So I get a lot of flack from people because my taste in popular culture might suggest I am in the ballpark of 87-years-old. By and large, I am more inclined to like classic movies than newer ones (I would guess my top ten has two movies made after 1990). The same goes for TV. Those crazy kids claiming “The Wire” is the best show ever are not only laughable, but have clearly never seen The Dick Van Dyke Show. And they most certainly are missing out on the awesomeoness that is “Murder, She Wrote”.
The general knocks against this delightful Angela Lansbury vehicle which ran for 12 seasons on CBS are twofold. 1: It is boring and benign, designed to amuse old people and 2: Anybody still residing in the fictional town of Cabot Cove or friends with Jessica Fletcher would’ve headed for the hills long ago after how many murders she has been present for.
While this show is preposterous, so is just about everything else on TV. According to twitter, “Homeland” might even beat this thing fro least plausible show ever. As for boring? Aw. Hell. No.
So here are five reasons why you just don’t get it and “Murder, She Wrote” is awesome.
1. This show never even pretends to be plausible in the slightest. They own how absurd the plotlines are and try to outdo themselves with each episode. Once Jessica was appointed emergency interim Congresswoman for the fine state of Maine after the sitting Congressmen died under suspicious circumstances. Not only did this woman go to DC and serve in Congress, she solved a murder and got back to the debate floor in time to give a rousing speech in opposition of a new coastal cannery.
A few weeks later, Jessica’s uncle died and she inherited an ownership stake in an NFL team. Did she sell? Oh no, she headed straight for stadium ready to suit up and coach them to the Super Bowl.
2. This show was willing to tackle just about any political or hot button issue imaginable. Jessica once got trapped in a women’s prison during a riot and the episode was a lesson in systematic corruption in correctional facilities. She helped Ruskies defect because they love democracy more than Communism. She gets embroiled in a political situation with East Germans, and she addresses feminist issues week in and week out.
3. Have you seen the guest stars on this thing? In the aforementioned football episode, Jessica is wooed by Dick Butkus and befriends quarterback Bruce Jenner and his darling, deaf daughter. Courteney Cox plays Jessica’s niece in a two-parter where Jessica travels to a circus and solves a murder designed to look like an accidental death by elephant trampling. Plus you’ve got recurring sheriff Tom Bosley (who sports one hell of a Maine accent) and Boston PI Jerry Orbach. Jeff Conaway recurs as her nephew-in-law who once led a double life as a male exotic dancer.
4. I hope it goes without saying that Angela Lansbury is an American treasure. She can be funny, she can be bawdy, she can be dramatic, she can kick ass. My favorite Jessica Fletcher moments though come in the beats leading up to scenes. Jessica gets out of a cab, pays the cabbie, and adds something, “and I will be sure to send you that bunion ointment. We handcraft in Cabot Cove and it will fix your feet in no time.” Then she will go into an office and lay the smackdown on a corrupt CEO about how he will turn himself in to authorities.
5. While I admire the kitschy camp of this show most of all, I am going to be completely honest with you here. Some of the storytelling is mindblowingly progressive, groundbreaking, and good. Here is a great example. John Astin (best known as Gomez Addams of “The Addams Family” TV show) was a recurring character the first two seasons of the show. He is a selfish real estate agent whose character type is best described as a trickster. He isn’t a full-blown villain, but he pops up from time to time with selfish motives that advance the plot. Even though he can be annoying, he is that harmless neighbor most every show in the 80s possessed.
Then the John Astin character murdered an old woman. Astin gets named substitute sheriff at the top of the show after current sheriff Bosley says it is time to retire. The first two acts of the show, you see Astin comically sputter and struggle as the murders begin to unfold. Then we get to Act Four and the show hits you full force with the revelation that Astin is the killer. He offers a heartfelt, deeply saddening confession.
Where else does this happen? Kimmy Gibler never ups and shoots a guy on “Full House”. "Northern Exposure" doesn’t suddenly have a recurring character rob a house. But “Murder, She Wrote” is ballsy. It is like “The Wire” in that respect. Jessica aside, no one is really safe. Anyone can go at anytime.
So, in a nutshell, this show rocks my world. And I want it to rock yours too. So I think I’m try the occasional installment where I break down an episode. “Murder, She Recapped” if you will. Hopefully it will convert some of you Fletcher haters.