Thursday, February 9, 2012

If Chuck Norris Had A Mom, It Would Be Jessica B. Fletcher

My friend informed me the other day that one of my all time favorite shows is now available for streaming on Netflix. Murder She Wrote. Ah, sweet memories. Every sick day or holiday was spent catching the 10am viewing of this television classic on A&E. I did and do love it. In fact, as I've had it on in the background for the last week, I've been struck by how much I still enjoy it. However, now that I'm a little older, I can see some of the underlying challenges for new viewers to embrace the series the way I have.

Many people have noted the extremely high murder rate per capita that Cabot Cove, Maine seems afflicted with... Jessica Fletcher seems to be a veritable magnet for homicide. Beyond this, however, I've realized that the writers seem to constantly be screaming, "Don't worry! Just because we've got a post-menoposal gal as the lead doesn't mean she's not hip to the realities of sexy times and violence and drugs and bad mustaches. She knows! She sees it all the time in Cabot Cove!" What follows are plots that strongly remind me of Bugs Bunny send ups of The Maltese Falcon.

The music and dialogue are one step removed from parody and the plots consistently hinge on people having ABSURD LOUD ARGUMENTS in public where Jess or her cronies can overhear them (i.e. ""IF YOU THINK THAT I WILL EVER LET YOU GO, YOU'VE GOT ANOTHER THING COMING. I WILL KILL YOU BEFORE I SEE YOU IN THE ARMS OF ANOTHER MAN! DO YOU HEAR ME? DID EVERYONE IN THE VICINITY GET THAT?"). The policemen are beer swilling and cigarette toting and constantly writing JB off with a "what does an old broad like you know about the dark world of crime," until they are enlightened by her rapier wit and detectivery acumen. Private eyes wear pork pie hats and thick beards- the camera zooms in on their faces whenever they are stalking their quarry. I really do find myself at times looking for Elmer Fudd to pop up...


Now for a round of "Friend or Foe?"For each of these quotes, try to figure out if the speaker is a Cop or a Suspect:

A. "When someone moves a body, I gotta ask why."

B. "He's not a very nice friend for you to have, Mrs. Fletcher... not very nice at all."

C. "You're a very shrewd cookie... but you're barking up the wrong tree."

D. "You're not at your typewriter now."

E. "I may be a small town cop, but I know my job."

F. "Just so you understand, I'm gonna catch that killer. That's a promise."

G. "I'm not only gonna take your purse - I'ma give you a free blood test." *opens switchblade*

See below for answers...


All of this to say, on the face of things, this is a terrible show. If someone tried to launch this show today, it would be laughed out of the first screenings.

And yet. And yet.

Murder She Wrote is television gold. If it comes on, I watch. I know many other closeted fans who feel the same way (I don't want to out them - they should come forward for themselves). I love the crazy plot lines, the dramatic music, the inappropriate public confessions, the copious number of scrunchies, and most of all, Angela Lansbury... I love Angela Lansbury.

Angela Lansbury deserves her own post, so I'll only touch lightly on the depth of her awesomeness. 1) She's a sassy parlor maid extraordinaire (see Gaslight)! 2) She plays Judy Garland's saloon girl nemesis (see Harvey Girls)! 3) She sells a song called "How'd You Like to Spoon With Me?" all while some idiot is making little asides like, "Indeed, I would!" to her (see Till the Clouds Roll By)! 4) She will help you turn a profit slitting people's throats (see the original production of Sweeney Todd)! 5) She plays a teapot. And makes you cry. BAM! (see Beauty and the Beast) 6) She's the funniest fake drunk in the history of fake drunks (see Death on the Nile) 7) She is by far the best Miss Marple around (see The Mirror Crack'd)

You see where I'm going with this? Angela Lansbury is the master of pulling off things that sound ridiculous on paper. When she does them, they are not ridiculous - you believe every word. She's just that good.

So when we come to the feather in her cap, the jewel of her crown, the pepperoni of her pizza, Jessica B. Fletcher, we see her combine all her skills into one concentrated mass. Result? A super human detective machine whose powers seem to be limitless.

A sampling of the amazing skills of Jessica Fletcher:
  • Caring for a Chinese orphan while it's Chinese nun guardians are delayed (this was arranged when she was chatting them up in Mandarin)
  • Balls of steel - she will confront anyone about anything, no matter how personal or how little she knows them, and she will do it at night in dark stairwells if needed
  • Indignantly accusing people of lying and then lying to get them to give her information inadvertently
  • Stepping in for a dead congressman in Washington until a replacement can be elected
  • Concocting a stain remover with eggs and lemons more powerful than Oxyclean 
  • Stepping her foot through a partial opened front door to shove her way in after someone has said they don't want to talk to her
  • Giving chiding speeches on ethics to grayed business men that shame them into doing the right thing
  • Brewing anti-corn ointment for ailing cabbies
  • Evading purse snatching ruffians with pierced ears and fedoras 
  • Befriending minorities (they are usually credited as "black youth" or "hispanic taxi driver")
  • Pretending to see someone hit your car in order to ascertain whether or not it was, in fact, your car
  • Convincing people to go back to AA
I don't think Chuck Norris has a mom. But if he did, based on these awesome array of skills, you can bet your sweet biscuits that it would be J.B. Fletcher.

If you've never watched Murder She Wrote, you should. You should watch it, laugh where appropriate, and bow down to the awesomeness that it Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher.

Have you experienced the wonder of Murder She Wrote? Do you have your own campy television kryptonite?  

A. Cop
B. Cop
C. Suspect
D. Cop
E. Cop
F. Cop
G. Suspect

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