In “I (Don’t) Heart Huckabees,” Murphy Brown Explores the Relationship Between Power, the Press, and the People
Murphy’s morning gang is having trouble dealing with the early hours this week — Murphy (Candice Bergen) herself wearing pajamas and slippers under the table. However, she’s doing better than her assistant, who didn’t even make it to bed the night before!
Meanwhile, Phyllis (Tyne Daly) is interviewing a Dreamer at the bar — she jokes darkly about why he needs the cash “so you guys are gonna pay for the wall?” Murphy’s woke son Avery (Jake McDorman) arrives and alludes to the idea that his show may be on a Fox-like network, where is the “token liberal.” He’s doing well — so well, in fact, that he has scored a seat at a presidential press briefing. This is a score Murphy herself couldn’t even get!
A Changing Liberal Landscape
Murphy’s complicated relationship with her son represents a larger disparity between Millennials and iGen-ers and liberals of Murphy Brown’s generation. Avery wears a Pod Save America shirt — a nod to the podcast run by former Obama staffers. He’s got the access and information that Murphy doesn’t have, and though they share politics, their interactions with the political vary greatly. While Murphy is using her show the same way she always did — to promote her views on the issues of today — her son instead sees himself as a proxy for the “Every Man.” His goal is to represent the average American, whereas his mother’s outlook is still somewhat solipsistic.
Not to be bested by her own flesh and blood, Murphy dons a disguise and sneaks into the briefing room. Such a plot would seem beyond laughably implausible, but the show deftly turns it into a joke. The audience’s disbelief that Murphy could actually sneak into the White House is ameliorated by Murphy’s exclamation that “the gate is open” and the guard has left a note that says he’ll be back in five. It’s nonsensical and comedic, but under a Trump presidency in 2018, true absurdity is a tough find. “This country is so screwed!” she exclaims, assuaging any doubt that her disguise could work.
The Role of the Press
The contrast between Murphy’s and her son’s tactics becomes even starker as she bombastically questions Sarah Huckabee Sanders (Sanders herself does not actually make an appearance on the show, so her cameo is constructed through news footage and a body double in the reverse shot). Murphy tries to get her fellow journalists to stand up and walk out with her, but no one, not even her own son, joins her. The moment makes an important point about the role of the press — and actually, Murphy comes out in the wrong.
The role of the press, as Avery rightly sees it, is to be a surrogate for the people. “If we all walked out, who would be left?” Avery asks his mother, before quoting her. “Journalists are the only real firewall between power-hunger people and the people they were elected to serve,” he reminds her.