“#MurphyToo” is an Efficient, Effective Depiction of the #MeToo Moment
“The show’s called Murphy in the Morning, they’re not firing me,” Murphy (Candice Bergen) quips at the top of this episode about the #MeToo movement and sexual harassment in the workplace. But as her peer in the real world Roseanne Barr learned, being a show’s titular character does not not protect anyone. There isn’t a lot of growth happening for the attendees of this office’s sexual harassment seminar — it’s being lead by a man more focused on the consequences for a hypothetical man, rather than the implications for the hypothetical victim of his abuse.
The older men are struggling, so the show’s twenty-something social media director has developed an app to help for older men to navigate the work place. Its cheeky name is “App-propriate,” and it monitors the speech patterns of an older generation to check for sexual harassment. It buzzes in the pocket of the harasser when key phrases trigger it. Frank (Joe Regalbuto), struggling to understand how to change the way he talks to women, agrees to be a beta tester. Miles (Grant Shaud) is doing better. He demonstrates perfectly how to interact with a woman in the workplace — despite his attraction to a research associate, rather than complimenting her appearance first thing, he pivots to focus on her work. He doesn’t ask her out until after she leaves the show. While awkwardly executed, these are the types of maneuver men need to master in a post #MeToo society.
Murphy’s son Avery (Jake McDorman) recently sat through a similar seminar, although he says the training taking place at his conservative network “is not Me Too, it’s How Too”. Eventually A,very gets his mother to admit that the political climate has reminded her (as it has so many women across America) of an encounter in her youth where she felt violated. She blames herself for her mentor’s advances, and questions the validity of her hurt. It is Avery who tells her “you’re victim-blaming.” Murphy struggles to accept that it was not her fault that she was treated inappropriately, even questioning how extreme the movement has become and it’s implications for romance in society. These are the concerns often voiced by members of Murphy’s generation in response to new standards on behavior. “In our day, it wasn’t sexual harassment; it was a bad date,” one of Murphy’s peers reminisces.
Confrontation and Closure
When Murphy goes to confront her mentor, it’s clear he hasn’t forgotten her. He actually seems to have somehow taken credit for her career. Her photos plaster his walls, and an award she won in college is proudly displayed in a case at the front of his house. His young assistant (only 19, the same age Murphy was when her assault took place) says he talks about Murphy all the time. Though her assaulter never admits his own wrong, Murphy has the confrontation she needs to gain closure. She also offers the young assistant a job, should she ever need it.
It’s hard to believe a sitcom could cram so much of a movement into a single half hour. And it is true that this single episode does not come close to conveying the complexities of the #MeToo movement, of victimhood, or the spectrum what consequences can be for the accused, or what healing can look like for the accusers.
But in this brief episode, Murphy Brown manages to address, broadly, so many of the major characteristics of our cultural moment. We see that all the women on the show have a story, the men are struggling to accept their past wrongs and the new standards on their behavior. How a less abusive future for the new generation can inspire their elders to take action. Finally, Murphy demonstrates how closure helped her gain a literal piece of herself back. The show is speaking the language of both generations — “in our day, it wasn’t sexual harassment; it was a bad date.” In a dense television landscape, this is perhaps the only show deftly addressing the generation/culture gap that often creates static in the interactions between Boomers and Millennials.
Murphy Brown continues Thursday nights at 9:30 ET on CBS.
Photos and video credit courtesy of CBS. Featured Image -CREDIT: DAVID GIESBRECHT/CBS