Two revivals premiered last week to start off the new fall season. Murphy Brown and Last Man Standing are on different networks at different times, though they both have political motivations within their stories and their returns to TV. With Last Man Standing led by comedy megastar Tim Allen and TV-icon Candice Bergen returning as journalist Murphy Brown the two shows tried to tackle similar issues within the first episode. The primary message of both is that politics shouldn’t get in the way of everyday problems and especially not family.
Review – Last Man Standing
Last Man Standing was revived by Fox after a cancellation by ABC. Rumor had it, the cancellation was due to the show’s (and star Tim Allen’s) conservative values. Following the 2016 election, the series didn’t fit ABC anymore and was axed after six seasons, despite consistently high ratings on Friday nights. The seventh season opened on Fox to the series highest ratings since the show’s second season premiere on ABC, scoring a 1.8 in the target demo and 8 million total viewers. Loyal fans were able to watch this premiere episode on twitter a week early, but this didn’t seem to affect ratings, garnering 682K views (as of publishing).
The first episode of the new season starts off with a very funny and meta approach to making fun of their former home with a conversation about Kyle’s favorite show being cancelled and moving to a new network. The forward and bold statement worked well. Another change that occurred was casting a new Mandy. One of the three Baxter daughters was recast and was simply confirmed by Mike Baxter (Tim Allen) commenting, “Mandy – I like it.” Enough said. The remainder of the episode was spent on talking about politics and more on how to avoid talking about politics among family members with differing points of view. Tim Allen’s personal conservative values are strongly reflected in his character Mike Baxter, but the opposite, liberal view are expressed by son-in-law, Ryan. The banter between the two is as sharp as ever as Mike tries to get Ryan to focus less on politics and cable news and more on his wife and son. The sitcom does support conservative values more strongly, but this is not a problem with the show. Last Man looks to be the only broadcast show willing to share conservative values. With an episode (and show) truly about family the series doesn’t look any different from its previous seasons and fans are there for it.
Review – Murphy Brown
Murphy Brown has returned from a 20-year hiatus with the last episode of the series airing back in May of 1998. The world has changed a bit since then, but Murphy has not. The pilot of the revival stars the original cast gathering to return to news with a morning news show on the fictional CNC network. Murphy’s son, Avery, is also a journalist and is offered a competing show on the opposing Wolf network (one guess who that is supposed to be). Murphy decides her show will be the common-ground show she doesn’t see on-air. The Murphy Brown revival doesn’t work that hard to be politically middle, though, as the primary stunt in the first episode is a visit from Hillary Clinton herself, interviewing to be Murphy’s secretary. The episode updated the audience on how the news team has been reacting to life since Trump, which is not well. This inspired Murphy to return to TV, though this means she needs to be involved with social media for the first time. The least funny part of this episode was watching yet another mockery of millennials when social media manager Pat Patel explains the show’s social media strategy. A joke centered on Murphy’s flip phone causes Pat to react as if this is an artifact from the 1950’s, not the early 2000s. Many forget the iPhone is only about 10 years old, which means he, himself would most likely have owned a flip phone as a teenager and would not assume the phone has Siri. So this odd freak-out isn’t funny as it’s just using tired millennial stereotypes to mock the character’s intelligence. It would have been stronger to have Murphy already be a tech-savvy Baby-Boomer schooling the twenty-something with her knowledge of social platforms, but alas not. None of it works. Thusly, with her flip phone existence, Murphy takes to twitter for the first time commenting about a date she went on with Trump, resulting in an on-air twitter feud with the President. Her new morning show quickly devolves into the name-calling, anti-conservative show she was trying to avoid. It remains to be seen for future episodes if this left-focused messaging will change now that she has her twitter rant and Clinton cameo out of the way.
Last Man Standing and Murphy Brown have loyal fan bases. Brown sits clearly on the liberal side of things while Last Man lets conservative values show through while both compete as broadcast, traditional, multi-camera sitcoms. Brown earned a 1.1 in the demo and 7.4 million viewers on its premiere night. Both are far in the ratings game from Will & Grace’s 10 million viewer revival debut and none touch Roseanne’s 18 million viewer return (but you know how that story ends). By numbers, it would look like conservative value driven shows have the slight advantage in the ratings, but they are also fewer and far between. Murphy Brown’s approach to being politically forward has always been the way of the show making the series iconic and opened the doors to many politically-motivated shows focusing on working women. This iteration seems to be more about proving liberalism’s moral superiority rather than representing the viewpoint with an understanding for the complexity of modern times. Last Man has also been able to keep Mike technologically up to date with his weekly video blog on the Outdoor Man website at the end of episode. In the premiere’s vlog Mike offers people are trying to “unfriend, unlike, and unfollow instead of trying to understand each other.” Murphy offers her own reflection on the end of the episode realizing her show didn’t go to plan and she wants to try to be better. The two shows will remain on different sides of the political spectrum undoubtedly, but both are striving for a politically middle approach to make the shows and characters more open to opposing viewpoints. We will see how successful this is as the seasons progress.
For more on what’s new this fall on TV check out our list of new and returning Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror shows!