Murder, She Wrote
Review By: Gringo

Poor Angela Lansbury. Well, I doubt she's poor. In fact, she's probably got money spilling out of her pockets. I bet when she goes to restaurants (rich people like food) and sits down, money just floods out of her over-flowing pockets. She no doubt says something like "Oh, I am so embarrassed", shortly before going home and diving into a vault full of priceless gold coins, not unlike Uncle Scrooge. Not that I'm saying Angela Lansbury is related to Uncle Scrooge, because that would require some kind of human-and-cartoon-duck breeding to have happened within her family tree. And the only person who's contemplated having sex with a cartoon is Brad Pitt's character in Cool World. Mind you, in a movie that bad, getting it on with a 2D creation would be a far better way to pass the time than spouting the atrocious lines Pitt had to. All the while he was trying to maintain a faux look on his face which said, "I'm happy to be in this movie! No, really!".

I'm going to stop writing about having sex with cartoons because there's a repeat of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? showing on television soon, and I want to watch that with a relatively clean mind. Even if Jessica Rabbit gave me an irresistible urge to...I mean! Nothing! An irresistible urge to do nothing at all. Yes. Another Jessica that certainly didn't make me want to do bad things to myself (whoops! Gave the game away!) was Jessica Fletcher, the main character (played by Angela Lansbury) in the detective television series Murder, She Wrote. The series, which spawned such hate-inducing programs as Diagnosis Murder and - well, that's about it - was centered around this Fletcher woman, who was a novelist by trade. Every episode of the show's eleven or twelve seasons involved someone either getting murdered - to death! - or having something valuable stolen from them. And usually it resulted in Jessica Fletcher being very nosey, very irritating and always very correct.

A novelist who solves crimes! What a pitch! I bet the meeting at Universal Studios (I'm doing a name and shame policy for those who gave financial backing to the show) went something like this - one guy would have said "Hey, I've got an idea!". An important man would have said "Yes, Hank?", because all studio executives are called Hank. Anyway, Hank would have said "Let's get the woman who played a teapot in Beauty and the Beast to be - get this - a novelist...who solves crimes!". Another executive - we'll call him Bobby Baxter - probably said "But will there be tea involved? Tea is important! This Lansbury woman knows her teapots!". Following this, the executives probably all sat around their ridiculously large table (because everyone who is rich has big tables for no real reason) and spent a while congratulating themselves. Until someone realised that their meeting was taking place in the early 1980's and said something like "Uh, I don't mean to spoil the party, but Beauty and the Beast won't be released for at least another ten years".

So with their star in place, these executives set about making their show. What a show it was! For the first few seasons, most of the stories were set in the fictional coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine. It was the kind of place where you could leave you door open and not worry about the contents of your house still being there a week later. The kind of place where everyone got along and knew your name. The people of Cabot Cove never had wily youngsters setting fire to bags of poop on people's doorsteps, forcing the hapless victim to trample all over the flaming feces, because as we all know that is just plain wrong! But Cabot Cove did have one secret. One shameful, shameful secret. Its real name was Murdersville, Tennessee. Bear in mind that someone died in almost every episode of Murder, She Wrote and that there were over 200 episodes, most set in this happy coastal town. That's a lot of murdering! Amusingly, there were some episodes so poorly written that even Lansbury wouldn't appear in them - they just used her character as narrator for an hour of mindless, brain-numbing television.

But it wasn't all Lansbury's spotlight. Oh no! Tom Bosley used to be in the show, as Sheriff Amos Tupper. And yes, he was just like an older version of Mr. Cunningham (for the uninitiated, the character he played in Happy Days). The only difference was that Tupper didn't give quite as many disapproving looks as Mr. Cunningham, nor did he have a strange relationship with a forty-year old man who called himself 'The Fonz', wore nothing but the same leather jacket, white t-shirt and jeans combination and lived in a garage. Sheriff Tupper's role in Murder, She Wrote was to be wrong a lot of the time; to arrest innocent people and go red in the face when Jessica Fletcher corrected him on his foolish mistakes. I'm sure he was really grateful for all the wrongful imprisonment litigation that the novelist-turned-sleuth brought the Cabot Cove Police Department. Mind you, it's highly possible the fictional Mrs. Fletcher also had a vault of priceless gold coins hidden in her house, which she enjoyed swimming in, so could afford to pay off potential litigants. Hey, it could have happened. This is television land! Anything is possible! I've still got my fingers crossed for a California Raisins reunion show.

Despite his Happy Days connections, Bosley was replaced after a couple of seasons by wheezy-voiced Ron Mazak, who played more or less the same character (the town's sheriff) but under a different name. However, owing to his ridiculously low and strained voice, it was like Tom Bosley doing Clint Eastwood (as in a vocal impersonation! Not doing him sexually, you twisted freak!). Another long-running character was Cabot Cove's resident health-type person, Dr. Seth Hazlitt, played by the really quite good character actor William Windom. Seth's role in any episode involving him was to stand around, extend his double chin quite a lot and occasionally be given a line or two in an affected Maine accent. It was nearly as grating as Kevin Costner's attempt at a Massachusetts accent in Thirteen Days and Michael Caine's New England vocal voyage in The Cider House Rules - combined! Still, Windom was involved in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which is a saving grace because - at the risk of repetition (on Listen To Me? Never! Well, okay, quite often) is quite simply a great movie.

Getting back to the show and of course, only so many people can go around being murdered before the police get suspicious - or bored - and decide to do something about it. Noticing the trend that whenever Mrs. Fletcher showed up somewhere, a person died shortly after, and the police rumbled the real criminal mastermind. Seems the novelist did it all along! Every single time! She just used her "I'm just a teapot! I wouldn't harm a fly!" demeanor to go round slaying innocent people left, right and centre. The police were having none of this and last I heard Jessica Fletcher was serving a life sentence in some all-female prison. This led to the end of the television series and it closed on a pretty low-key note. No flashy chase scenes in the final episode, just some dull story about some murder. The only evidence (I am a detective too, you crazy book-writing fictitious Mrs. Fletcher woman!) of the show ending was a brief 'goodbye' at the end of the final episode. You'd think that would be it; no more murders.

But no! Like I said, this is television land; home to miracles and Charlie Brown Christmas Specials. Despite the series finishing, that hasn't stopped Jessica Fletcher solving crimes. Even if she is behind bars. There's a line of Murder, She Wrote books which, judged on the book cover and titles alone - like A Little Yuletide Murder and Hooray For Homicide - must clearly be worth the read. In addition, there's been one or two feature length television movies featuring everyone's favorite novelist-detective-teapot amalgam creation. Mrs. Fletcher probably got day release from prison to film them, because the plots of these movies don't involve her being incarcerated in any way. The fatal flaw that made Murder, She Wrote less than an enjoyable experience for me was the same trend that runs through most television detective shows; especially Quincy and most episodes of Ironside. It just wasn't particularly good. That's all.


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