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Warner Home Video presents
Murphy Brown: The Complete First Season (1988-89)

Murphy: You know, 30 million people watched me on television tonight.
Eldin: Yeah? I won 10 bucks at Lotto.

- Candice Bergen, Robert Pastorelli

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: February 08, 2005

Stars: Candice Bergen, Joe Regalbuto, Faith Ford, Grant Shaud, Charles Kimbrough, Pat Corley, Robert Pastorelli
Other Stars: Colleen Dewhurst, Linda Ellerbee, Buck Henry, Ritch Brinkley, John Hostetter, Leslie Jordan, William Sadler, Robin Strasser, Alan Oppenheimer
Director: Barnet Kellman

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 08h:55m:00s
Release Date: February 08, 2005
UPC: 012569596450
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ A+BB+ B+

DVD Review

Is it just me, or is there a Candice Bergen revival in the air? After swearing off the weekly grind of television a few years back, she's back on the prime-time beat to provide a much-needed jolt as the newest cast addition to David E. Kelly's steadily improving Boston Legal, donning a judge's robe to guest star on Dick Wolf's forthcoming Law and Order spinoff, and cable's Nick at Night just added her multi-award-winning sit-com, Murphy Brown, to their nightly lineup, doing so in high fashion with a week-long marathon highlighting the best of the series' 10-year run.

Murphy Brown: The First Complete Season hits DVD courtesy of Warner Home Video, and for those of you tuning in, here's what we know (or what you need to know...or something like that... Sorry, my teleprompter's on the fritz).

Famed Washington-based television journalist Murphy Brown (Bergen) has just emerged from rehab at the Betty Ford Center, eager to make a fresh start. But before she can take the scant few steps to her office to begin her day quietly, her overly eager new executive producer, Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), introduces himself to his star reporter. In response, all our veteran newshound can do is stare in disbelief and sarcastically jab this wet behind-the-ears kid who was "wondering if [he'd] ever meet Adam West" while she was getting maced at the 1968 Democratic Convention.

Thank goodness Murphy has dependable cohorts like old-school anchor Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough) and ace investigative reporter/best bud Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) to turn to; they can also keep her from strangling the newest addition to the on-camera team: former Miss America turned journalist Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), who handles tricky assignments like "the lighter side of liposuction." Even at home, there's no rest for the weary as Murphy has what pretty much amounts to an unofficial roommate in Eldin Bernicky (Robert Pastorelli), the house painter who's been assigned to redo her digs, a job which should be finished by the time a certain vice president misspells the word "potato" (approximately four years). And there's Phil (Pat Corley), owner of Murphy's favorite watering hole, who always seems to have the inside scoop on the movers and shakers of the nation's capital; he makes Watergate's famed Deep Throat look like a one-trick pony.

With its clever blending of well-drawn fictional news personalities, constant references to actual journalists, satire of then-current headlines and industry trends performed by one of the best-ever ensembles in half-hour comedy, Murphy Brown deserves reappraisal. Only the slightest bit dated due to topical humor, the biting wit and sharp scripts overseen by its supremely talented creator, Diane English (who penned many of the first season's episodes, including the Emmy-winning pilot), more than suffices for the historically challenged. Bergen's energetic portrayal of the larger than life journalist still delights nearly two decades later; I still find it amazing that, aside from her cute stints as host during the vintage era of Saturday Night Live, she'd never done comedy in front of a live audience before. Brown came as breath of fresh air the way it transcended potential star-vehicle status with a supporting cast that shines collectively and individually, thanks to its gracious lead.

As proof, some of the most memorable episodes of the debut season come via installments that put heavy emphasis on the varied working relationships Murphy shared with her news coworkers. Devil with a Blue Dress On and The Morning Show cover two key moments in the budding friendship between Murphy and Corky; one proves the ingènue isn't as dumb as she appears while the other finds Murphy giving the ex-beauty queen props for her wonderful sense of professionalism during a week of co-hosting a Good Morning America-type daytime gig. Jim defends Murphy's request to take part in an exclusive all-male club in Soul Man, which illustrates the tremendous amount of mutual respect that's shared between them; Baby Love is a charming, funny, sweet episode in which Frank goes the extra mile to aid Murphy's sudden desire to have a child; and Miles proves he's no pushover by suspending his star reporter in Off the Job Experience, which teaches Brown a valuable lesson in respect that marks a turning point in their relationship for the better.

Other equally marvelous outings from the rookie year: Mama Said, which features an outstanding turn by Colleen Dewhurst as Murphy's intimidating mother who knows how to push her daughter's buttons (the veteran actress collected an Emmy for Best Female Guest Star); The Unshrinkable Murphy Brown sees FYI's star attraction doing a personality flip following an on-air grilling of a judge involved in suspicious activity that eventually leads him to "adjourn"; My Dinner with Einstein (a clever title twist on Bergen's legendary film director husband Louis Malle's My Dinner with Andre) teams Bergen with Buck Henry, who portrays a supposedly nerdy physicist Murphy asks to a high-profile Washington event, only todiscover a hidden party side that makes Paris Hilton look tame; Kyle, a blisteringly hilarious outing featuring notable character actor Leslie Jordan as a wrongfully convicted man whom Murphy helps gain freedom and become yet another in the continuously revolving door of her secretaries (one of the show's trademarks along with its inspired use of vintage soul classics from the 1960s that kicked off every episode); and The Summer of '77, which flashes back to a fateful August day of that year when a frizzy-haired, fashion-challenged television reporter walked into Phil's Bar, not only crossing paths with its owner, but future best friend Frank. and It's How You Play the Game, an alternately gut-busting and eerily prophetic installment that finds FYI wincingly climbing aboard the exploitation bandwagon beginning to creep its way into daytime talk shows like Geraldo and Morton Downey, Jr. and so on. The climatic set-piece involving a faceoff between hookers and disgruntled housewives is a devastatingly hilarious parody of an infamous Rivera incident, leading to a telling line of dialogue that still sends chills up my spine. Game is truly one of the best episodes of the series.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: If not for one extremely glaring error, this vividly colorful, sharply detailed set of transfers might have earned an "A+". But during a key moment in the pilot episode (Respect), when Murphy woefully harmonizes off key to a classic hit from her musical idol Aretha Franklin, a horrid, distracting batch of blue lines clutter up the screen. When you consider it's one of the most memorable moments in the history of television comedy, it's extremely disappointing. But other than this and the stray speck here and there, this is an extremely impressive set of transfers.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Most comedy shows don't offer much in the way of aural showboating and aside from the nicely detailed basic stereo that comes into play during the opening sequences, incorporating an eclectic mix of soul classics ranging from Frankie Lymon to Mitch Ryder and more from the vast hit-making archives of both Atlantic and Motown, it's not very flashy, but more than serviceable. Additionally, I love the way the show's studio audiences sound so genuine and unsweetened in terms of their response to the material, which is a testament to both the performers and their scripts.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 90 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Actress Candice Bergen on Respect (Pilot); Series Creator-Writer Diane English on The Summer of '77
Packaging: Unknown
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Murphy Brown: An FYI Exclusive (Retrospective Documentary)
  2. Bonus Warner Brothers TV 50th Anniversary Disc (with single episodes of My Sister Sam and Room for Two)
Extras Review: In recent years, Warner has steadily improved their bonus material on their television collections; Murphy is the recipient of some of the best supplementals contained on such a package to date.

Murphy Brown: An FYI Exclusive is terrific, awash in information for a half-hour documentary featuring new interviews with nearly all of the core cast (save for Pat Corely and the sadly missed Robert Pastorelli). From CBS' failed attempts to dumb down the material, memorable audition stories (including Ford's daring encore), hilarious bloopers to many classic moments from one heck of a rookie year, it is sure to delight both hardcore followers and newcomers eager to discover what they missed.

Bergen and creator English prove to be effective commentators on their individual audio tracks for the episodes Respect and The Summer of '77. The latter late-season installment finds the somewhat shy and reserved English starting off tentatively but warming up to the task at hand quickly, with insight into how most shows rely on flashback sequences as filler or as a means to thwart a lack of inspiration, but definitely not the case for a program that had only just begun to tap its strengths. Bergen's track is relaxed yet lively from start to finish, covering much ground from her awe of English's writing to feeling it took her the duration of the opening season to fully find her way into Murphy's shoes (although fans and Emmy voters beg to differ).

Murphy's packaging marks the debut of another Warner attempt to better its multi-disc offerings in more user-friendly designs. Unlike the tiring routine of unfolding panels and such, this possesses the dimensions of a slightly larger than standard paperback book that opens up like a classic gatefold album, with an inner spread that finds the quartet of discs stacked in two columns on top of one another with individual holding spindles. Initially, this will annoy some to be sure, but its nowhere nearly as bad as first attempts by other companies at this type of configuration.

Also included in the package is an additional DVD containing the pilot episodes of My Sister Sam and Room for Two, two rather forgettable sit-coms (each with Murphy Brown connections) that would be mere footnotes if not for some of the talent: the ill-fated Rebecca Schaeffer (who co-starred with Pam Dawber in the former) and future Everybody Loves Raymond's Patricia Heaton teamed with Alice headliner, Linda Lavin.

Extras Grade: B+

 

Final Comments

A Monday night television mainstay for millions in the late 1980s-early '90s makes a well-earned DVD debut with mostly fabulous visual and aural re-mastering, two terrific commentaries and a good documentary. FYI, Murphy Brown: The Complete First Season is extremely recommended.

Good night.

 


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