In case you’re unaware of Murder, She Wrote (some people might not be, I guess), it was an incredibly successful series starring Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher, a mystery writer who trips over a dead body roughly once a fortnight. And as luck would have it, in this episode, that dead body is in Tennessee (I think).
Jessica is recording an audio book of her own novel at a studio at the same time that an ex-con country music star is recording his new album (despite bootleg tapes being on the black market already – wtf?). The lights go out and the head of studio is stabbed in his office. Suspicion immediately falls on Greg Dalton, the man who in charge of Jessica’s tapes and who happens to be blind – the only person who could have moved around the studio in the dark…
Murder, She Wrote clocked up 264 episodes in total, with a recurring cast of one character. Think about that, compared to modern crime shows. Bones has six, Castle has eight, but only Jessica is in every episode of the show. The next most frequent character, Seth, is in less than 1/5 of them! How times have changed – could such a show, basically eschewing all character development of the lead by not having people to relate to. But it never bothered the viewers, as the show lasted twelve years. It was certainly a mainstay of my Friday night viewing at the time.
This is a fascinating episode, hamstrung by the relatively short length to develop the mystery. Some characters appear and then vanish again. A red herring turns up – a bottle of nail varnish – and once it’s owner is identified, nothing more comes of it. A hint to how the murder was committed is dropped in at random by one character. But there are clear indications as to who the killer is – not that the method would have worked, as the alibi they create only works if the victim manages a few last words, and only a moron would believe that they are… well, a spoiler, I guess. And is there really that much money to be made by bootlegging cassettes?
There are three cast members, apart from the wonderful Angela Lansbury, that are familiar to me. Country legend Charlie Daniels plays the ex-con – not a bad performance, to be fair, William (Die Hard, Ghostbusters) Atherton plays the blind man and G W Bailey (Lt Harris in Police Academy) plays the local investigator. Unfortunately, Atherton has trouble playing blind – his glasses aren’t dark enough to hide the fact that his eyes tend to look at things – and the police chief’s amiable misogyny – well, the less said about that, the better. But it’s supposed to be played for laughs, and it really isn’t funny.
Looking on the IMDB, this isn’t the highest rated episode of the show but it has to be applauded for the mystery and the central performance from Dame Angela. A shame about almost everything else.