Murder, I Wrote About [California Seething][Best of FaN]
I chose this post because I knew that if I didn’t, Ernessa would murder me with an ice-pick. And then Jessica Fletcher would have to solve the case of who murdered me with an ice pick, and Angela Lansbury is too old for that shit. So here you go- enjoy!
Let’s say you killed Guy Fieri and dumped his body in a swamp- accidentally, of course. That is to say, you killed him accidentally- it would be very hard to drop something in a swamp accidentally unless you lived in the Everglades and were a particularly poor juggler in which case you’d be dropping beanbags and kittens in the swamp all the time but, on the plus side, you’d be surrounded by happy, well-fed gators.
Anyhow, let’s say hypothetically you did accidentally kill Guy Fieri and drop his body in a swamp- well- that would be something to be really embarrassed about- way more embarrassing than watching Murder, She Wrote on TV Land every night, which is the only thing I’m guilty of- even if I am watching it on DVR, so there’s no possible way I can say that I watched it by accident. After all, DVR implies intent, malice, forethought and cold blooded calculation as was demonstrated in the landmark Supreme Court Case The People of California vs That Dude at Work Who’s Always Talking About the Kardashians Even Though He Swears He’s Only Watched Khloe and Lamar Like, Once And He Only Did That Because He’s a Such A Huge Hoops Fan (Barack Obama). I mean, come on, after the 15th consecutive hour, there’s no way in hell I can say I just happened to watch Murder, She Wrote by accident since I was flipping channels to get away from Guy Fieri (the television love child of Rachel Ray and Emeril. By which, of course, I mean he must die. But how to make it look like an accident?) and Murder, She Wrote just HAPPENED to be on.
So, OK, now that I’ve admitted it- you may be wondering why I would choose to devote my time, attention and, most importantly, DVR space to a senior-citizen crime solver in Maine, rather than a more socially acceptable hipster TV show like Mad Men (skinny ties, vintage dresses, lung cancer and misogyny- the early 60’s were indeed a golden age.) Well, I’ll tell you why: (Oooh, wait – I know – I could suffocate Guy Fieri with peroxide fumes and make it look like a tragic hair-dying accident. Nice and easy!)
Spending Time with the Greatest Generation Before Things Really Started to Suck For Them
Remember when visiting your grandparents was fun and exciting, not depressing and sad? When they were old enough to relax and enjoy life but still young and energetic enough to do fun stuff like go on cruises or take you on shopping sprees or remember your name? Well, that’s what Jessica Fletcher is like on Murder, She Wrote. She’s living the septuagenarian dream: she gardens, she writes mystery novels, she travels the world, she solves crime — hell, it’s Retirement Porn.
It’s even better than those “first day” commercials that make me want to call in sick for the rest of my life. She reminds me of my grandmother on my dad’s side who travelled around the world after her husband died and had a huge fishbowl full of matchbooks she collected in remote and mysterious locations (like Hong Kong and Palm Beach). Or my grandfather on my mom’s side who had every car gadget imaginable including a radar detector so he would know just when to slow down from 45 to 40 (stick it to the Man, Pop-Pop!) and one of those compasses that looks like a black marble floating in gefilte fish jelly or an evil chubby black alien fetus floating in amniotic fluid that can always find magnetic north (selected as one of the Top Five Grandpa Gadgets of all time along with the extremely tiny flashlight, Swiss Army knife and train paraphernalia by We Sent You a $10 Check for Your Birthday, Did You Get It? Grandparents’ Gazette.)
Mrs. Fletcher is a shining example of just how golden the golden years can be and a bittersweet reminder of how fleeting those years are for those that even get to enjoy them at all. And since no one in my generation is going to be able to retire at all because the Baby Boomers (the Greatest Burden) are gonna suck up all the Social Security cash (I mean, don’t get me wrong, we love you guys, but do you really have to bogart all the Government dough?) Murder, She Wrote is a tantalizing glimpse into what I’ll be missing when I slump over dead in my office at the age of 95 or next week. (Ooooh, wait- here’s a good one- what if Guy Fieri’s wallet chain “accidentally” got caught in a pizza oven and his hair caught fire and exploded? He’d be incinerated for sure! Just another tragic “accident” on the road to Flavortown.)
Guest Stars! Guest Stars! GUEST STARS!!!
Look, a lot of shows have had celebrity guest stars- from The Love Boat to Criminal Minds which is The Love Boat for serial killers with C. Thomas Howell as Charo (the Cuchi Cuchi killer.) But the special guest stars on Murder, She Wrote were very special indeed (not in the small bus way.) For Van Johnson, Mickey Rooney and countless other stars of Yesteryear, this was a way station – an on-camera oasis on the long anonymous road from the silver screen to the In Memoriam tribute at the Oscars. And like the In Memoriam tribute, the sight of these fading greats and near-greats evokes a little sentimental sigh and shake of the head from those who saw them in their heyday – which is 50% sadness at how old they look and 50% surprise that they weren’t dead already.
And for those of you cynical youngsters who scoff at this behavior, just wait til the Grammies when you’re all choked up during the MCA tribute, just like your grandma when Buddy Hackett died. (Adam Yauch is dead and Vanilla Ice is on TV making millions in real estate? Not cool, Reaper, not cool. If you’re not gonna be a real hip-hop fan, then you shouldn’t rock the hoodie. Fuckin’ poser.)
And then, of course, there’s Ken Howard, who appeared on the show six times, playing five totally different characters- a remarkable achievement for an actor with absolutely no versatility. Clearly he’s talented enough to play the President of SAG and President of AFTRA at the SAME TIME. Not to mention Jerry “versatility is for pussies” Orbach who played Harry McGraw six times on Murder, She Wrote from 1985-1991 before playing Lenny Briscoe 274 times on Law and Order from 1991-2004 and playing a Corpse 2,687 times from 2004 to the present. Now that’s dedication! Suck it, Vincent “Oh, no- my delicate little sensitive actorly constitution doesn’t allow me to possibly do more than six Law & Order episodes a year because I’m such a little whiney bitch-ass actor artiste” D’Onofrio. You’re a disgrace to the badge.
She Never Learned How to Drive
I mean, come on, how can I not love that? I think that never learning how to drive is one of the reasons why she was so successful — I mean, I’ve often thought of helping the police solve crimes just as a way to get a ride home from work. (Wait, that gives me another great idea- I can cut the break-lines on Guy Fieri’s Camaro and then when he drives it off a cliff, we can just say he was blinded by the sun because he wears his sunglasses on the BACK OF HIS FUCKING NECK. I mean, who does that? If you’re so damn concerned about harmful UV rays harming your neck then wear some fucking sunscreen. I’m telling you, this could work! Plus, I could totally get the sheriff to give me a ride home from the crime scene.)
Mama Mia! That’s a Spicy Stereotype!
The writers of Murder, She Wrote grew up in a simpler time when men were men; women were women; Italians were hot-tempered greaseballs in dark suits with guns; Irishmen were whiskey drinking cops with the gift of gab; Jews were little bearded men obsessed with bagels and lox; Southerners were Blanche Dubois, Maggie the Cat or Big Daddy; Russians were Ruskies (insert backwards “R” here); Englishmen carried umbrellas; cab-drivers, and lowlifes all spoke with Bugs Bunny Brooklyn accents even if they came from Orange County or Saint Louis (aka Saint Looey); and New Englanders were all crusty curmudgeons obsessed with “lobstah”. In 12 years on the air, Mrs. Fletcher traveled all around the world to every corner of the Universal Studios back lot and reduced a diverse array of rich cultural traditions to catchphrases, quirks and terrible accents (Kevin Costner terrible. James Bond villain terrible. MADONNA DURING THE GUY RITCHIE YEARS terrible.)
I should add that African Americans were actually an exception to this- as they were typically presented with great dignity and grace- but that’s just because all the writers on the show were a bunch of guilty liberal Hollywood Jews. Typical.
And just in case the ludicrous accents and borderline-offensive stereotypes weren’t enough to give a sense of place, the production team stepped up by providing all sorts of visual clues to remind the viewers where the episode was taking place. In the New Mexico episode, for instance, there are cactuses FUCKING EVERYWHERE. There’s a cactus on the patio, a cactus in the living room, a cactus in the bedroom, a cactus in the den, a cactus in the public library, a cactus in the sheriff’s office even a cactus in a hallway, which they spend all of two seconds in before going into an office that has a cactus on the corner and another little cactus on the desk.
The director, you see, was very concerned that the viewer would be bonked on the head with a coconut halfway through the episode and contract sudden and complete amnesia (see DSM V under “Gilligan’s Syndrome”) and wanted to make sure he would could look up at the screen and say “Oh, right. Jessica Fletcher is in New Mexico this week. Thank God they put in all those cacti. Now what the hell was my name again?”
“Listen, lady- you can’t prove a thing”
Of course, it’s probably a good thing they made the locations so obvious since, like the houses in a comfy suburban development, every episode pretty much looks the same. Much like suburban homes, they are distinguished from each other only by some kitschy narrative garden statuary: ethnic stereotypes, funny accents, stock footage to establish location and all those fucking cacti (which BTW are way more “Arizona” than “New Mexico”. My parents made me write that. Albuquerque in the house! Albuquizzie in the hizzy? No, never mind, that’s terrible. I’m a disgrace to hip-hop. Sorry, MCA. Free Tibet Now :) #suckinguptodeadpeople #toosoon?)
So, yeah, sure, every episode has it’s unsympathetic murder victim, parade of suspects making damning statements (“someday, old man, somebody’s gonna teach you a lesson.”), Mrs. Fletcher’s falsely accused relation (how many nephews and nieces does this lady have? Her family’s half Catholic, half rabbit), well-intentioned bumbling police officer (except for the Native American Sheriff who was, of course, mystical and wise ‘cause the Commie pinko Jew writers just had to write him that way. Typical.) And you know what, all this sameness was just part of the show’s appeal. I mean, variety may be the spice of life, but sometimes I just want a grilled cheese sandwich and that’s when Murder, She Wrote hits the spot.
Of course, the best part of the formula was the Killer’s Confession. This is an essential component of any whodunit – and Murder, She Wrote nailed it every single time. There are three essential beats to a good confession scene:
Beat 1: Confrontation / Denial:
Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect: Me? But that’s preposterous. I think your writer’s imagination is getting the best of you, Mrs. Fletcher.
Mrs. Fletcher: I’m afraid not (proceeds to explain in precise detail exactly how the murder was committed. She’s never wrong.)
Beat 2: Mrs. Fletcher Presents Damning Evidence
Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect: Well, that’s a very interesting theory. Good thing for me you can’t prove a word of it.
>Mrs. Fletcher: Oh, I think I can. You see, when I told you that Evil Rich Bastard was dead you said ‘I knew sooner or later, somebody was going to kill that red-shoe wearing jerk.’ But Evil Rich Bastard just bought those red shoes two days ago and hadn’t even worn them yet. They were sitting in his closet- right next to the rat poison. Only the killer could have known about them. You slipped badly when said that, Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect, and you gave yourself away.
Beat 3: Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect Confesses and Totally Loses His Shit
Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect: OK, Mrs. Fletcher. You got me. That’s right, I killed him. What was I supposed to do? I put up with his abuse for 25 years just waiting for my chance to take over the firm and finally the day he’s supposed to retire, he tells me that he just sold the firm to Millionaire Red Herring Obvious Suspect? Well, there was no way I could let that happen. I wasn’t going to stand by and watch everything I worked for go down the drain. When I saw that rat poison in his shoe closet, I knew exactly what I had to do. So no, I’m not sorry I killed him- but I am sorry for what I have to do now (pulls out pistol)
Mrs. Fletcher: You don’t have to do that
Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect: Oh, I think I do. You see, you already know way too much, there’s no way I can let you walk out of here alive (points pistol at Mrs. Fletcher, Well Intentioned Bumbling Police Officer bursts through door)
Well Intentioned Bumbling Police Officer: Put it down, Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect (Mild Mannered Unlikely Suspect puts the gun down. Well Intentioned Bumbling Police Officer handcuffs him. He makes eye contact with Mrs. Fletcher. She looks at him sadly and shakes her head with profound disappointment. Another killer caught.)
See — perfect! So what if absolutely none of her evidence would ever possibly hold up in court — who gives a shit? If I wanted to care about that sort of crap, I’d watch Law & Order, and since Jerry Orbach is dead, why the hell would I want to do that? Plus it was cancelled in 2010 (did you know it was cancelled in 2010? I just found out on IMDB. THAT’s how little I give a shit if her evidence would stand up in court.)
BTW, how badass is Jessica Fletcher? Even when they’re trying to kill her, people still call her Mrs. Fletcher. The last person to call me Mr. Sims was my middle school principal and she followed it up with “I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you.”
Spending Time in America Before Things Started to Really Suck Here
Jessica Fletcher probably believes in God. She has a clear sense of right and wrong. But you know what? She’s not batshit crazy about it. She’s tolerant of other cultures, a believer of science, committed to the arts, opposed to censorship, open minded, even tempered and abhorrent of violence. She’s like the anti-Jan Brewer. A woman who embodies the great 20th Century America we used to be and not the 21st Century Global Disgrace we’ve become. She’s a reminder of a time in this country when “freedom” meant more than just the “freedom” to carry a gun and believe in Jesus (and nobody else.) Plus, there’s nothing meta, self-aware of ironic about the show — it just is what it is, a murder mystery in the great tradition of the classic whodunit — and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that.
So, yeah, it’s a great show. And you know what? I’m not one bit embarrassed to be watching it? And you know what else- I’m not embarrassed to have killed Guy Fieri either. After all, it was the perfect crime. There’s no way anybody could possibly catch me. Oh wait, there appears to be someone at the door.
Huh- it seems to be a Bumbling Well Intentioned Police Officer and a Retired School Teacher from Maine.
Why, yes, I did hear Guy Fieri was murdered when somebody cut his brake-lines. What does that have to do with me?
What? You can’t be serious. Listen lady, I think you’re writer’s imagination is getting the best of you.
This post was dedicated to Adam Yauch. He fought for Tibet’s right to party but probably fucking hated Murder, She Wrote. May his memory be for a blessing.