Oscar winner Octavia Spencer is reportedly going to star in a reboot of the 1980s – 1990s classic whodunit series, Murder, She Wrote that starred Tony winning legend Angela Lansbury. This isn’t the first time that a show gets a makeover for a new audience, and it won’t be the last. I loved Murder, She Wrote – I used to sit in on Sunday nights to watch the main character, Jessica Fletcher try to figure out who the killer of the week was (and I also enjoyed the ridiculous casting of former MGM starlets, passed-it TV stars, and soon-to-be-famous stars).
And even though I think the show has held up – because Jessica is a late middle-aged woman, her fashion was never terribly trendy, so her uniform of smart business suits and cardigans never go out of style for a person of a “certain age” – I’m not sure if the gentle crime drama would have a place in the context of shows like Breaking Bad, the Law & Order franchise, Boardwalk Empire, or the countless other gritty, high-octane shows that show unflinching scenes of violence.
And don’t get me wrong – it’s not that I’m clutching at my pearls at the horrors of those shows – I don’t think sanitizing violence is necessarily helpful (though I do find the misogyny in the crime procedural shows tiresome and disturbing) – but Murder, She Wrote was famous for its wholesome approach to murder. Rarely did the show ever get too violence, controversial, or gritty. The new Poirot series that is played on PBS is interesting because like Murder, She Wrote, it started off as gentle, escapism , before turning into the psychologically complex thrillers it is today.
So to keep up with the demands of audiences, Murder, She Wrote will have to get a lot darker. Which means a shift from the cozy settings of the infamous Cabot Cove, the sleepy New England town that’s picturesque and lovely, despite the shocking amount of murder. It also will mean that the show will also have to deal with more controversial issues.
In an interview, Lansbury criticized the reboot – not because she found fault with Spencer, whom she found to be a lovely and talented actress, but because the name would be misleading. And in a sense, she’s right – the rebooting of the show itself isn’t a problem, so much as it’s going to have to face some expectations from the original’s fans.
The Guardian offered up 5 tips on how to ensure that the reboot wouldn’t be a disaster: 1) Keep it in a small town 2) the main character must be single 3) the clothes 4) careful of casting guest stars 5) Cool it with the tech.
I agree with most of the tips – though, I think keeping it in a small town isn’t a necessarily a deal-breaker. Some of Murder, She Wrote‘s best episodes were of Jessica hightailing it to her awesome condo in Manhattan, where she taught college during the day and investigated murders at night. I also loved Jessica’s travels to Rome, Milan, Paris, Dublin, London (all courtesy of some fine stock footage and great location shooting in California).
Reboots are tricky and there will be some resistance as Murder, She Wrote fans will instinctively be wary of a new Jessica. I find the idea of a black woman playing the lead exciting – with all the flap that SNL has gotten lately for its lack of black comediennes, it should also be pointed out that television in general isn’t all that kind to black actresses (or black actors, for that matter). Having Spencer play a no-nonsense sort of amateur gumshoe is a great addition in a hopefully-more diverse TV landscape.
So, I will hold my reservations until this reboot comes out. But that’ll never change my affection for the original, nor for the original star, Angela Lansbury.