The plots of Murder, She Wrote follow a strict template: mystery writer Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) goes to a dinner party, or a wedding, or visits a friend’s house. She gets to meet a lot of different characters, some nice, some odious. Someone dies. The most obvious person is fingered as the perp and then Jessica has a light bulb moment (usually prompted by something really innocuous and insignificant) and then the reveal. If you’ve seen one episode of the show, you’ll be able to follow any episode of Murder, She Wrote.
The sixth season of Murder, She Wrote (the show lasted 12) is as strong as any, though there is a questionable practice the writers started with having “guest sleuths” take over the mysteries. It’s a strange thing, the episodes start with Jessica breaking the fourth wall and speaking directly to the audience – this itself is jarring because up until the sixth season, Jessica never addressed the viewers, so it creates a pretty bad fission in the reality of the show (are we supposed to then expect Jessica to talk to the camera in other episodes). Besides this strangeness, the episodes without Jessica are pretty good – they’re filmed and produced with the same high quality, but they do lack the impish charm of the show’s star.
But setting aside the episodes without Jessica, the sixth season is pretty much consistent with the others. What’s fun about Murder, She Wrote is the constellation of guest stars. It’s fun to try and guess if the murderer is the washed-up soap star, the faded MGM glamor girl, the aging 50’s leading man or the trendy b-list celeb. Because the show lasted as long as it did, the casting directors brought back certain actors to play different roles (spot the repeat is a fun game I play at my house when zipping through the different seasons of Murder, She Wrote). This sort of Love Boat-style of casting makes the show fun, though honestly the acting ranges from histrionic and hammy to awkward and wooden.
The main anchor of the show is, of course, the leading lady, Angela Lansbury. Nominated for an Emmy each year the show was on (like soap diva, Susan Lucci, she lost each time), she brings to the role a fantastic charm. She also does some great acting in between solving crimes. Once in a while, the writers will have Jessica go through some angst and personal upheaval – while these moments of emotional frankness seem a bit out-of-place in the cozy, escapist atmosphere of the show, Lansbury sells it well with her wonderful talent. She aided well with a small group of recurring characters that populate the sleepy, fictional New England town, Cabot Cove.
As the seasons progressed, Jessica left Cabot Cove and moved to Manhattan. This was a smart move on the part of the writers for a couple of reasons: 1) it would start becoming incredible that a tiny town like Cabot Cove would survive with its prolific murder/homicide rate and 2) having Jessica mingle with a more fast-paced, glamorous setting made for more exciting episodes. That’s not to say that Jessica’s stuck in her hometown for the duration of the season: she’s very well-traveled because in the reality of the show, she’s a superstar author (seemingly on par with someone like Stephen King). The different scenes (especially when Jessica gets to travel internationally) are fun and it gives a chance from some of the showy guest stars to chew up scenery in bad foreign accents.
Because the show remained pretty much the same throughout its 12 years, any season to start off with, except for this one. The inclusion of Jessica-lite episodes keeps this season from being seminal. Still, for a nice, quiet evening, if you’re looking for something inconsequential, you couldn’t go wrong with this show.
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