This week, Avery is finally forced to confront the uneasy ethical questions that him working at the Wolf Network have been raising all season. We’ve known this was coming, and nothing about either the conflict or the resolution is particularly surprising. But that blow to his pride and his principles will fall a little more softly than it might have, because his childhood dream is coming true: The Brown family is getting a dog! The dog’s real name is Ari and he’s a Frenchton and he lost the use of his back legs two years ago so he uses a wheelchair and he was in a Samsung commercial and he and his mom volunteer with an organization called Pet Partners and he’ll also be on the final two episodes of the SEASON!!!!!!! I’m sorry, I’m hyperventilating. I love small dogs and also bionic animals.
In the final moments of the morning’s broadcast, Corky and Frank ambush Murphy into agreeing to shoot on location at a local animal shelter for National Adopt-a-Pet Day. She already had a dog as a kid, she protests. Its name was Lassie. Was the dog real or stuffed? “It was real to me.” Corky thinks having Murphy there will encourage more people to participate; Frank just thinks it will be funny. He signs off with, “Make sure to tune tomorrow for Murphy in the Shelter!” and her fate is sealed. Sighs Julius, “Another show without a black correspondent … I’m just saying … And don’t think you can fire me, because you can’t … I looked it up.” The group reaction shot is appropriately shame-faced.
At Phil’s, we find out that Miguel has indeed moved into Phyllis’s spare room. He’s grateful, but he’s curious about the decor. The walls are covered with creepy clown paintings. “They’re great, aren’t they?” Phyllis enthuses. “Did you know they were all painted by men on death row?” Uh oh, the health inspector’s here, played by guest star Peter Scolari. Phyllis is worried that this is retribution for her repeated refusal to serve Mitch McConnell, but she has a good reason: “He always comes in without an umbrella—and leaves with one.” When he asks to see the ice machine, Phyllis panics, but Miguel steps forward to handle it. He sends Phyllis off to fold napkins and … get her bras out of the sink in the back. (Hadn’t thought about this in years, but the cafe manager at the Barnes and Noble I worked at in high school got fired for washing his clothes in the dish sanitizer.) Ahhh, I’m beginning to see an Odd Couple/buddy movie dynamic emerging here between Phyllis and Miguel, and I like it.
As the gang heads in for breakfast (brunch? lunch? still not clear to me what meal this is), Miles pooh-poohs Murphy’s complaint that she’s working on a big story and doesn’t have time to go to the shelter. “There’s no reason you can’t report on Chinese tariffs while petting a schnauzer.” If Miles thinks it’s such a great idea, why isn’t he going? Don’t ask questions you don’t want the answers to, Murphy. Miles hasn’t been a dog person since he had an intense rivalry with a giant poodle belonging to a college girlfriend; he never slept over at her apartment because he always sensed the poodle was waiting for him to fall asleep “so he could eat me.”
Avery comes in with big news: the Wolf Network has moved his show to the 10:00 p.m. nightly time slot, following network star John Haggerty’s show. Everyone’s excited for him, except for Murphy, who is skeptical that the Wolf Network will continue to allow him to be an independent voice. No, no, says Avery. He’s talked to the network brass, probably the same network brass that turned him into a sex symbol against his wishes, and they’ve assured him that they won’t interfere with his show. Okay, Avery.
On location at the shelter the next day, Murphy is clearly uncomfortable. “This place is off the leash,” she says stiffly. But her journalistic instincts and her capacity for righteous indignation kick in when she notices that some of the kennels have big red and white tags with the letter E on them: these dogs are scheduled to be euthanized. The shelter’s overcrowded, and these animals have either been there for a long time or are difficult to place. “Wait a minute,” Murphy says, grabbing the microphone from Corky and thrusting it into the shelter manager’s face. “What kind of death factory are you running here, lady?” If Murphy’s so concerned, Corky says, perhaps she should adopt one of the dogs herself; she would be an American hero. A little idle flattery always works on Murphy, who declares, “You know what? I’m gonna do it. But if I’m going to do it, I’m going to really do it. I want you to give me the next dog up on death row.” Murphy’s riding high on this largesse, until the shelter manager returns with Number 256, a dog in a wheelchair whose chances of adoption were so low that she couldn’t bring herself to name him.
At home, the dog has clearly already won Murphy over: just one plaintive glance and she’s sharing her chicken curry with him. When she shares the news with Avery, he’s ecstatic. “We got a dog? Did we get a dog? We got a dog? Is it here? Where is it? Is it a boy or a girl? Don’t tell me, I just want to see it.” He loves the dog. He can’t believe they got a dog! He’s always wanted a dog! Well, Murphy says, “Now that you’re nearing 30 and you have your own TV show, I thought you could handle the responsibility.” No problem. He has to fly to Texas for his first prime-time broadcast, so he’ll be back to walk the dog—what will they name it? Uber? Scooter? Mario Andretti?—on Tuesday. Come on, he says to his new pal as he bounds up the stairs, “I’ll show you my room.” Then he remembers that the dog doesn’t do stairs. “We gotta get a stair chair,” he yells, “and more yard! We’re gonna have to move!” It’s nice to see you so happy, Avery, especially since we know what’s coming.
It’s Take Your Dog to Work Day at the CNC studios: Murphy’s back to being a single mom without childcare while Avery’s out of town. (Sorry, Miles. It might be against the rules, but the dog has a disability and Murphy’s an American hero.) Corky can’t take “the head of the Hot Wheels Club” home with her, as she already has a dog and three cats. Pat Patel—”you’re a vegan, you like animals!”—has a whole bunch of excuses. “In my culture,” he says, “we believe animals contain the spirits of our dead ancestors, and I can just feel my grandfather inside him, rolling around in his wheelchair, biting people; I can’t relive that.” (Now I’m thinking back to the season premiere, when Pat deadpans, “You assume that because I’m Indian I’m the tech guy?” and I can see what they were going for.) Bullshit, Murphy says, and she knows he doesn’t live in a fifth-floor walkup, either. Fine, he says. “I’m a compulsive liar! Is that the kind of person you want taking care of your dog??” He has a point. Frank won’t take the dog after Number 256 takes a curry-scented dump on his office carpet—and he knows it wasn’t Andy in Accounting, because there were tread marks. This is a lovely, funny little scene.
Avery’s on location in Lubbock, TX, where he’s discussing the controversial idea of arming teachers in classrooms with a small group of local educators. “You don’t want to make me stand all day inside a cloud of Axe body spray and also hold a gun,” says a junior high teacher named Lisa. Theo, a veteran Marine who brings the whole desk with him when he stands up to make his point, tells them that most shooters hit their targets only 10 percent of the time. At the commercial break, Avery’s producer tells him that the network brass love what he’s doing. There’s just one thing. Avery usually closes the show with his own thoughts, but the network has provided a script for him to read. Rachel reminds an obviously reluctant Avery that he’s running with the big dogs (wolves?) now: in a nationwide primetime slot, they want you to read what they wrote. (This is a reference to reports that the Sinclair Broadcast Network has been making its anchors read right-leaning editorials on camera.) Everyone’s agreed to do it, she adds.
Well, the moment of truth has arrived for Avery Brown. He’s told himself for so long that he can change the culture at the Wolf Network, but he finally realizes that he can’t. He tries to read the script off of the Teleprompter so he doesn’t “blow it,” as his producer put it, but he snaps. He tells viewers they should question “whatever the Wolf Network tells you, because they are willing to feed you any amount of B.S. you are willing to believe.” Unsurprisingly, the monologue is a little stagy, but it’s long overdue. “Here at Wolf, we don’t care about facts. All we care about at Wolf is shilling for this current administration.” With a disdainful mic drop and a snarl of disgust, he says, “This is Avery Brown, signing off, and I’m taking my soul with me.” Oops. Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, my guy!! Murphy’s watching from home. “He’s really going to need you when he gets home,” she says to Number 256. “So for God’s sake, don’t take a dump in his room tonight.”
When he gets back to Washington, Avery fully expects his mom to gloat, but she takes no pleasure in being right. Avery was in an impossible situation and did the only thing he could. “You mean I took an amazing opportunity and shoved it down the garbage disposal?” Well, that’s not not true, she says, but for every viewer he’s pissed off, there’s one for whom he’s become a hero. They’re both heroes! I guess if heroes are unemployed dudes who live at home with their parents. “My dog has wheels,” he says. “Sure, but in a noble way, like a champion. Like he’s driving a chariot, like Ben-Hur!” Murphy replies, and now 256 has a name: Benny Brown. Yay! We love you, Benny!
Misc. & Assorted:
• Something I really like about this show is that it showcases older actors in roles big and small. Except for the Token Millennials, everyone else in the ensemble is over 50; Tyne Daly and Candice Bergen are both over 70. The teachers Avery interviews are played by a handful of veteran character actors. (I’m not saying they’re old, but three of them have had guest spots on various incarnations of Law & Order, so you know they’ve been in the business a while.) This is pretty unusual for a network sitcom.
• Doggo!!! Ari is a perfect choice for this role—even the dog brings a physical comedy A-game to the ensemble.
• Two more episodes to go, and I’m a little sad about it. The show has really come together; the new Murphy Brown is fresh enough to hit the nostalgia sweet spot and provide its own pleasures. The characters have shed whatever stereotypes they were originally assigned, and it’s fun to see how much chemistry they have in various pairings. Hoping for a second season!
• Last but not least, congratulations to Candice Bergen on her Golden Globes nomination. This is the twelfth time she’s been nominated for the role.