I’ve been an old soul for basically all of my 27 years on this earth. I idolized Cher by the time I was eight, Lucille Ball by the time I was ten, and growing up on Nick at Nite in the ‘90s has resulted in my having more favorite shows that were on thirty of forty years ago than favorites that are currently on the air. Turn on The Carol Burnett Show or The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, and I will give you a diatribe on how the magic of those variety shows can never be replicated in the present day. So a few months ago, when I found myself at home in pajamas on a Friday night instead of taking advantage of the nightlife that someone in their twenties living in New York City should be taking advantage of, I was otherwise occupied with something far more on brand for my way of living:
That time I spent Friday night in bed watching a Murder, She Wrote marathon because I'm definitely 26 years old.
— Sarah Irvin (@queenofquiet) February 25, 2017
It was a moment of curiosity—how had I never seen an episode of this show before?—that immediately led to my new bedtime ritual of watching a little Murder, She Wrote before lights out. It’s insane how quickly I dove head first into the Cabot Cove life. In just a few short months, that simple little murder town became a place I had to visit every night, and I’m quite satisfied in my choices. Because it’s that simple little murder town that has, as of late, become my most welcome distraction from the current state of America.
I honestly don’t think I would have been so immediately on board with this show if it weren’t for the need for a little comfort television, and Murder, She Wrote makes for PERFECT comfort television. With the world as we know it closing in around us, it’s important to know exactly what is happening in our society, but it’s equally important to have a little relief. We all need something to help us wind down before the news cycle starts back up again. And that something, for me, happens to be a bestselling mystery author solving homicides on the side while being her own, independent, kickass self. So join me on a trip to Cabot Cove, Maine (and let’s hope we’re not next on the hit list), as I explore the reasons why Murder, She Wrote makes such a great escape. Because let’s face it, you’re going to need to keep your sanity somehow during the next four years. And this show gifts us twelve seasons and four feature-length TV movies worth of distractions.
You’ll thank me later.
It’s cozy right from the start.
I am BIG on TV theme songs. When done properly, they tell you everything you need to know about the show you’re watching (especially if there are lyrics that literally tell you the point of the show); they’re basically the mission statement for what’s to come. And as soon as you hear the theme song to Murder, She Wrote, you know this isn’t your average crime show. That piano tune isn’t the hard-hitting dramatic music you can find attached to literally every other procedural; but instead, it’s letting you know that you’re about to embark upon a pleasant little show full of bloodshed. ESPECIALLY with the montage of Angela Lansbury going about her leisurely day.
One of my favorite things about the opening of each episode, though, is sadly the thing they cut out of the reruns on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel (honestly, I feel like you could squeeze it into the hour if you sacrifice one of the 80,000 commercials telling you that Jewel is an actress now, which…when did THAT happen?). If you watch the DVDs (or were able to get through some episodes before Netflix completely screwed up and got rid of the series), there’s always a montage of the most dramatic/suspenseful action to come in the hour. It’s basically like every episode is saying, “WE’RE HERE TO TERRIFY YOU…nah, just kidding, we’re quaint as fuck.”
It’s unintentionally hilarious.
Or maybe it’s intentional, I don’t know. What I DO know is that I would gladly take an hour-long episode that only consists of Jessica Fletcher reacting to things. Because Jessica Fletcher has so many feelings about so many things. Like trying to drive cars that are powered by remote control:
Or finding out she’s the number two bestselling author:
She’s also apparently mastered the art of shade, indifference, and general what-the-fuck-ness. It’s like a master class in faces. But in order to solve a crime, you need more than just a well-timed facial expression. Never fear, though! Because in the course of Murder, She Wrote’s twelve-season run, Jessica cooks up some…interesting…alter egos to get to the truth. Like whatever the hell this is:
Also, can we talk about some of these episode titles? Usually, you’ll get a clever pun or a play on a saying everyone knows. But then other times…well, you get titles like these:
The breakfast of champions.
Yeah, that’s what I always say, too.
As opposed to next year, which will be somewhat okay for murder.
Because they were all out of fruit.
I’m sure these episodes were written the same way most TV is written, but I like to imagine that they paid someone just to come up with the titles. And in my mind, it’s the same person who taught Angela Lansbury how to shovel a handful of popcorn into her mouth.
Literally everyone is in it.
What’s more comforting than familiar faces? This show was basically the Law & Order franchise before the Law & Order franchise existed, in that everyone you can think of who was actively working as an actor back then was on this show at one point or another. I have officially lost count of the times I’ve seen the guest-starring credits at the beginning of an episode and ended up shouting “THEY’RE IN THIS?!” at my TV. You never know who you’re going to end up seeing in Cabot Cove, or as you follow Jessica in her travels.
Like Megan Mullally! “Coal Miner’s Slaughter” is definitely my favorite episode of Murder, She Wrote, and if you’ve read pretty much anything I’ve written for HOF this year, you’ll understand why. It’s so much fun to see Megan as a badass lawyer a good decade before she had Karen Walker’s martini glass in hand. Go a little deeper into the series, and you’ve also got a baby Neil Patrick Harris being accused of murder, Courteney Cox as one of Jessica’s nieces, and George Clooney popping up like he usually did in ‘80s television (it’s still kind of jarring for me whenever he appears in a Roseanne orFacts of Life rerun, like I always forget that was what he did before he became a ginormous movie star). Sometimes, these people even double dipped and appeared as different characters, like Florence Henderson did. The beginning of Murder, She Wrote’s third season saw her as a no-nonsense bigwig in the fashion industry trying to pull her daughter away from life as the wife of the owner of a circus (typical story, right?). Later on, in the show’s seventh season, she returns, this time as a country singer named Patti Sue with a questionable southern accent who ends up poisoning her husband, and god I miss you, Mrs. Brady.
And speaking of the Law & Order franchise, how about someone who was actually part of it? Before he played Lennie Briscoe on the original (and before Angela Lansbury and he lent their voices to Beauty and the Beast), Jerry Orbach had a recurring role on Murder, She Wrote as private investigator Harry McGraw. Which then led to a spinoff called The Law & Harry McGraw (I love a good rhyming title) that lasted for a season before he went back to investigating homicides alongside Jessica Fletcher.
PS, I would have watched the shit out of some sort of weird Beauty and the Beast spinoff where Mrs. Potts and Lumiere fight crime. Tell me that wouldn’t be amazing. I mean…if they weren’t trapped in that castle.
Jessica Fletcher might be a serial killer…
You know you’re thinking it, too.
Look, the beauty of Murder, She Wrote is that you can basically watch it one of two ways. You can take the suspension of disbelief route, and just enjoy the fact that a middle-aged mystery writer is solving murders on the regular, despite the fact that the people of Cabot Cove are either completely oblivious or have a serious death wish if they’re staying in that town. That suspension of disbelief was necessary for the show to last twelve seasons, and it’s honestly easy to fall into it and enjoy the show on that level. OR, you start to question how J.B. Fletcher happens to conveniently be surrounded by people who consistently get killed off, and come to the conclusion that she’s the world’s smartest serial killer, expertly placing the blame on other people to remain undetected.
Frankly, it’s a lot of fun to watch this show the “Jessica Fletcher is a serial killer” way.
Think about it: what even is your life if 95% of the time, your day consists of stumbling upon a homicide or two? Unless you’re just pretending that you’re stumbling upon them because you need to keep your poker face on point. “But, Sarah,” you may be thinking, “Cabot Cove is such a small town. CLEARLY they would be onto her eventually.” And that’s valid. Which is why she travels around the world and ends up moving to New York City, where she continues to cross paths with people who are about to meet their maker. The fact that she’s a bestselling mystery writer means that she not only knows how to throw people off her trail, but she also has that keen attention to detail that allows her to pick up on the things she can use to frame you for murder. So by the time she’s got her explanation, she’s painted you so far into that corner that you know you’re going down for this crime. And really…out of all of the people in the world, who is ever going to suspect this lady of 260+ homicides?
HOW ARE YOU AROUND SO MANY MURDERS, J.B.? HOW?
…But she’s definitely a badass.
Everything I’ve been talking about up until now makes for a fun time. Kick back, turn on the TV, and just be entertained for an hour. But as we wake up every day and we inch closer and closer to The Handmaid’s Tale becoming a reality, the existence of Jessica Fletcher is crucial to my sanity. Which makes Murder, She Wrote as a whole crucial to my sanity. Serial killer theory aside, Jessica is a badass independent lady character that we can all look up to. Let’s take the whole “She Wrote” part of Murder, She Wrote for example. This woman started writing a mystery novel after the death of her husband as a hobby, something to keep her mind occupied, and ended up turning it into a brilliant second act as one of the most famous mystery authors in America. Okay, sure, she had a little help from her nephew being nosy enough to grab her manuscript and send it in to a publisher without her knowledge, but once the damage was done, she leaned into it hardcore, publishing something like 25 insanely popular novels during the course of the show. That’s a hell of a mark to leave in twelve years, let alone a lifetime.
And as for her crime solving hobby, she’s basically better than every single (usually male…ahem) cop at their job. I mean, seriously. This isn’t even what she does for a living. She had no police training whatsoever, and she’s picking up on all of the things these dudes either missed completely, or dismissed because it didn’t fit their own assumptions. It’s not like she doesn’t try to tell them about their oversights, but because she’s *just* a fiction writer, she couldn’t possibly know what she’s doing, right? Then, of course, there’s that oh-so-precious casual sexism standing in the way between some of these guys’ egos and justice. But to all the chauvinistic detectives out there who think this woman couldn’t possibly get stuff done, J.B. Fletcher will have none of your bullshit:
I love this woman because she ignores anyone who tries to stop her; her determination is just too strong. She’s not deterred at all, not by the dumbass detectives who think they know better than she does, not by the potential suspects who have something to hide even if it’s not the fact that they straight up murdered someone, not even by the ones who actually committed the crime and more often than not shove a gun in her face in an attempt to silence her (seriously, this woman has been held at gunpoint a million times and STILL GOES OUT OF HER WAY TO SOLVE MURDERS, WHAT EVEN). Because when it comes down to it, Jessica wants to get to the truth, no matter what it takes. And she ALWAYS gets to the truth. The best part of it all is the end of every episode, where Jessica essentially goes into a monologue about how she knew who the real killer was in each case, outlining all the tiny details no one else picked up on. She’s always calm, she’s always poised. She never throws it in the face of the ones who seriously dropped the ball, or taunts those she caught. She’s simply putting it all out there, her subtle way of saying, “There. I solved it. Next.” A class act to the very end.
The Handmaid’s Tale is vital and always has been, from the book’s publication to the Hulu series and beyond. But I would argue that as much as we need The Handmaid’s Tale as a warning, we also need a character like Jessica Fletcher, who just casually handles the bad guys in between bestsellers, before just as casually moving on to the next creep. Jessica is one of the countless examples of how we, as women, can do whatever we set our minds to, at any age. It’s so refreshing to see her basically handing everyone’s asses to them every episode, especially when ageism and sexism run rampant. We could honestly use an army of J.B. Fletchers as we fight, and as we resist. And as I do everything in my power to resist, it’s comforting to come back to Cabot Cove and, even though it’s against a lighter backdrop, watch her fight, just because she can.
And so can I.
Do you love Murder, She Wrote? Do you think Jessica Fletcher has blood on her hands? Will Netflix ever get its shit together and throw this show back up on their platform? Let’s chat in the comments!