Video: MURPHY BROWN S1 • E9 A Lifetime of Achievement (With Bette Midler)

I’m happy to report that this week’s Murphy Brown offers another half-hour of sweet respite from what’s passing for our shared reality these days — and only partly because current events take a back seat to the storyline. Or, as Murphy puts it after wrapping up another Murphy in the Morning with the news that Jim Dial is going to receive the Lionel P. Humboldt Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in Journalism, “Let’s end this broadcast before any breaking news harshes our mellow.”

The gang gets ready to head over to Phil’s for breakfast, but before they do, someone stops by the studio to see Murphy. A blast from the past: It’s the worst of Murphy’s terrible secretaries, Bette Midler’s Caprice (“with two Cs, interlocking like Chanel“) Feldman. In the intervening years, Caprice has lost yet another husband — she’s now the newly widowed Caprice Feldman Morton — and her chihuahua Mr. Bojangles, but none of her character. She’s come by to inform Murphy of the passing of the late Mr. Morton, the network’s majority shareholder. That’s right: the woman who ate the tops off of all the muffins while working for Murphy Brown now has Murphy Brown working for her.

“I have some fantastic ideas for livening up this brand,” she announces. “We’re gonna take boobs, booty, and beer all the way to the bank, Brownie.” And then, as quickly as she appeared, she is off to survey the rest of her kingdom.

At Phil’s, the gang sorts out plans for Jim’s big night. Frank would usually be Murphy’s date, but she’s bringing Avery. Corky refuses to be his “sloppy seconds” and plans to go stag like the independent woman she is. Miles isn’t bringing Monica, whom he’d met at the network: “She was at my place and saw my AARP magazine. It was the kiss of death.” He’ll go stag, too, a foreshadowing of “growing old alone, no one to care for me, getting shorter and shorter until I turn into a little puff of lint on the floor of my pathetic room at the Jewish retirement center in Bethesda.” Wow, he needs to stress-eat some of Pat Patel’s french fries. (Pat: “Do you need to lick your fingers after each fry?”) When Pat tells him that he has tickets for a Childish Gambino concert on the night of Jim’s dinner, Miles sees right through him. “You don’t have to make up names because you’ll be home alone.” It’s settled. He’ll be Miles’s date, and they’ll go shopping for their tuxes together, “like Two Caballeros.” Pat will be Panchito Pistoles to Miles’s Donald Duck. Miles is the most boorish man in the world right now and it’s perfect. And Jim? Well, Phyllis takes his musing that he hates award shows as an invitation, so he has a date, too.

At home, Avery has bad news, sort of. He doesn’t need to be Murphy’s plus-one, because the Wolf Network has paid for a table; this particularly burns because CNC is too stingy to do the same. And he’s already asked someone else. Besides, he says, maybe it’s time to “let someone else be the plus one in your life.” No, Murphy scoffs, she likes being a solo act. And no, she doesn’t miss sex. How could Avery even mention sex to her? Oh, right, he says. He’d had to learn about sex from from Eldin, who took him to the National Zoo during mating season. (We miss you, Eldin!)

It’s rude for Avery to assume Murphy’s going alone, anyway. After all, as she points out, “There’s a lot of men I could choose from.” … Like Frank. She chooses Frank.

We spend the next five minutes on something like a red carpet sequence, which is fun, and also, when recapped, probably tedious, sorry!! Murphy’s wearing a long black skirt and a white blouse, the perfect canvas for the truly enormous onyx and diamond (probably) spider pin she’s wearing. Corky’s in a beautiful shimmery blue one-shoulder number — just like the evening’s host, Katie Couric. If you ever wondered what women’s colleges are like, you’re about to find out. Katie apologizes for not getting in touch when she heard that Corky was fired from Wake Up, America. “Please, don’t blame yourself. It takes a special kind of personality to make magic in the morning.” Corky appreciates that, and she’s heard that Katie has, “what do you call it? A podcast? So smart. At your age, best to have a platform where no one can see you.” Smiling tightly, they pose for the photographer, and Couric mutters, “I cannot wait for ‘Who Wore It Best.’” (Corky did.) Avery’s date Lauren, bedecked in green velvet and great earrings, passes the Murphy test with flying colors. They both love the Notorious RBG, loathe the Citizens United decision, and think net neutrality is vital in a free society. Whew, better go sit down before something can go wrong!

Miles isn’t sure that he can really carry off the red-on-red-on-red tux Pat’s picked for him, which is accessorized with an enormous fleur-de-lys pin, but Pat tells him he just needs to own it. “Not many men can pull off a look like that,” says network brass Diana, who looks statuesque in black sequins. But, she adds, “I didn’t say you were one of them.” Murphy, who spots him on her way to forage for food in the catering kitchen, just laughs. (It’s an attitude, Miles. You got this.)

At their table they’re served (and served) by … one of Pat Patel’s exes, who says he didn’t realize that “Grandpa Dorothy here” was what Pat had in mind when he said he wanted to date someone older. That’s when Miles realizes that they don’t look like “two caballeros,” and, incredibly, that Pat is gay. “Good for you! That’s great! Really!” Of course he knew! “What did you think, you gay … knucklehead?”

Phyllis and Jim are clearly both nervous, but they’re trying. When she tells him that she’s the black sheep of her family, he confides that he was, too. Generations of men in his family wore suspenders, “and then this rebel put on a belt,” he says, jerking his thumb.  But here’s Caprice Feldman Morton, who also has her eye on Jim, and slips into Phyllis’s chair while the latter is indisposed. Phyllis turns parking enforcement once again. “Dear Lord, are your fighting over me??” Jim asks. Fine, Caprice Feldman Morton will move on. “But it’s your loss, Mr. Dial. You coulda had a lifetime achievement award and two Golden Gloooooobes,” she says, giving it a little shake. (Is this Bette Midler’s greatest role?) Calm is restored, but when Phyllis innocuously mentions how much she is enjoying their date, Jim bolts from the table.

He’s looking for Murphy, who’s stolen a tray of meatball appetizers from the kitchen and is now offering to sell them for $10 each, cash only, to a dignified John Larroquette, guesting as a … gala guest. “You gonna eat all those little meatballs yourself?” he asks her. “Mmmmaybe,” she says, through a mouthful of meat. Sparks are flying!! Judge Nate Campbell — sure, she knows his work. He knows her work, too. They’ve just gotten to talking about their shared interest in watching documentaries at home when Jim bursts in, feeling guilty about being on a date without Doris, his beloved late wife. How can he celebrate his career without her? Murphy tells him that she’d want him to move on. He clearly takes her words to heart; when Katie Couric calls him to the podium he scraps his prepared remarks on the First Amendment (thank God the Jim Acosta thing only happened yesterday & couldn’t get written in) and speaks movingly of how rewarding his career has been in terms of the relationships he’s built. Cherish the good times, he says, and the things that are “waiting for you around the corner when you least expect it.” His eyes alight on Phyllis, and Murphy looks down at Judge Nate Campbell’s card as Jim says, “How lucky I am to be reminded that I still have open seas before me, full of possibilities to explore.” No, we’re both crying! Jim. Jim!!

Everyone’s paired off for the night. (Well, except Frank. Not sure where Frank goes. I doubt he’s man enough for Diana.) Corky and Katie are going to help one another out of their admittedly uncomfortable dresses and grab a burger (fine, sometimes women’s colleges can be nice); Caprice Feldman Morton’s ensnared the namesake of the Lionel P. Humboldt Award for Excellence in Journalism and is pushing him around in his wheelchair; and Miles is driving home with Pat, who’s … in the backseat, making out with his old cater-waiter flame.

The next morning, Avery’s almost managed to usher Lauren out of the house without getting caught, but he swings open the door to find Murphy in her pajamas, retrieving the paper. It couldn’t get more awkward, Avery says, which of course means it will! Here comes Judge Nate bounding down the steps, jauntily rolling up the sleeves of his now-disheveled dress shirt.

Turns out that Avery’s a lot less sanguine about his mother dating when it’s not theoretical. “Are you using protection?” he demands, to which she replies, “Avery, my uterus is in the Museum of Natural History.” Judge Nate is doing an excellent job of razzing the kids, too. He rubs his hands in delight at the prospect of breakfast—Murphy’s offering “half a yogurt and a purse full of mini meatballs”—and heads to the kitchen. That’s enough to convince Avery to grab his coat and take Lauren out to breakfast. Ugh, what a great night!

Misc. & Assorted Notes

• The Murphy Brown revival finally becomes the show we all wanted it to be! This is light, smart, funny, and makes such good use of the characters’ established relationships. And there are so many old faves in this ep! Couric made several appearances as herself on Murphy Brown: OG.

• On the subject of making new friends but keeping the old: With her reappearance, I am much more interested in how Diana works as part of this ensemble.

• This isn’t really related, but sharing it will justify the time I spent down an IMDB hole: Did you know Charles Kimbrough was in a Chef Boyardee commercial??

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2 thoughts on “Video: MURPHY BROWN S1 • E9 A Lifetime of Achievement (With Bette Midler)

  1. I wonder if anybody got the inside jokes from Bette’s history in this episode:

    1. Caprice’s “Merry Widow” actions at the dinner – Bette’s character of Doris in “Get Shorty;”

    2. Her comments towards Jim that he could have had “two golden globes” with her – a reference to Bette’s acceptance speech at the 1980 Golden Globe Awards (“… I’ll show you a pair of golden globes …”;)

    3. Caprice pushing Lionel P. Humboldt in his wheelchair, stating that she will be “the wind beneath his wheelchair” – a reference to one of Bette’s most famous songs, “Wind Beneath My Wings.”

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