Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Murder She Wrote

12 seasons. 264 episodes. 286 murders. 12 emmy nominations for best actress and 0 wins.

Murder She Wrote first appeared on screen in 1984 and brought with it a new era of whodunit. Women were strong and smart. Cops were invariably dumb. Killers would always leave an obvious clue behind and they would always confess. (Looking back now, I'd advise them to get a good lawyer first).

My top 10 favourite episodes:

1.Murder Takes the Bus (1.19)

Jessica and Amos Tupper are onboard a bus bound for a convention in Boston when the weather forces the passengers to take refuge at an out of the way diner.
Highlight: A variation on the closed circle mystery, set on a dark and stormy night.

2.Who Threw the Barbitals in Mrs Fletcher's Chowder (4.12)
When Amos' sister and her in-laws descend upon Cabot Cove, Jessica hosts a dinner party with homicidal results, leaving the finger pointing at the Sheriff's sister.
Highlight: New England home cooking with a pinch of murder. But the highlight is indubitably Amos Tupper and his relatives.

3.Mr Penroy's Vacation (5.3)
Jessica is perplexed by the apparent murder of an elderly man that points to two simple-minded, spinster sisters he was living with.

Highlight:The delightfully practical Appletree sisters and the arrival of Sheriff Metzger.

4.Crossed Up (3.13)
The phone wires get crossed during a storm and Jessica can't convince anyone that what she heard was real.
Highlight: Shades of Hitchcock. And yet more dark and stormy nights.

5.Joshua Peabody Died Here ... Possibly (2.2)
Plans for a new hotel in Cabot Cove must be put on hold when a skeleton is discovered at the construction site and Amos and Jessica find a second body.
Highlight: The infamous Joshua Peabody.

6.The Corpse Flew First Class (3.12)
Theft and murder occur on board a jet bound for London with a plethora of suspects ranging from an older couple to a well-known actress to a former police officer.
Highlight: murder on a plane. Guest stars Kate Mulgrew (Voyager).

7.The Sins of Castle Cove (5.17)
A vindictive, tell-all work of fiction mirroring Cabot Cove sends the townspeople into an uproar, and when a murder occurs following the plot of the book it's up to Jessica to separate fact from fiction.
Highlight: Hilarious metadrama episode.

8.Sticks and Stones (2.10)
Cabot Cove is flooded with poison pen letters which proves hard for the town to handle as Amos prepares to hand the reins over to a new sheriff, Harry Pierce.
Highlight: Reminiscent of Christie's Moving Finger.

9.The Grand Old Lady (6.3)
Jessica narrates a story from 40 years ago when another female mystery writer helped to solve a mysterious murder aboard the Queen Mary.
Highlight: The best bookend episode.

10.Fire Burn, Cauldron Bubble (5.13)
Jessica is suspicious when the appearance of the ghost of a long-dead witch burned at the stake coincides with the release of a book on the very subject.
 Highlight: Ghosts! Witches! Hack writers! Oh My!

Of course, what really made this series work was the star, Angela Lansbury.

Perhaps not the best actress in the world, but immensely charasmatic: her Mrs Fletcher was someone everyone wanted as a friend, or a teacher, or a relative. Or the person to prove your innocence if you're wrongly accused.

I grew up watching MSW, and loved it first for the fact that it was one of a handful of programs my mother would actually sit down to watch. (You'd have to know my mother and her energizer bunny work ethic to fully understand). Of course, since then I've loved it for a host of other reasons, for its quiet humour and quirkiness, its wholesome values, and its faithfulness to the whodunit format.

Quintessentially Murder She Wrote:

  • The 'Cabot Cove syndrome', coined to describe the statistically improbable number of murders that occurred within the town.
  • The typewriter. Techno geek that I am, I still mourn the typewriter.
  • Sheriff Tupper, his appetite, his ineptitude, his "Miz Fletcher"ing. 
  • The often long-suffering Sheriff Metzger and his never seen but briefly heard wife Adele.
  • Dr Seth Hazlitt, bachelor and philosopher.
  • The man-eating real estate agent Eve Simpson.
  • Grady Fletcher, Jessica's unlucky but entertaining nephew.
  • Her endless list of falsely accused relatives and friends.
  • Her beloved husband Frank.