrator intones. “Avery Brown listens.” Cut to Avery asking several citizens about economic precarity. Then, superimposed over the Wolf Network logo, Avery saunters away from the camera before turning to look seductively at the camera and wipe his brow. His denim work shirt (what a blue-collar man of the people!!) is cavalierly unbuttoned. Oh, my, how tawdry. Are they trying to make him a sex symbol? He didn’t agree to this! This was scratch footage taken at the end of a shoot in Scottsdale — he didn’t even know the camera was on. Oh, Avery, the news biz veteran says, that’s just how things are these days — “You’re lucky they didn’t CGI your pants off!” No, this is outrageous. He’s going to the network right now to sort this out. Frankly, I think it was very nice of Murphy not to point out how adorably naïve this is, as they work in an industry that has sensationalized women’s appearances for years. “Cute tushie, though,” Murphy says, after he’s slammed the door. “I made that!”

As we know, Frank loves going undercover, and he’s garbed in surgical scrubs and a big mustache — “like you’re opposite Stormy Daniels in Horny Hospital,” Miles says. So far their exclusive’s protected, though Frank goes on the offense when an actual, factual medical professional walks up. His accent sounds fake! It’s not, unlike the mustache. The doctor tells Holly that she has to be patient; only time will tell whether her memory clears up. Thankfully, here’s Murphy to orient Holly to the present, over Corky’s protests.

Holly has no idea what’s happened. Her husband was on trial? For her attempted murder? It’s hard to catch someone up on the events of a decade, but Murphy tries: “If you owned Lehman stock or loved MySpace, you won’t be happy. If you loved Will & Grace and Magnum P.I., you will be.” (Honestly, I think that sums it up pretty well.) Oh, and Donald Trump, whom Holly remembers as a backstage pageant tush-grabber, is, of course, president. “I’d like to go back into the coma,” she says.

Murphy and Corky argue about this confrontational approach. Corky wants to protect her friend, but Murphy insists that they need to get to the truth, and she still believes that Charles is guilty: “I have only been interested in the truth and my instincts always take me there.” Holly moans “Pam!” again, but before we can really drill down into that mystery, visiting hours are over.

At home, Avery is playing video games with some old friends, and I’m glad to see Avery actually has friends. They’re in the middle of razzing him about his promo when “Ms. B.” comes downstairs to save him from their slo-mo pantomimes. Unsurprisingly, the network didn’t really care that he doesn’t like the promo, which was “through the roof” with the “women and gay men” demographic. (Pffft, lesbian erasure.) Well, his mom says, all he can do is become an excellent journalist with enough power to control his own image.

Back at the hospital, Miles’s hypochondria is approaching DEFCON levels. Holly’s husband has finally shown up after what appears to be years, plus a couple of days. Murphy asks, “Did you come up in the elevator or take the stairs?” She isn’t going to pretend not to be suspicious. He declares he would never hurt Holly, the love of his life, whom he would like some time alone with. “Why? So you can put a pillow over her face?” Just as they’re leaving, Holly suddenly remembers everything — what she was wearing, how much ice cream was left in the freezer when she went downstairs to have some. She tripped over the cat. It really was an accident. Corky’s thrilled; Murphy’s disappointed. Perhaps Corky’s instincts aren’t so bad after all.

As they prepare to air the anticlimactic story, Murphy and Frank can’t believe they got it wrong all those years ago. “Ten seconds to a huge disappointment, people!” Never change, Julius. Corky leads with a little setup about how she’s always believed in fairy tales, like a princess who comes out of a coma after ten years. Holly now knows that her husband was acquitted of attempted murder, but “rumors still swirl that it was his hand that sent you down those stairs,” Corky says. The camera pulls back to reveal Charles standing by the bed. He cozies up to Holly, who looks blissful. “So, Holly,” Corky asks, “did Charles send you down that flight of stairs?” Holly looks tenderly into her husband’s face, and then stares directly into the camera and snarls, “You bet he did.” She remembers everything — and has since the moment she woke up. She just wanted to save the truth for national television. He’d greased the stairs with cooking spray (“Pam!” shout Murphy and Corky). Also, they never had a cat. Corky’s shook. Sometimes there are no fairy tales.

At Phil’s, Murphy’s relieved she’s still got it, but she feels bad for Corky, who wants to drown her sorrows in vodka. “Maybe I should just give up and be more like you,” she tells Murphy. Cynics with low expectations are rarely disappointed. No, Murphy says. “The world is a mess right now and we need more people like you in it. If everyone was like me there’d be a lot more people going headfirst down the stairs.” I’m glad the storyline isn’t staked on Murphy’s lack of sentimentality as a gendered contrast to Corky’s hyperfemininity — I can see Murphy saying something similar to any of the other characters. Corky, touched, needs a hug before tottering off to the bathroom, drunk on two shots of Utah-made, two-proof vodka.

Avery comes by with the news that even the folks at the Wolf Network were tuned into Murphy in the Morning today, although “all the guys there did ask the same question: Why didn’t she call the police on her way down the stairs?” Avery also reports that he’s decided to wear his glasses on the air. He’ll look distinguished, and they won’t be able to turn him into a sex symbol — or so he thinks. A two-person sample of the women-and-gay-men demographic stops by the table to compliment him. Miles throws his arm around the bespectacled youth and says solemnly: “This is our burden, bud.”

Misc. & Assorted

• Okay, which version of Walter Cronkite would look best in a tube top and skinny jeans? Probably this one.

• A few bits sprinkled through the episode demonstrate that this cast does well with physical comedy. Avery’s promo gives plenty of material to Jake McDorman and Candice Bergen; Joe Regalbuto is pitch-perfect when he pretends to be a surgeon who’s just lost a patient; and, even while bedridden, Brooke Shields makes terrific use of facial expressions and posture to underscore punchlines and heighten humor.

• Faith Ford’s outfits are great this week. I especially liked the green tracksuit with coordinating heels.

Also liked Pat’s casting of Mission: Impossible. He’s Simon Pegg, which makes Miles “a short Alec Baldwin,” Frank “a hairless Tom Cruise” (still a compliment, Frank notes), and Murphy “an aging, white, white Angela Bassett.”

• Yes, friends, there’s a Thanksgiving episode next week! Let’s meet back here on Thursday. Bring your fork; there’ll be pie.

Murphy Brown Recap: Dial ‘M’ For Murphy