Murder, She Wrote has not really attained ironic-cool status like Gossip Girl, and it probably never will, and I’m OK with that. Because this show, for me, is like the TV equivalent of mashed potatoes and my mom’s fried chicken. Oh, J.B. Fletcher, let me count the ways.
- Because she had good manners. Even though she had a mystery-writer’s tendency to be nosy, Jessica was always polite and did her best to make other people feel comfortable. The woman could be completely nice to a golddigging tramp who was crying crocodile tears over the murder of her husband which she so totally orchestrated, even when she talked said golddigging tramp into confessing twenty minutes later. Yes, being an older lady who made tea and cookies definitely helped people feel at ease around her, but Jessica always knew the right thing to say in any kind of situation and how to make anyone – from ballet dancers defecting from the Soviet Union to a troubled teen who had witnessed a crime but was too scared to tell the sheriff – relax and trust her.
- Because of that awesome “it all just clicked in my brain” face. When my sister and I were kids, we went to bed as soon as Murder, She Wrote was over. By the time the show crept into double-digit seasons, we had the show’s arc down to a science: around minute 47, just before the last commercial break, someone would make a random, innocuous comment totally unrelated to the murder, like “Oh, yes, I do want another slice of that blueberry pie!” and suddenly something would click in her head and you knew she’d figured out the whole case. I wish I had that face. Or that thing clicking in my brain. Or some blueberry pie.
- Because she wasn’t just a writer, she was a reader. Although we don’t actually learn much from the show about Jessica’s books beyond their titles (such as the awesome The Corpse Danced at Midnight), we know that she not only loved to write but to read. As evidenced by the episodes where Jessica taught classes or guest lectured, she was incredibly well-read and genuinely loved the art of the novel. Plus, she spent most of her career as a high school English teacher. If she managed to read all those terrible ninth-grade papers and still love the written word at the end, she’s a true saint. There are several episodes where Jessica mentors young writers and helps them get published, because our J.B. is too awesome for things like jealousy.
- Because of that episode where she went after “Friends.” Murder, She Wrote ultimately ended when it was up against an up-and-coming little show on NBC about a group of young people who hung out at a coffee shop. MSW decided to go down with guns blazing: they aired an episode where a former student of Jessica’s ended up becoming one of the stars of “Buds,” a TV show about a group of young people who hung out in a coffee shop. Of course, somebody got murdered, and, of course, Jessica solved it. At the end, to thank her, she was made an honorary “Bud.” The real Friends never had that kind of class. Also, I think this is part of why I still kind of hate Jennifer Aniston.
- Because she carried a popular, long-running TV show without being young, conventionally “hot,” or sexual. If you were to apply The Bechdel Test to television, MSW passes with flying colors: often, there are scenes where two women talk to each other about something other than a man. Occasionally, two women talk to each other about a dead man, but I don’t count this since it’s about the fact that he was murdered and not the fact that one of the women was boning him. Jessica had her fair share of offers from some of the dapper older gentlemen who appeared on the show (side note: as a kid, I was totally ‘shipping her and Seth, even before I knew what ‘shipping was), but she remained loyal to her late husband, Frank. The show wasn’t Kindly New England Widow Finds a Nice Second Husband – it was about a warm, kind, intelligent older woman who happened to find a new profession in the next act of her life. She had an incredibly rich, full life, with friends, relatives, community service, and work that she found personally meaningful. I hope I’m exactly like Jessica when I grow up. Well, without all the random dying around me.