Murder, She Wrote is an hour-long mystery starring Angela Lansbury as widowed author Jessica Fletcher. It is rumored that Jean Stapleton was the first choice for the role, but Lansbury does a wonderful job and made it her own. I can’t imagine anyone else in the part.
The series was very successful, running 12 seasons from 1984-1996. Peter S. Fischer and the team of Richard Levinson and William Link created the series. Together, the trio has a prolific resume of television mysteries that included Columbo, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Ellery Queen. They also wrote for The Fugitive, Mannix, Kojak, and Baretta.
This set collects all 22 episodes of season two. Highlights include: “Widow, Weep for Me,” the episode that introduced Len Cariou as recurring character British Intelligence Agent Michael Hagerty; “Trial by Error,” where Jessica becomes a jury foreperson in an homage to Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men; “One Good Bid Deserves a Murder,” Jerry Orbach, of Law & Order fame, played Harry McGraw, who was unsuccessfully spun-off to The Law and Harry McGraw; “Sing a Song of Murder,” where Angela Lansbury plays a second role as her cousin, Emma MacGill, an English music hall singer, in a classic television device seen on other shows like The Patty Duke Show and Bewitched. My favorite is “Jessica Behind Bars” where Jessica finds herself trapped in a women’s prison when the inmates take over.
Jessica is a best-selling author that lives in Cabot Cove, Maine, a quaint seaside town where a large number of murders take place. During her cases there, Sheriff Amos Tupper, played by Tom Bosley, and Dr. Seth Hazlitt, played by William Windom, assist her. Bosley appeared on the show its first four season while Windom made his first appearance this season and remained for the show’s run.
Murders spring up almost everywhere she travels and involve an unusual number of her friends and extended family. I’m surprised people are ever happy to see her arrive, but it is only the second season. Inevitably, Jessica is always asked to help solve the case because the authorities aren’t as smart as she is. They miss all the clues; some of which happen in her presence and illustrate her amazing recall because she remembers things that happen before there is a body or a case to solve. Of course, this is a contrivance to allow the authority figures to be suspects, but it seems odd.
During the reveals, the villains always crack under her supposition or get tricked into revealing themselves. No one ever says, “Who is this woman?” or “I don’t have to answer to you.” The show is amusing and a fun puzzle to unravel although it stretches believability to a point that non-mystery fans might have difficulty accepting.
The series’ casting is reminiscent of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island, filled with many well-known actors from film and television like Adrienne Barbeau, Dick Van Patten, Yvonne De Carlo, Barbi Benton, Roddy McDowell, Norman Fell, and Vic Tayback to name a few.
Lansbury was nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series, as she was all 12 years the show aired, but never won, joining the likes of Susan Lucci and Randy Newman, both of whom finally wnt on to receive an award. The Golden Globes were kinder. She won four out of the 10 times she was nominated for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV-Series – Drama. This season was also awarded Best TV-Series – Drama for the second year in a row.
While it’s nice to have a season at your fingertips, this is the usual rush job to the marketplace that Universal has been doing with their properties. They are just purging their vaults and spending no time or effort on extras or remastering, which is a shame. Episodes appear on both sides of the discs.
There are a large number of complaints on Amazon from people having trouble playing the discs in their DVD players. I also had trouble on my PC’s DVD-ROM. If you buy it, make sure you save the receipt and see what the store’s return policy is for defective DVDs