'Murphy Brown' is still kicking Preview: The politically savvy sitcom may have lost some of its speed, but it can still land a solid comic punch.; New TV season


Come on, you didn't really think the new job at the White House that Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) accepted at the end of last season was going to work out, did you?

Of course not. But who would have thought she'd last less than an hour with the Clintons and have to come crawling back to "FYI" and executive producer Kay Carter-Shepley (Lily Tomlin)?

"So what happened, Murph? Was it something you stole, something you spilled or something you said?" Frank (Joe Regalbuto) asks her gleefully.

"Wow, the trifecta," he shouts in response to Murphy's uncharacteristic silence.

"If you must know," she finally says, "I parked in Al Gore's spot, ticked off Madeleine Albright and apparently committed some sort of treason when I reached over and ate some of Clinton's curly fries.

"But who cares? I was going to have to spend half my time giving back checks to Asian guys anyway," she adds, referring ** to contributions accepted in 1996 by the Clinton campaign and then returned in recent months after being deemed improper.

There are some who say 'Murphy Brown" is over the hill and should have called it quits for good in May instead of returning for a 10th and final season this fall.

I say I'm glad it's back, if only because it's the one network sitcom that regularly mocks the Washington mighty and satirizes American politics. After all, how many sitcoms about single dads, young friends and odd couples can the republic bear?

There are other reasons to welcome "Murphy Brown" beyond its filling the disturbing void of intelligent political satire on commercial television.

Yes, it's put on a little flab in the writing and seems to have lost the edge of its 20/20 social vision. But it is still funny, smart and graced by fine comic and dramatic performances.

The buzz on tonight's episode is about Murphy discovering she has breast cancer. Actually, what she finds out after finally having a mammogram is that there's something on the X-ray that the doctor wants to discuss with her.

Next week is when that drama really begins. Tonight, outside of the closing moments, it's mainly the wild and brilliant comedy of Tomlin as her character literally turns cartwheels at Murphy's departure and then throws Joan Lunden in the face of a humbled Murphy as her possible replacement.

Lunden, by the way, who made me gag as a real anchorwoman on ABC's "Good Morning America," is actually quite funny as the muffin-baking goody-goody whom everybody at "FYI" seems ready to embrace as the new and lovable star correspondent.

Maybe, by the end of the season, it will seem as if "Murphy Brown" has overstayed its welcome. But not today -- based on the first three episodes.

This is a sitcom that regularly traveled a road on which few dare to venture -- connecting with and influencing social movements. "Murphy Brown" still does network television proud.

'Murphy Brown'

What: Season premiere

Where: CBS (WJZ, Channel 13)

When: 8: 30-9 tonight

More information: In anticipation of heightened awareness of breast cancer after tonight's program, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation will have phone lines open from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. Anyone with questions about breast cancer may call 410-433-RACE. Callers may also register for the foundation's Race for the Cure, which will be held Saturday.

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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