I recently finished watching all 264 episodes of Murder She Wrote. I started doing this because I often have insomnia and watch television to fall asleep. At 11 pm, after the prime-time programming of the Hallmark Movies and Mystery channel ends, they show several of the one-hour episodes of the show. Don’t judge me for my viewing habits but eventually I succumbed and started watching Murder She Wrote episodes to fall asleep. It often worked and then I got interested enough that using Peacock, which I get as part of my Xfinity account for the Internet, my landline phone and TV, I was able to watch all the episodes.
Murder She Wrote originally aired on broadcast TV from 1984 to 1996. In 1984 I was 30 years old and by 1996 I had a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old. I was busy and didn’t have time to watch that much TV. I did not watch Murder She Wrote during its original broadcast run. I’m pretty sure I thought she was an old lady and was not particularly interested.
Now of course I am an old lady myself and this is probably one reason why I find Murder She Wrote more appealing. Jessica Fletcher, the main character played by Angela Lansbury, is a widow and a very independent woman. She has begun a second career as a mystery writer following teaching high school English. The fact that she does this when the actress herself was 59 when the show started and 71when it ended is inspirational. It provides a role model for middle aged women beginning second or third acts.
Another aspect of Jessica Fletcher’s independence is that she solves the mysteries on her own with little or no help from anyone else especially men. Many of the Hallmark mysteries that currently air in prime time involve female amateur detectives, but they always have a male romantic interest who help them solve the crimes. Jessica Fletcher did not really have a romantic interest although William Windom played her best friend. Curious and inquisitive, if she gets herself into a jam while trying to solve a murder, she gets herself out of it, usually with no help from anyone. This independence solidifies her being a feminist role model.
I have also enjoyed watching the episodes because I got to see the technological changes that occurred during the twelve-year time span of the series. In the beginning she wrote everything on a typewriter. There were basically Rotary phones and a few wall phones. By the end there were computers and large cell phones. Seeing in real time the rapid technological changes that occurred from the 80s to the 90s is compelling.
This is not a technological change but the clothes that JB Fletcher wore evolved. In the beginning she presented as a pedestrian Maine native, flannels and jeans. Because Cabot Cove, Maine could not be the scene of weekly murders, the show took its’ heroine to many different domestic and international locales. Jessica Fletcher also lived in New York City for a while. Her clothes became increasingly sophisticated but were not high couture or sexy. No stiletto heels or low-cut gowns.
Despite the typewriters and Rotary phones most of the episodes do not seem dated. One area that does not reflect current sensibilities is the show’s treatment of Native Americans. For one thing the show calls this ethnic group Indians and for another it plays very stereotypical flute music anytime a Native American character appears. Once again viewing in real time we get a sense of how things have changed although of course we have so much more to do to redress the harms and mistreatment of Native Americans.
Because I can be compulsive, once I had seen a lot of the episodes I decided to see if there were any books that Angela Lansbury or her fictional character Jessica Fletcher had written. Angela Lansbury wrote a how to how to live your life better book, Angela Lansbury’s Positive Moves: My Personal Plan for Fitness and Well-Being (1990). I read and enjoyed it. The book contains mostly common-sense advice about staying active, doing things you enjoy and watching what you eat. Probably she has taken her own advice because she is still alive at the age of 96.
If you ever need to feel asleep or want to see an independent middle-aged woman doing exciting things, tune in to Murder She wrote.