Well, good people, we’ve come to the end of the line. I can hardly believe it’s been 13 weeks, but that’s probably because the news is a fire hose, both on CNC and IRL. This sweet finale ties things up neatly, as Murphy Brown creator Diane English said from the start that this revival was to be a one-off, but there’s enough warmth and charm to make me hope for a renewal. The Murphy Brown of 2018 is the same woman we left in 1998 in all the ways that matter, and this ensemble has blended new and old characters beautifully. Initially I worried that the effort to update the show with a more diverse cast was well-intentioned but too clunky, but I’m glad to have been proven wrong. I don’t know that I’d call the new Murphy Brown an antidote to the current media madness, exactly, but it was so fun.
It’s 3 a.m. in Washington, D.C., and Murphy Brown is sick with worry. Avery, who took a spur-of-the-moment trip to Afghanistan, was supposed to call her from Kabul hours ago. She’s been calling Frank every hour, which he understands because he knows how she gets when she doesn’t feel in control of a situation. But it’s interfering with his beauty sleep. Her only consolation is that Benny Brown, decked out in a cute sweater, is snuggled up with her. Luckily, Avery finally calls. He’s at a Starbucks, plowing through a brie sandwich and what looks like a Seasonal Beverage, and he’s got good news. He’s found Murphy’s source, Ahmed Zahir, the head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security. Zahir is ready to furnish proof of a Pentagon cover-up and has agreed to an on-camera interview. “Oh, no!” Avery suddenly shouts. What happened?? Is it a Taliban attack?? Nope. “They forgot my cinnamon! I’ve gotta go, Mom!”
The next morning, Miles finds Frank and Murphy both asleep on a couch in the studio, and not in the cute way, but “more in a ‘5 a.m.-Vegas-bus-station way.’” He knows that Murphy is worried about her son — turns out she was calling Corky and Miles all night, too — but he also needs Avery to come through. He promised a big story to network exec Diana, and if he doesn’t deliver, “you’re all invited to my second bris.” Indeed: when Diana sweeps in, she congratulates them on “a very adequate show today” before demanding an update on Afghanistan. Miles says things are going fine, but the bulging vein in his neck suggests otherwise. Murphy intervenes, telling her that Avery’s found their source and it’s going fine. This is a surprise to Diana. Avery’s in Afghanistan? Well, CNC isn’t footing the bill on hotels, transportation, meals, or hostage money. Now Miles intervenes. “Diana! We should be thanking Avery. Maybe you don’t realize this situation is dangerous.” Oh, she knows Afghanistan’s dangerous. No, he clarifies, “I meant dangerous for you,” as Murphy stares her down.
Meanwhile, Corky wants to interview Mike Pence. This is a difficult prospect, because he won’t allow himself to be alone in a room with a woman — but that’s exactly the problem. (I’m not totally sure why having a camera crew along wouldn’t solve that problem, but I digress.) The young women who work for him have told Corky that they don’t get to have the one-on-one meetings and power lunches that their male colleagues do, and it’s hurting their professional advancement. She’ll probably have more luck landing an interview with him than Murphy did, because she’s a God-fearing Christian woman, and when was the last time Murphy was in a church? “Two months ago,” Murphy says, spinning herself around in her office chair. “It’s my polling place.” As ripped-from-the-headlines influences go, this one’s okay; it’s very in line with what would interest a lifestyle reporter like Corky.
Over at Phil’s, Miguel is prepping for the big New Year’s Eve party by decking the halls with some Christmas decorations and a disco ball he found in the basement. It’s an annual tradition. No way, Phyllis says. No party. But Phil’s is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2019. Surely that’s worth a big bash — or, as Jim says, “a humdinger”? She just doesn’t feel the same way about the bar as her regulars do, and if I’d spent my childhood scraping gum off the bottoms of the tables as a birthday party game, I probably wouldn’t, either. Pat rolls in, wearing a truly amazing ugly Christmas sweater. He wants to have a New Year’s Eve party, too, and he even offers to man the booth as DJ Pattycakes. (I love you, Pat.) Murphy reminds her that “traditions mean something to people when times are tough.” Fine. Phyllis buckles under the concerted pressure of the entire gang, “but know that I am doing this out of guilt and obligation.”
Murphy’s vacuuming the sofa when Avery calls the next evening. He’s planning to meet Ahmed Zahir for their interview, and he’s hired a cameraman. Haled, a film student whose biggest influence is Martin Scorsese, tells Murphy he’s a huge fan of her show, known in Afghanistan as Morning News With Loud Grandmother. The call cuts off, leaving Murphy in a panic, but we stay with Avery while he does his interview with Ahmed Zahir. This seems to go okay, except for the fact that Haled’s getting real artsy with the camera. When they hear Taliban agents prowling around outside the mud hut where they’re filming and Zahir orders them to cut the lights, Haled pipes up with the observation that this is “just like John Carpenter’s Halloween.”
As the New Year approaches, the party at Phil’s is bumpin’. DJ Pattycakes is playing some terrible music, Phyllis is charging 50 bucks for the featured liquor concoction of the evening, the eye-watering and bracing Hey There!, and Jim muses that Phil’s is one of the last places in Washington where people on both sides of the aisle can find common ground. “If we could only learn to listen to each other with an open mind and an open heart,” he says, “unless it’s to Ted Cruz. That man is a boil on the ass of humanity.” Murphy’s not quite so pumped; she hasn’t heard from Avery in days, so she’s not in much of a party mood. But the bar is full of old friends and good cheer. MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell thanks Frank for the … $10 donation to his UNICEF education charity, which will pay for 37 percent of an African child’s desk! (Frank wrote a check.) And Murphy and NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reminisce about covering Dan Quayle. Andrea broke the story of his VP candidacy; Murphy broke the man. And Julius, beautiful Julius, robed out in what looks like a gold brocade blazer, cuts the fuck loose to the sounds of Pat’s silverware drawer set to a house beat.
Corky encourages Miles to go chat up Diana, who’s sitting alone with a glass of champagne. “Fine,” he says, “but if she bites my head off and lays her eggs in my neck hole, I’m blaming you.” Diana, feeling a little low, welcomes the company. She knows no one likes her, even though she sees herself as “a warm, open person,” a self-assessment as accurate as Sarah Sanders’s. But it’s tough being a woman of color running a major news organization! I think she’s probably a little drunk; when Miles tells her he understands her position, as he was once the youngest producer in television, running an important news show, she doesn’t laugh him out of the bar. I think you know where this is going!! I like her seduction style: “I’m just a girl, sitting in front of a boy, asking him to get the Afghanistan story on the air.”
The clock is running out on 2018, but Corky still manages to achieve her goal when Mike Pence drops by. His Secret Service retinue won’t let her near him — unless, of course, she lurks in wait in the men’s restroom. When Pence comes in and drops trou, we see her red boots in the next stall. “Why do you allow the male interns to work with you after hours and not the females?” she asks. “And are you aware that this practice is harming their careers?” Moments later, the Secret Service hauls her out of the bar, while she screams “I did it! I did it! I was alone with Mike Pence! Women rule! Happy New Year!”
Phyllis is beginning to understand why this place is so important to people. “It’s magic,” Jim says. Shortly before midnight, Avery calls! Murphy can’t quite make out what he’s saying, but Avery’s safe and headed home. Worn out from worry, she’s going to go home to bed. Too bad, because she misses an eventful couple of minutes. As they count down to the new year, sparks fly. Diana and Miles grab each other (“We never speak of this,” she says, and he agrees; fortunately, Pat got it on video), Jim and Phyllis share a very charming peck on the lips, and Julius and Pat each slam a Hey There! — and suddenly see each other in a new light.
When she gets home, Murphy is greeted by Benny Brown in a very cute party hat. Avery’s returned, toting the Pentagon thumb drive! He called from a cab from Dulles, not from Kandahar! “I’m sure that if Benny had a tail, it would be wagging,” Murphy says. “I know that mine is.” This is adorable. They settle in to watch Toy Story and eat Chinese food, like they’ve done every year. As they shout their favorite line, we fade to black.
Misc. & Assorted
• I’m committed to real journalism, so I’m here to report that there is no Starbucks in Kabul, but there is one in Kandahar, sort of! If you’re headed to Kabul, though, you can find reviews of the city’s several cafes on TripAdvisor. It may also interest you to know that “a group of deployed veterans founded Cinn-Credible from the front lines of Afghanistan to address a singular need: individually sized cinnamon packets.” (It interested me, okay?)
• I’ve loved seeing the old crew wrap things up with one another. Frank and Murphy’s reflection on their friendship is lovely; instead of putting it into words, hugging it out is enough. The return of elder statesman Jim Dial has been a true highlight.
• The wardrobe has been terrific. Patricia Fields has tweaked the show’s older style just enough. In particular, Faith Ford has carried off some great looks.
• Season one is more or less the only one available from the show’s first run, but it’s worth watching! And if you’re left wanting more from this season, Lauren and Jesi, the gals behind the Murphy Brown podcast FYI, have done several interviews with the cast and crew.