In 1984, TV viewers were introduced to Jessica Fletcher, mystery novelist and amateur sleuth. Murder, She Wrote ran for twelve years before going off the air in 1996, and the mark it left on the American public cannot be denied. Although the formulaic nature of the program and the disturbing volume of murders that occurred around the central character left it open to criticism from audiences eager for more hardboiled mysteries such as Law & Order and CSI, the show filled a niche for generations that grew up on cozy mysteries by authors like Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen. The appeal has remained strong enough that twenty years after the original broadcast, Universal has released the second season on DVD.
There were few central characters besides Jessica Fletcher, so each episode had a handful of guest actors ranging from the very-well-known to never-seen-again. What does Murder, She Wrote have in common with early 1980s TV favorite WKRP in Cincinnati? WKRP actors Frank Bonner, Gordon Jump, Richard Sanders, and Howard Hesseman all appeared as guests in the second season of Murder, She Wrote. However, you wouldn’t know this from the episode descriptions on the box set, which list very few of the guest actors. A full listing of guests can be found at the Internet Movie Database, if you’re interested. Some notables not mentioned include Brock Peters, Robert Culp, and John de Lancie. John Astin is in three episodes as a re-occurring character of note.
To me, the packaging is indicative of the lack of care and attention paid to the creation of this box set. There are no extras or frills to entice buyers, and the episodes still have that slightly grainy quality prevalent in 1980s television filming. One must also be careful in handling the discs themselves. They are double-sided so as to hold eight episodes on two discs and six on the third disc.
One thing this collection has going for it is the script writing. Season two of Murder, She Wrote had the advantage of fresh ideas and mostly realistic plots. Locations alternated between Cabot Cove (Fletcher’s home) and someplace else. The murders were complex and the identity of the murderer wasn’t quite yet obvious from the start. The set is well worth getting if you’re a fan wanting to wander down memory lane and re-visit the show back in the golden years. Just don’t expect anything else from it.