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Last night, I sat in front of my television and watched a mild-mannered intellectual woman in her mid-60s sit around a table and politely discuss the facts of a murder investigation with her platonic male friend, a kind, non-descript doctor also in his mid-60s. Apart from the case, they also made biscuits and discussed having back problems. There was no swearing, no on-screen violence, no sexual tension and no particularly aggressive forward momentum. They simply talked over some theories, got the biscuits out of the oven and blew my fucking mind.
When I was a child, I watched a lot of Murder, She Wrote. So, when I decided to pop in the DVD for a few episodes last night, I assumed the program would feel very familiar and comfortable. In some ways, it did, but in other ways, it solidified just how much the entire medium has changed over the past three decades. The program was a ratings bonanza in the mid to late 1980s. More than twenty million people watched every episode of its more popular seasons, but the sad truth is the show would never get past the pitch phase today. It’s not young. It’s not sexy. It’s not glamorous or fast-paced or any of the adjectives executives look for, but in a funny way, that’s actually what makes the reruns such a joy to watch and the idea of making something in this genre so appealing.
As Ellen Burstyn’s Emmy speech so aptly pointed out, there really aren’t very many principal roles for older women in Hollywood, and there sure as hell aren’t many for elderly ones. More importantly, there aren’t a lot of shows that relax and let their characters breath. In some ways, that’s a good thing. We need programs that push us to the emotional limit and push the envelope as to what is acceptable to broadcast on television, but given how many channels there are, there is certainly room for a quieter, more formal weekly mystery built on the backs of good acting, clever red herrings and a relatable detective rather than sex appeal, violence and lead character quirkiness. Watching Murder, She Wrote, I’m able to catch many of the same clues our hero Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) does, and more importantly, I’m able to come up with a theory that isn’t just wild guess work.
I miss Murder, She Wrote. I miss how comfortable the show was with letting murders and threats happen off-screen, and I miss how skillful Lansbury was at playing our hero. We’ll probably never see another program like it on TV. Fortunately, with more than two hundred episodes, there’s plenty to revisit in Cabot Cove.
If you feel like having some Murder, She Wrote in your life, you can head on over to Amazon. The entire series DVD was released earlier this week.