Things I Don’t Understand: Murder She Wrote

How did the hit 1980’s crime series Murder She Wrote make it on television?  Better yet, how did Murder She Wrote make it for 12 seasons!?

These are the questions I am exploring in this post.

Here is the premise of the show, courtesy of Wikipedia:

Murder She Wrote revolves around the day-to-day life of a retired English teacher, Jessica “J.B.” Fletcher, who, after being widowed in her early fifties, becomes a very successful mystery writer. Despite fame and fortune, Jessica remains a resident of Cabot Cove, a cozy coastal town in Maine, and maintains her links with all of her old friends, never letting her success go to her head.

Murder rears its ugly head with great regularity in her vicinity. Jessica invariably proves more perceptive than the official investigators, who are almost always willing to arrest the most likely suspect. By carefully piecing the clues together and asking astute questions, she always manages to trap the real murderer.

Here are a few questions I have that just don’t add up:

  1. How many relatives does Jessica Fletcher have?  Each episode begins with one of Jessica Fletcher’s relatives stumbling upon a murder.  And the show lasted for TWELVE YEARS!!  Seriously, what kind of family tree is Mrs. Fletcher a part of? Did she accidentally marry in to the Duggar family?  And what kind of shenanigans happen at family reunions?  Is there a massive landslide or alien abduction with all these people gathering in one place?  At some point you would think that these family members would be like, “Aunt Jessica.  Stay the heck away from us.  Don’t come to our baby dedication.  Don’t visit for Christmas.  You just keep yourself firmly planted in Cabot Cove, Maine and we will pay for a home health company to take care of all of your needs. I don’t even want to add you as a friend on facebook for fear that my computer will catch a virus.”
  2. Were more people in the 1980s more literate than people today? Seriously.  In every episode Jessica Fletcher comes off as the most popular person in America.  Everyone recognizes her.  That would never happen today.  John Grisham could sit court side at a Charlotte Bobcats game and TNT would not put him on camera.  Stephen King is from Maine and can probably stroll across the campus of Bowdoin College without anyone hitting him up for an autograph.  But we are to believe that the people of the 1980s were reading so many books that they would recognize an obscure mystery writer from Maine?  Was she supposed to be the 1980s equivalent of J.K. Rowling?  
  3. Is there some unwritten rule that celebrity authors have carte blanche at crime scenes?  In Murder She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher is welcomed into almost any crime scene without so much as a special clearance badge or even an invitation.  And unlike Monk, where Tony Shalhoub is introduced by the head detective in every episode as “a consultant to the San Francisco Police Department,” Fletcher steps into the crime scene with no formal introduction or explanation from anyone.  And the craziest thing is–no one is ever concerned about her involvement.  The cops, the EMS, the detectives–they all just nod and agree that she is OBVIOUSLY the most important person in the process.  This is an obvious oversight by the producer.
  4. And what does this show reveal about the state of police work in the 1980s?  Were cops really this dense?  Are the police in these towns so terribly needy for consultants that they beg for writers to come bail them out.  Do we see this same phenomena today? Do cops in North Carolina have John Grisham’s number on speed dial?  Does every crime in Baltimore get screened by Tom Clancy? When did Fletcher’s Maine crime title get transferred over to Stephen King?  Does J. K. Rowling get this same treatment in London?
  5. Are we really supposed to buy into Angela Lansbury as a runner? In the opening titles we see J.B. Fletcher going for a jog.  In fact, she jogs each episode and admits to being an avid runner.  Lansbury was 61 when the series premiered. Seriously? I am 30 and have been running for 15 years and my hips hurt like the dickens.  There is no way that Lansbury was an “avid” runner.  I don’t buy it.
  6. The Celebrities are always the murderers.  Seriously, who wrote these scripts?  Apart from Lansbury and Tom Bosly (Richie’s dad on Happy Days), there is only one other recognizable actor in each episode.  As it turns out, this actor is almost ALWAYS the killer.  That seems like an obvious oversight.  And yet, the show lasted for 12 years with superb ratings.  How did this show make it 12 years?
  7. How did Lansbury not get killed in every episode?  This question is so intense that it needs subpoints:
    1. Fact: Lansbury usually confronts the killer in a polite and private encounter before going to the police and authorities.  For example, in season 1 episode 2, “Birds of A Feather,” the killer is obviously Gabe Kaplan, the comedic lead from Welcome Back Kotter, since he is the only other recognizable actor in the episode.  Kaplan’s character, Freddy York, is discovered to have shot the owner of a nightclub prior to going on stage to perform.  York cleverly silenced his gun by using a throw pillow from a couch.  Raise your hand if this sounds like the kind of guy you would try to confront about murder in a lonely backstage dressing room?
    2. But no. Once Lansbury, aka Fletcher, discovers that Kaplan’s character is the killer she decides to confront him whilst alone in his backstage and easily muffled dressing room.  And what is more–Kaplan doesn’t retaliate.  He just takes the accusations like a man and confesses his heart to the dear sweet old Lansbury.
    3. My question is, “How did Lansbury’s character not get killed?”  And furthermore, “How did we not recognize this scene as something wholly different from reality in the United States in 1984?  Do you mean to tell me that in 1984 that a 61-year-old white woman who uncovers the secret identity of a killer would still be alive after confronting the selfsame killer in a private dressing room of an empty nightclub?  There is NO WAY THAT HAPPENS in 1984 in reality.  York would have shot Fletcher gangster style, cleaned up the blood, and still had time to dispose of the body and hit the tanning salon in time for his 8pm performance.

I am still baffled that a show with this many plot holes can make it for 12 years.  How does this happen, especially when shows like Pushing Daisies and Arrested Development can’t make it past 3 years.

About Doug Hankins

Although not a Christian in his youth, Doug came to believe in Jesus during his teenage years. When not playing sports or pastoring Doug is probably spending time with his wife, reading a good book, or drinking some hot tea. Doug's first book Dawson Trotman: In His Own Words is available wherever books are sold. You can follow Doug on twitter.
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6 Responses to Things I Don’t Understand: Murder She Wrote

  1. Brigite says:

    your posts are always so explicative, and i like it because i have a problem in understanding such things.

  2. Sai says:

    Ystyn Francis / My last week of school was super busy but I must be hosnet my delay at getting this review up was because I couldn’t even bring myself to watch the damn thing. I, instead, have been loving my second sitting through The West Wing and am now into the final season again.

  3. Claudilene says:

    well, kind of interesting post, thank you.

  4. Edenira says:

    could you increase the amount of your posts, i would like to read them more often. thanks.

  5. Billy says:

    This had me laughing the whole time I walked from the Press to the journalism building today. And of course it’s made me want to reflect upon two shows with similar premises: Castle (ABC) and Alcatraz (FOX). Though not lacking the obvious plot points, the authors-playing-crime-stoppers meme is the reason for them existing. In going to write about this soon.

    • Alberto says:

      Dave / Remember when we thought they might be able to save the show? Ahh ylochan days they were. I didn’t want to waste any time writing a review for this but I thought I should at least jump on and thank you and Alexeem for completing such an unbelievably thankless task. Lucky you guys had Game of Thrones to bolster your spirits every week on this increasingly awful experience.

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