I have a new favorite TV show. It’s not Gotham, or Blacklist, or anything like that.
My new favorite TV show is Murder, She Wrote.
Maybe you watched this show when it aired (1984–1996). I did not. Partly because some of that span includes years before my birth, and partly because I was not allowed to watch anything but Touched by an Angel until LOST premiered and I wheedled my way into becoming a TV-watcher.
It was a popular show, though, in its heyday—hence the twelve-year run. It’s a show conducive to guest stars, and it had its share, including Levar Burton and most of the cast of M*A*S*H at some point or another. Most of the stars I recognize (e.g. George Clooney, Courteney Cox, Neil Patrick Harris, etc.) weren’t famous yet when they showed up in murder investigations. My husband recognizes the stars I don’t, though—every episode he points someone out to me, and he has the advantage of being well-versed in Disney voice actors, which is how when Jerry Orbach turned up on the show I learned that Lumière and Mrs. Potts were hanging out together discussing murder (or, really, the other way around, since Beauty and the Beast didn’t show up till 1991).
I don’t know why I’m enjoying the show so much now. I mean, I would argue that it’s an objectively good show, but it’s definitely got that made-in-the-eighties (or nineties) feel. On top of that, the lighthearted murder mystery (“cozy mystery”?) is sort of an odd genre. Someone dies—at least one someone—but the whodunit back-and-forth is so caricatured as to border on the absurd, and four of five episodes end with Jessica sharing a good ol’ laugh with one of the characters, often a middle-aged man who is very aware that Jessica has been a widow for some time now. “There’s been a murder, but now we’ve found the unfortunate killer and locked him/her away for good. Isn’t life grand? Ha, ha, ha.”
And speaking of absurd, as a Daily Mail article calculated and shared, Cabot Cove, Maine, the fictional setting of Murder, She Wrote has a per capita murder rate 50 percent higher than that of Honduras. And many of the murders are set outside Cabot Cove, when Jessica goes to visit an old friend or one of her 30 bazillion nieces and nephews. The whole premise of this show is based around the fact that Jessica, a retired English teacher turned mystery writer, is actually better at solving crimes than the law enforcement officials she works with (especially that dunce, Amos). Don’t these officials ever pause to consider that maybe the reason Jessica is so good at solving these crimes (and constantly inserting herself into the investigation) is because she is somehow connected to them? God help her friends and family—odds are if you don’t meet with a grisly end, you’ll end up framed for someone else’s.
I started watching the show with my husband as a celebration of finals being finished. At first I watched almost jokingly—Ha, ha, here I am watching this old TV show starring Angela Lansbury, of all people—but I’m totally hooked. My husband is hooked, too: in fact, he just purchased thirty Murder, She Wrote novels from eBay. The price was a steal, but finding a proper home for thirty new paperbacks in our book-saturated New York apartment is a bit of a challenge.
I’m watching as I write this. I don’t know what we’ll do when we run out of episodes (don’t worry yourselves too hard, though; we still have almost 200 to go). I’m three days into the semester, and I’m dreading the day my academic load catches up with me and I can’t sit down and enjoy some crime at the end of the day.
Maybe it’s the pleasing uniformity of the episodes—the murders may be a mystery, but they follow a nice, tight genre format, and don’t play with it too much. Maybe it’s Angela Lansbury’s soothing voice. Maybe it’s the way the show lends itself so well to witty commentary, a medium in which my husband is well versed. Either way, I’m not excited about pilot season, and I’m not caught up on the shows my friends are talking about (even shows like Downton Abbey—I still haven’t forgiven them for killing off my favorites; this isn’t Game of Thrones, for crying out loud!). I’m waiting to see what kind of murder Mrs. Potts is going to get caught up in next—and I’m loving it.
Alissa Goudswaard Anderson (’10) lives with her husband Josh in New York City, where she is earning her Master of Divinity at General Theological Seminary. Alissa enjoys private kitchen dance parties, big Midwestern thunderstorms, and perusing other peoples’ bookshelves. For more, find her online at www.episcotheque.wordpress.com or tweet her @episcotheque.