We have officially entered the second half of Murder, She Wrote. The show ran for twelve years, and this is season seven. While the show is still very entertaining, it doesn’t have quite the spark of the early seasons.
It’s such a cultural icon these days, it’s hard to think of a time we didn’t know Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), a widowed mystery writer who finds herself constantly solving real life murder mysteries. That’s a very good thing for her family and friends who keep finding themselves caught up in murder, often as the prime suspect.
What kind of cases does Jessica face this season? Jessica is sued by the estate of a man who died trying to escape from prison who claims she put him in jail falsely. A trip to Nashville to visit an old friend ends in murder. A super fan is killed while pretending to be Jessica. And her former publisher shows up again hoping to lure her back to his old company.
Like with season six, we get a few episodes that Jessica just introduces instead of starring in. These episodes were an attempt to give Angela Lansbury a break since the demands of making the show were beginning to get very taxing. All five of the episodes that are like that this season feature reformed jewel thief turned insurance investigator Dennis Stanton (Keith Michell). I get why these were never fan favorites since we tune in to watch Jessica. But I also wish they had given this character his own show. I definitely would have watched if they had. Anyway, if you know these are coming, they are five fun shows. Dennis has to solve the murder of a divorce attorney. He gets involved when a supposed new Mark Twain manuscript turns up. He investigates when a world-famous pianist is injured in a fire. Dennis gets framed for murder after an old flame’s husband goes missing. And Dennis searches for a missing dummy, ventriloquist dummy, that is.
There are other changes to the structure of the episodes with Jessica in them to help give Ms. Lansbury a bit more time off. The murders often happen around the half way point in an episode, and before that happens, we will get several scenes without Jessica in them. Heck, there are times we get an entire act before she even shows up. I get it, these shows take a lot out of actors of any age, especially this one which is really a solo show. When you look at the first few seasons, Jessica is in every scene. No one can keep that up. But the show loses a little something because of it.
I also realized that this is the first season where we don’t see Jessica interact with any of her endless family members. Yes, we still see her helping out friends, but I found this interesting. I definitely missed seeing her nephew Grady, who has already made all but one of his appearances by this point in the show. He was always a favorite character.
I don’t know that I had realized before watching the season this time that there was a season after he was introduced where Dr. Seth Hazlitt only appeared in one episode. William Windom, the actor who played Seth, was cast on the short-lived TV version of Parenthood this season, leaving him with time to only appear in one episode. But what an episode! A trip to Boston turns deadly for Seth and Jessica when a trip to a favorite restaurant ends with Seth kidnapped by the mob.
Not to worry, even without Seth there, we still get five episodes set in Cabot Cove, Jessica’s home town in Maine. Jessica tries to clear her temporary typist when the woman’s husband is murdered. The new aerobics studio in town is a hotbed of intrigue and murder. An ambassador’s son (played by Angela’s nephew David Lansbury) is killed and Sheriff Metzger (Ron Masak) becomes the prime suspect. When the man who robbed the local bank returns twenty years after committing the crime, he winds up dead. And a manuscript from a writer friend of Jessica’s leads a bunch of people to show up in town.
We are to the point of the review where I update my running tally of just how deadly Cabot Cove really is. As I just said, there are five new murders in town this season, three involving residents, and two involving outsiders who stupidly think they can get away with murder with Jessica right there waiting to solve the crime. That brings our totals to 30.5 murders in Cabot Cove, 20 involving residents, and 11 involving non-residents. Taking into account the five episodes that focused on Dennis, Jessica has now solved a grand total of 138 murders. The percentage has crept up from season six to 22.1% of the cases taking place up there. (And yes, I know the math is wonky. But there was a method to how I counted these stats.) Yes, Cabot Cove is deadly, but it's still not quite as deadly as everyone makes it out to be.
All this talk aside, I do still enjoy the show. It might not have quite the heart it did in earlier seasons, but it is still fun to see Jessica in action and try to catch the clue that will solve everything. Yes, I do remember some of these episodes, which makes it easy to spot the killer. Other times, I don’t remember anything about the episode, and I find myself confused up until Jessica solves it all. I appreciate how the show plays fair with us so if I can’t solve the case, it’s on me. And the cast is always great, whether it’s Angela Lansbury herself, the few recurring characters, or the guest stars.
I always enjoy looking for familiar faces as I watch these episodes. This season, I spotted Stephen Furst, Nana Visitor, Robert Reed, Vera Miles (twice as two different characters), Raphael Sbarge, Van Johnson, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Stanley Kamel, Sally Struthers, Michael McKean, Ricardo Montalban, Linda Larkin, Betty Garrett, Fred Willard, Claudia Christian, Larry Wilcox, Lyle Waggoner, and Grant Shaud.
I do want to acknowledge a couple of recurring actors who make their last appearance in the final episode of the season. The first is Will Nye, who played Deputy Floyd in Cabot Cove. Jerry Orbach also makes his final two appearances on the show this season as PI Harry McGraw. The fall after these airred, he starred in the first season of a little show called Law and Order, a show he’d continue on until his death.
This was almost the final season of the show, and at the time the final episode was filmed, nobody knew if it would be coming back. That helps explain the last line, which is a fun little nod (and still what I think the final episode should have been called).
The season seven DVD set features all twenty-two episodes on five discs in their native full frame and stereo. There is one extra on the set, just a few minutes long, that talks about the challenges that came with some of the success of the show. (The information from it might have found its way into my review in a few places, although parts of it I already knew.)
Season seven definitely isn’t as strong as the first few seasons. But that doesn’t make it bad. It’s still fun watching Jessica go up against killers every week. If you are looking for a light mystery show, you can do worse than Murder, She Wrote.