60) You say Potatoe, I Say Potato (Murphy Brown)

Even for a politician, Dan Quayle was prone to saying stupid things. Actually, he was prone to writing them, too, such as when he corrected a child’s spelling by saying that potato has an ‘e’ on the end of it, or when he decided that calling his memoirs “Standing Firm” didn’t invite dick jokes. To top it off, he decided to pick a fight with the News Anchor for CBS’s Telemagazine “FYI,” Murphy Brown. Nowadays, we are getting way too used to politicians picking personal fights with journalists, but back then it was not as common. The twist in this case, however, is that Murphy Brown is a fictional character (portrayed by Candice Bergen).

Misspelling words used to be political death.

At one point in the series, Murphy Brown became pregnant through a fling with her ex-husband, Jake Lowenstein (Robin Thomas). Jake, unwilling to give up his underground left-wing radical lifestyle, says that he will not be up to being a parent for the child (he’s kind of a douche for that, but he’s honest). In response, Murphy decides to raise the child on her own. When she gave birth during the season finale, it was a big issue that mainstream television was now showing a woman planning on raising a child on her own. So big that it came up during the 1992 presidential election, allowing Dan Quayle to get up and deliver a speech about how Murphy Brown was doing the wrong thing by trying to raise a child without a father (never mind that she kept the baby and the father chose to be out of the picture, I guess she was supposed to get married to the next penis that came along). He also chose to deliver most of it as if Murphy was a real person, instead of a fictional character. This inadvertently led to an episode of television that should never have been possible.

Murphy Brown treated Quayle’s speech as if it were directed at her personally, and especially at her decision to raise a child on her own. In response, she convinces her co-workers to put together an episode of FYI dedicated solely to showing Dan Quayle all of the different kinds of families, or the ways that the term “Family” can be applied to things that the small-minded choose to ignore. You know, like the ways that a large number of countries and cultures raise children, including (shocker) the USA. Throughout it, they direct the special at the Vice President personally, and make references to Quayle having had a personal history with Brown. It concluded with Murphy Brown saying that she’s proud to be a single mother.


Unfortunately, while this was a solid moment, the writers definitely didn’t make Murphy a great mother in the show. She genuinely gets pissed at her infant son quite often, because she’s a 40-year-old divorcee who’s used to her independence. She also does seem to show a lot of strain from not having anyone to help her at home, beyond that of most actual single parents I know. But, maybe that’s also a portrayal of parenting that gets overlooked. Some parents aren’t great at it, even if they’re trying their best, and maybe having someone on television struggling as well helped them. In the end, though, she did raise her son as best she could, and showed that she could do it mostly alone. Also, she made at least a small impact on the 1992 Presidential election. Quite an accomplishment for a fictional character.

PREVIOUS – 61: The Daily Show

NEXT – 59: Roseanne

If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.

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