I have some murky memories of certain TV shows my parents watched when I was very small, and sometimes I didn’t even recognize what these TV shows were until I saw them as an adult, and went “Ah, that’s where I saw it!”
But one TV show I never had trouble identifying was Murder She Wrote, the murder-mystery series that followed English-teacher-turned-mystery-writer Jessica Fletcher. Jessica has to be one of the most prolific writers in the history of literature, because she seems to be writing a new book in almost every episode. She is the Bella Forrest of mystery writing… except I’m pretty sure Bella Forrest is a pen name for multiple people.
Anyway, there were basically two different kinda of MSW mysteries. One kind was that Jessica would travel to some other city, town ranch, archeological dig, convent, billionaire’s mansion, circus, or perhaps stumble across a murder on a plane or bus. And there was an enormous amount of variety in the places she would go, and the stuff she would do. For instance, one episode has her impersonating the almost-victim of a murder attempt, and discovering that the woman has inherited… a brothel. Or she goes to New Orleans and witnesses the murder of a jazz musician. Or she’s at a ski resort where someone is shot with an arrow during a blizzard in mid-jump.
The other kind of episodes are the ones set in Jessica’s hometown of Cabot Cove, Maine. This is your basic small town with a crotchety doctor, eccentric spinsters, sheriffs of varying temperament, gossipy older ladies, a mayor who really contributes nothing, and lots of locals who are just colorful enough to be memorable without being too ridiculous… well, most of the time.
And honestly, as wonderful as the episodes where Jessica goes to exciting places and meets new people are… I always loved the Cabot Cove ones the most. Despite the obvious high murder rate, Cabot Cove feels like one of those cozy places that that would be relaxing and pleasant to live in. Not flawless, but a place where most of the people are pretty nice and likable, and where you could hide from the unpleasantness of the rest of the world.
That is a big factor in why that proposed MSW reboot that was being waved around some years ago was never embraced by anyone. I actually would have accepted a new actress and a new fresh attempt to tell MSW stories if they had kept the core consistent with the older series… but no, they wanted to switch her from Cabot Cove to some large city, and make her a doctor instead of an English-teacher-turned-writer (because… I don’t know, being an English teacher is too stereotypically feminine or something?). Thank God, public disapproval killed that reboot. If you’re going to remake MSW, it has to have Cabot Cove and it has to make her a writer. Those things were the core of Jessica’s character.
Okay, I was slightly incorrect in saying that there were only two kinds of episodes, because admittedly they did switch up the formula every so often. For instance, some episodes featured Jessica “presenting” a mystery starring someone else, either a real mystery that happened to one of her billions of friends or loved ones, or a fictional story she had written. Another episode was revealed (spoilers!) to actually be an elaborate dream that Jessica had when she dozed off at a dinner party, starring the other people at the table.
I will say that it has aged somewhat, especially in how it deals with technology. There are some episodes that deal with the development of CDs, desktop computers, VR video games, and stuff like that, and it’s… kind of quaint. Like “aww, they were just developing email,” and stuff like that. Personally, I can imagine that today Jessica would probably have a trusty smart-phone and iPad with her at all times.
Angela Lansbury is really the reason this show was as good as it was, because… her Jessica is just an incredibly likable person. She’s this very dynamic woman of maybe sixty, intelligent, well-educated, generous, compassionate, funny and clever. It’s always fun to see her navigating the sometimes-insane situations she ends up in, and encountering the weird people that shock her.
Anyway, fans of mystery TV may enjoy Murder She Wrote, if they can enjoy the aesthetics and storytelling of the mid-eighties to mid-nineties. It’s not a perfect show – it had its fair share of bad episodes – but it’s a fun, lovable series for me, and something I return to again and again.
Currently you can watch it free with ads on Amazon Prime and IMDB, so if you are subscribed to that service, I would recommend giving it a look.