"Murphy Brown's" eagerly awaited season premiere last night was definitely disappointing, but after all the hullabaloo and rigmarole, what wouldn't be?
For the first 45 minutes or so, things were all festive and fairly funny, and most of the Quayle-bashing was good fun. But then came the letdown. In the closing scenes, the writers and producers got sanctimonious in their response to the vice president's criticisms of the show and of the eponymous heroine's decision to have a child out of wedlock. Spirited and cheeky zinging gave way to groaning pieties. Candice Bergen as reporter Murphy Brown, appearing on her "FYI" news show to answer Quayle, got highfalutin and serious, first citing the possibility that his attack may have been "a cynical bit of election year posturing." No kidding!
Brown said all the problems now facing the country could be blamed on "an administration that's been in power 12 years -- or we could blame me." She said, as who has not by this time, that she found Quayle's definition of "family values" to be "painfully unfair." What really defines family, Brown lectured, "is commitment, caring and love."
And then Murphy Brown, and the producers of "Murphy Brown," trotted out a multiracial assortment of real-life single parents to stand nobly under the spotlight while the audience applauded.
This was not a satisfying response to Quayle. It was more of an embarrassment, sinking not only to his level, but even lower. Since Quayle grew suddenly mellow over the weekend, declaring a "truce" in his war on Hollywood and even sending a conciliatory present to Murphy's baby, the "Murphy Brown" reaction looked like overkill.
During the first 30 minutes, there was no mention of Quayle, just scenes of Murphy doing her best to hire a nanny and quiet her newborn child. Once, when the baby cried, Brown asked, "Did you dream Pat Buchanan was hiding under your bed?"
Later, Quayle was seen in actual news clips blasting Brown for her glamorization of single motherhood and for failing to be a good role model; the writers skillfully made it seem that Quayle was harpooning Murphy Brown the person, rather than "Murphy Brown" the sitcom.
"Glamorize single motherhood?" Brown asked in disbelief after watching the Quayle clip on TV. "What planet is he on?" Her friend and co-worker Frank (Joe Regalbuto) told her to "consider the source" and ignore the remark: "Murph, it's Dan Quayle! Just forget about it!"
"I'm not even going to worry about it," Brown said. "It's the kind of thing nobody will pay any attention to." Then, rrring, The Washington Post calls for comment. And then the New York Times. And then reporters camp outside her house.
Actual headlines from the New York Post and Daily News were shown, and for a while, it was funny to watch art imitating life imitating art. The writers incorporated Quayle's attack fairly deftly.
For a while, the Quayle bashing seemed good-natured, and certainly well-deserved. One cast member said, for instance, that a poll had found a majority of people not only believing Murphy Brown would make a better parent than Dan Quayle, but also a better president.
But the self-righteousness at the end constituted a very wet blanket. Comforting the baby after the "FYI" telecast, Murphy told him she had taken "the high road" in responding to Quayle. It seemed less the high road than the easy road.
The final gesture was the worst, a "take that!" shot of a truckload of potatoes supposedly being dumped by an anonymous driver in the Quayle family driveway, in commemoration of the spelling error heard 'round the world.
While whacks at Quayle were expected, the show also went out of its way to bash the press, which has been almost appallingly generous in publicizing "Murphy Brown." It's odd, too, in that Murphy is supposed to be a journalist herself.
But phone calls from those mean old reporters were forever waking up the sweet little baby (couldn't Murphy just unplug the phone?). It was suggested at the end of one scene that Murphy was going to dump a diaper pail on a reporter from her second-story window and this was just what the cad deserved.
At least now it looks as if the producers of the show will put the Quayle thing behind them and get on with Murphy's life. The sad thing is, they were guaranteed a huge national tune-in on their first night back and they kind of blew it.
Part of Dan Quayle's problem was taking "Murphy Brown" too seriously, but now the producers of the show have unfortunately outdone him. They delivered a sermon where they should have rendered a romp.
'Hangin' With Mr. Cooper'
Talkin' 'bout babes, talkin' 'bout butts, talkin' 'bout "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper," the not very good, but not truly terrible, sitcom that ABC introduces at 8:30 tonight on Channel 7.
Mark Curry, a very tall and personable young comic, plays Mark Cooper, failed basketball star who now works as a substitute teacher and, more to the point, shares a house with two attractive females.
One, named Vanessa and played by Holly Robinson, is not only attractive but also has a decided tendency to slink and wriggle about the house in dresses so tight they cause Mark to gape and ogle and shout "da-yum!" which is his way of saying "damn."
The series could easily be dismissed as a black "Three's Company." And because of the schoolroom sequences, it's also being dismissed in some quarters as a black "Welcome Back, Kotter." But it's really not as dismissable as it sounds, mainly because Curry does have a winning personality, a comfortably clownish demeanor.
How long, though, can he go on lusting after Vanessa without the relationship being consummated? And what, then, happens to the other woman, Robin, a platonic friend of Mark's nicely played by Dawnn Lewis? Executive producer Jeff Franklin, who wrote tonight's pilot, has his work cut out for him.
Some of the dialogue sounds as if it came from Fox's sleazy game show, "Studs." Vanessa says of William, the stockbroker she's dating, "He's got a butt that makes me wish I was his wallet." But when William shows up, the sparks between him and a jealous Mark really are kind of fun to watch.
No one is likely to be planning a week around "Hangin' With Mr. Cooper." And it has none of the ambitious edge of "Roseanne," the show it precedes. But Curry has star quality, and in television, that counts for plenty. "Mr. Cooper" won't sink without a trace, because Curry is the trace.