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  1. #1
    Custom Title jon-el87's Avatar
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    Murder, She Wrote (1984-1996)

    Season 1, episode 0: "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes".

    Damn, Sherlock was only three years from his 100th birthday.

    Like the opening with Jessica attending that play rehearsal. Always reminds me of the opening of The Mirror Crack'd (1980), where Miss Marple (played by Angela Lansbury) attends the showing of a movie. It's either one heck of a coincidence, or the writers took inspiration from Guy Hamilton's film.

    Chuckled a bit, at one of the characters having the same name as Lana Lang's great aunt on Smallville. Of course, John Glover shows up in two episodes. So it's not the only connection between this show and Smallville.

    I quite like the 90 minute pilot (do they even do 90 minute pilots anymore?). We get an idea of who Jessica is, before she gets involved in the murder investigation. We get to follow her journey, from a teacher in Maine (think Jessica knows Stephen King? Shame that the show never had the two Maine teachers turned novelists encounter each other), to a celebrated first time novelist. Liked that they threw in a bit, with some random lady trying to sue Jessica, insisting that Jessica stole her novel. Reflecting the real world: you create something successful, suddenly, people you have never met or heard of will try and sue you, insisting that you stole their idea (and should give the money to them).

    Would've been fun to see the Peter Brill character play something from Anyone Can Whistle, Mame, Gypsy or Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Though, at the same time, I'm glad that they didn't. Would've just been thrown in, because Angela Lansbury's playing Jessica. They had a poster or something, for Sweeney Todd, in a later episode, that was enough.

  2. #2
    Custom Title jon-el87's Avatar
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    Season 1, episode 1: "Deadly Lady".

    Ralph: "Murder in this town?"

    Yeah, if they're not careful, it might become a trend (and this town of less than 4,000 people will become the deadliest place in the United States).

    First appearance of Amos Tupper and Ethan. Feels a bit weird that Amos (whom we have never met before) seeks advice from the local novelist (as Raymond Chandler would say, detective fiction is rarely realistic). It'd be one thing if Jessica was a retired FBI-agent (or something), turned novelist (as then she'd have a lifetime of experience, with criminal investigations, that Amos could find useful). Though, Tom Bosley and the writers makes it so that you can sort of buy that this guy would bring in a crime novelist as a sort of consultant. Besides, it beats the amateur detective being dismissed by the police, despite having a track record (well, one shown, at this point) of being an expert investigator.

    The episode appears to take place quite a while after "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes", with Jessica now being an established writer, with several books under her belt (on average, I'd say one book equals one year's work... unless it's George RR Martin, of course). I like that. Creates the feeling that this isn't set right after she returns from New York. Later, as the show runs for 264 episodes, it ends up feeling like Jessica can't go a week without finding herself in the middle of a murder mystery. Bodies dropping wherever she goes.
    Last edited by jon-el87; 12-26-2020 at 12:19 AM.

  3. #3
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    Season 1, episode 8: "Death Takes a Curtain Call".

    Jessica finds herself in the middle of a drama involving murder and two Russian defectors. Angela Lansbury is reunited with her The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945) co-star Hurd Hatfield.

    Thought the episode was fun. Rather than a simple murder mystery, Jessica has to deal with international politics (giving her a motivation to get involved, and not having the two main suspects turn themselves over to the police). A bit far-fetched that the KGB major (William Conrad) would invite Jessica to take part in the investigation. Though, I like that they don't have him come across like a Cold War era (which still had seven years left to go, when this was made) cartoon villain.

    Amos really highlights, in his first scene, why he needs Jessica to help him with crimes committed in Cabot Cove. He also mentions Bangor (Maine), the home of Stephen King. Man, I wish that they could've had King cameo in an episode. Giving us a sense of community among the Maine authors.

  4. #4
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    Season 1, episode 15: "Tough Guys Don't Die".

    Enter Jerry Orbach as private detective Harry McGraw. The character became recurring and got his own short-lived spin-off, where he worked with attorney Ellie Maginnis (Barbara Babcock). Babcock is in this episode, but plays a different character. Thought it worked as an introduction to Harry McGraw. Nice Maltese Falcon nod with his killed partner being named "Archie Miles". Though, I thought that the bit where Harry actually quotes Sam Spade's line about what one should do, when your partner is killed, was too much. Too on the nose. The writer probably watched The Maltese Falcon (1941) before writing the script.* At times, Orbach comes across like he's trying to do a mild Bogart impression (though, not in a bad way).

    EDIT * In his autobiography, Peter S. Fischer outright calls the episode "an homage to (i.e. ripoff of) The Maltese Falcon".
    Last edited by jon-el87; 12-28-2020 at 04:46 AM.

  5. #5
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    Season 1, episode 18: "Murder Takes the Bus".

    Fun little usage of music from Psycho (1960), at the start of the episode. Jessica and Amos takes the bus, and ends up stranded at a diner, together with several characters (among them Linda Blair, Larry Linville and Rue McClanahan), when a recently released convict is murdered. No doubt a bottle episode, but it creates a believable situation where Jessica gets to be at the center of the investigation. "Let's leave it to the police" is not an option, and, well, Amos is hardly Maine's finest. Though, I like that they gave him a moment to shine, by giving him (and justifying*) a knowledge of buses.

    * A lot of shows just have characters blurt out facts, without giving a motivation to why the character knows something. They don't stop to think why would this person know this (in this case, why a small town sheriff know about bus engines). Here, they not only inserted a justification, but one that gives some insight into Amos' background. Even if it's just simply that Amos drove buses for a summer, before joining the department.

    In this episode, and "Tough Guys Don't Die", Jessica is said to have been a writer for several years (over two, according to the latter). While it does give the impression that there probably is some time between each murder mystery, that Jessica gets involved with, it raises some questions about when "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes" is supposed to take place? They appears to try to retcon it (or just makes mistakes), to have been years ago, even in season one. Probably to make Jessica into more of an established novelist, than a first-time writer, who is now trying to move onto their second book (and having the run-away success of the first one, hanging over their head). Which would've been an interesting road to explore, but probably not on a murder mystery show. We want to see Jessica Fletcher solve murders, not dealing with insecurities if she'll be able to follow up the success of her first novel.
    Last edited by jon-el87; 12-27-2020 at 05:21 AM.

  6. #6
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    Season 2, episode 2: "Joshua Peabody Died Here...Possibly".

    Enter new character, Dr. Seth Hazlitt, replacing Ethan from season one. According to co-creator Peter S. Fischer's autobiography, the replacing was brought on by several factors: the actor's agent felt that he was underpaid, while Lansbury questioned Jessica being close friends with such a roughneck. I like the change. The friendship between Seth and Jessica feels natural. He's a local doctor, she's a mystery writer. So she goes to him, for advice, when it comes to medical facts for her books. And, being the local doctor, he's the one who gets called when there is a body. And, if Jessica is with him (either at his surgery or having dinner at her house), she might tag along to the crime scene.

    The plot involves development in Cabot Cove, that divides the town. Though, outside of one character's son getting into fights at school, you don't see many townfolk (not counting John Astin's character and the other guy) arguing with each other, over the construction. The leader of the opposition turns out to be an old 60s radical, living under an alias. Which is something that some of them ended up doing.

    The title refers to a local legend. Gives Cabot Cove the feeling of history. The town didn't just appear out of thin air, at the start of the pilot episode. Though, not much of a resolution to the Joshua Peabody matter.

    Jessica is said to have written and published six books (with her working on her next one). On average, that's about six years worth of work (let's assume that Jessica writes a book, in the average time... and not George RR Martin time). So, I guess, the pilot episode is retconned to like 1979 or 1978 (unless she writes a million words per year, like Erle Stanley Gardner).

  7. #7
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    Season 2, episode 7: "A Lady in the Lake".

    Jessica goes to visit a place, where Edgar Allan Poe once stayed. With the title of the episode, Raymond Chandler would've seemed more appropriate. Not to mention, Chandler died in 1959. Would've given them more of an excuse, for why they're using a modern house (when Poe died in 1849). They try to explain it away by saying that the house had mostly burned down and rebuilt (a matter that doesn't factor into the plot). It's like they had the Poe concept there, just for the end gag. I considered the possibility that they were trying to reference The Mystery of Marie Rogt (where a murder victim is found in the Seine), with the murder, but felt it was a stretch.

    Didn't care much for the mystery. The killer would've likely been caught, the moment that it's revealed that another guest just happens to be the long lost cousin of the husband. Speaking of the husband, he's said to not be able to swim. Then why wasn't he wearing a vest?

    The whole thing is dependent on the killer finding a suitable witness. A person who might join him, rather than just staying at the house or go and do something else. Then the victim is kind enough to stay under water, until he has the opportinuity to come and kill her (rather than her just leaving the lake, within a few minutes (before divers show up), then driving away in a car).
    Last edited by jon-el87; 12-27-2020 at 09:19 AM.

  8. #8
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    Season 2, episode 9: "Jessica Behind Bars".

    Adrienne Barbeau is in prison and leads a prison riot. It was only a matter of time.

    Jessica fills in for another writer named Margaret (probably not Margaret Atwood, but it would've been fun if they had hinted that it's her), for a prison writing class. After the prison doctor is murdered, a prisoner (soon up for possible parole) is wrongfully accused of the murder, resulting in the other prisoners rioting and taking control (and hostages). Jessica finds herself having to solve the murder, before the prisoners become more aggitated and the national guard breaks down the doors.

    Sporting an all-female cast (not counting some male cops, in non-speaking roles, who really only appear at the end), the episode's premise gave a good justification for why Jessica would have to be the one to take on the case. Regular cops can't get in to investigate, and the prison staff are also among the suspects.

  9. #9
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    Magnum, P.I. (season 7, episode 9): "Novel Connection"/Murder, She Wrote (season 3, episode 8): "Magnum on Ice".

    Man, even in the 80s, crossovers stunk.

    I know that I shouldn't pre-judge people, and so on, but when I see Jessica Walter in a show, I automatically conclude that she's guilty of something.

    According to Peter S. Fischer's autobiography, CBS talked them into doing this crossover with Magnum, P.I., which Fischer notes had been running out of gas for a couple of seasons (Fischer later refers it to having been dead for years). The writers of the two shows even had to debate who'd go last (i.e. feature the resolution). The Murder, She Wrote producers insisted that it had to be them, as Jessica solves murders (after which, the story is over). Magnum, P.I. (this is my comment, I should point out, not something taken from Fischer) is about a guy driving around in a Ferrari on Hawaii.

    Watching the two, back-to-back, you notice disconnect between the end of the first half, and a start of the second. In the first, Magnum clearly kills Mayfield (shooting him in the chest). Who ends up dead on his back, with a gun in his hand. They then cut to Higgins announcing that Jessica and her friend have gone home. THE END, right? Then we get to the second half. Suddenly, Mayfield was shot in the back (ending up face down), no gun was found on him, and Magnum is suddely arrested for him murder. Checked, the two episodes were written by different writers (each a staff writer for the show in question. Rather than a Magnum writer and a Murder, She Wrote writer visible collaborating on the scripts for both halves). According to Fischer, the beginning of the end for Magnum, P.I. was when Tom Selleck demanded and got script approval. The problem being that Selleck was a busy man, so scripts were left unread for a long time, hampering the work of the writers (who had to wait for his feedback). So, you've got one show, that have had a script problem for years, trying to do a crossover with a show, that ran a tighter ship.

    Being a writer, Jessica could've easily been visiting Robin Masters' estate. Instead, it takes her a good portion of the first half, to even show up. Magnum is suprised to learn that JB Fletcher is a woman, despite plenty of Murder, She Wrote episodes featuring copies of Jessica's books, with her photograph on the back. As he claims to have read Jessica's books, surely he must've noted the author photo on the back.
    Last edited by jon-el87; 12-28-2020 at 07:03 AM.

  10. #10
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    Season 4, episode 18: "Benedict Arnold Slipped Here".

    The plot revolves around a house, where Benedict Arnold is said to once have stayed. Unlike with Edgar Allan Poe and the house in "A Lady in the Lake", that fact is actually relevant to the plot. Robert Van Scoyk was a writer on both episodes. Maybe he learned a lesson from the first time. Of course, he wrote the teleplay for this one, with Wendy Graf and Lisa Storsky having the story by credit. Maybe the credit should fall to them.

    Eve Simpson (Julie Adams) insists that real estate is dead in Cabot Cove. That I'll buy, especially given the town's high murder rate. Apparently, a Telegraph article from years ago, listed it as a fictional murder capital. It appears that the murder rate is higher there, than in the real-world murder capital. Cabot Cove and Midsomer... Not two places you'd want to live in.

    Amos almost touches a murder weapon with his bare hands. The man is like five brain cells away from being a Keystone cop.

    The episode makes a note that the grand niece has no form of identification, which doesn't lead to anything (and appears to be forgotten). Half-expected the grand niece to be revealed to be a con artist or for some drama being born out of the grand niece being unable to prove her identity. When you bring something like that up, you expect it to lead to something. Probably just thrown in as a red herring.

  11. #11
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    Season 5, episode 2: "A Little Night Work".

    Enter Keith Michell as Dennis Stanton, which is really the important aspect of the episode. According to Peter S. Fischer's autobiography, the role was written specifically for Keith Michell. Jamie Farr also shows up as Jessica's wannabe new agent, in a minor role. Not much to say about the actual mystery. Discussing Dennis Stanton further seems more appropriate, after one gets to the start of the bookend episodes with season 6.

  12. #12
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    Season 5, episode 3: "Mr. Penroy's Vacation".

    There's a new sheriff in town (and he thought he'd be having an easy time in this little town. Apparently, no one told him that Cabot Cove is the murder capital of the world). Tom Bosley had played Amos Tupper for the show's first four seasons, but had now gone to star in his own show, Father Dowling Mysteries. According to Peter S. Fischer's autobiography, Bosley had offered to do both shows at the same time, with Fischer not being sure if he was serious. They brought in Mort Metzger (Ron Masak), whom they have as a former New York city cop, as Amos' replacement for the remainder of the series. Thought they did a good job highlighting the culture clash. He's used to big city policing, while the locals don't really trust him and view him as an outsider. Though, with this being season four, it seems strange that Mort would think that Cabot Cove would be easy street. While not every episode is set in Cabot Cove, there are still an abnormally high amount of murders being committed there, every year, for a town of 3,500 people.

  13. #13
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    RIP William Link.

  14. #14
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    Season 6, episode 3: "The Grand Old Lady".

    Season five almost became the conclusion to the series, as it appeared that Lansbury was ready to move on. According to Fischer's autobiography, the original ending of the season 5 season finale would've had Jessica become romantically involved with Seth (deciding to let her writing take a backseat to the relationship). However, Lansbury decided to stay and signed a new contract, resulting in Fischer rewriting the ending "Mirror, Mirror on the Wall", to keep Jessica's relationship with Seth platonic. However, Lansbury's new contract meant that she would only be in 13 of 22 episodes. Leaving Fischer with the question of what to do with the remaining nine episodes.

    The solution was that the nine would be bookend episodes, where Jessica appears at the start of the episode, introducing someone else's (often previous guest characters like Dennis Stanton) adventures. Then appear, at the end of the episode to give a wrap up. Resulting in Lansbury being in all 22 episodes, but only having to work for a few hours on nine of them. When Fischer and the others scrambled to find nine non-Jessica stories, he reached into his trunk and pulled out an unproduced script that he had written over ten years earlier, for the short-lived Ellery Queen series starring Jim Hutton. Fischer had originally written the script, in an attempt to save Ellery Queen from being cancelled, but had been told that the show couldn't afford it. However, he had sworn to one day get it filmed. All it took was a bit of rewriting, to have it function as a bookend episode for Murder, She Wrote.

    June Havoc appears as crime writer Lady Abigail Austin. Havoc, of course, was the daughter of Rose Thompson Hovick, whom Lansbury played onstage in the musical Gypsy. Was expecting Lady Abigail to do more. Be more of the protagonist. She even ends up having wrong. Though, it does make for a break from the concept of a detective writer being skilled at solving actual crimes (detective fiction is rarely realistic, as Raymond Chandler noted).

    I like the bookend situation. It's still connected to Jessica Fletcher, but they're freed to have other characters and a different time period. Every episode isn't limited to Jessica and (by now) the late 1980s. Jessica's also met numerous people, some interesting, over the years. Makes sense for some to stay in touch and pass on information about adventures that they might have themselves (with Jessica being a writer, always on the look for story ideas). Providing us with a follow-up to some past guest characters. Of course, this one involves neverbefore seen characters, which might actually help. As you're not dealing with past supporting characters, who might've needed Jessica's help to solve the case, suddenly becoming skilled detectives themselves.

    Glad that the nurse and the soldier were given a happy ending (must admit that I found their relationship plot more interesting than the actual murder mystery). Though, I felt that the nurse might've been a bit overdressed (being an unmarried (meaning single income) nurse, in 1947, who is implied to not have a lot of money (so one can't write it off as her coming from a wealthy family)).

    There is one thing about this bookend situation that annoys me: who the hell is Jessica talking to? After five seasons, it feels a bit weird to have Jessica be breaking the fourth wall. Maybe they could've had someone (Seth? Maybe a new character?) there, for her to talk to. Or have Jessica be at her typewriter (with Lansbury narrating what Jessica is writing). Maybe it was an 80s thing. MacGyver and Magnum, P.I. (probably some others) always had the protagonist narrate the story (give exposition, etc.), with us being given no idea of who they're telling this to. Perhaps audiences, at the time, weren't thinking about that sort of thing. They had plenty of other problems to worry about: the cold war, the continued threat of nuclear war, Lockerbie bombing, outbreak of the AIDS epidemic, economic recessions, civil unrest, etc. (why the hell do people have nostalgia for this decade?).
    Last edited by jon-el87; 12-30-2020 at 06:32 AM.

  15. #15
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    Season 8, episode 1: "Bite the Big Apple".

    After seven seasons, Jessica finally decides to get an apartment of her own in New York... Oh, and there is some murder committed. In his autobiography, Fischer (who'd leave after this season, preventing me from "digging" (it's an e-book. I just search for some key words and use whatever kindle shows me) more material out of his book) admitted to struggling to find new plots after 156 episodes. Neither Fischer or Lansbury (who wanted to be given more of a creative input. Something that made Fischer nervous, as that had been the start of the end for Magnum, P.I.) were happy with some of the scripts.

    Found Seth's objections to Jessica getting a second home in New York city hilarious. By this point, Cabot Cove had probably proven itself more lethal, than some parts of NYC.

    I like the development of Jessica getting a second apartment in the big city, having grown tired of hotels. Sadly, Jessica adjusting to her new part-time home (she still has the house in Cabot Cove), is hijacked by the fact that the show's structure requires a murder mystery.

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