Remember what I said in my last post about Miss Marple stories not really being made for TV? I stand to my opinion. For the record, there are two notable TV adaptations, one with Joan Hickson in the role, and another one with Geraldine McEwan and Julia McKenzie. But in this case I think that the “American Miss Marple” is way more memorable. Even though Jessica Fletcher was never advertised as such, this is how she is usually seen. And unlike a lot of other “Americanized” version of famous British detectives (it’s sometimes a little bit disconcerting how fast the US-Media pounces on successful foreign detectives, while totally overlooking their own detectives like C. Auguste Dupin or Philip Marlowe), this one works perfectly, because the changes made mostly add to the character – even though they also reduce her a little bit. After all, one of the basic ideas of Miss Marple is that you don’t have to be “fit” and “active”to have a sharp mind. But, like I said, inactive characters don’t really work in a TV series, so I can hand-wave this aspect in this particular case.
Nevertheless, Jessica Fletcher shares a lot with the character she is based on. She is smart, financial independent, lives in a small village with an unusual high murder quota and is often able to solve cases because of her live experiences. But she is also way more active (in fact, she can easily outrun the local sheriff), and being a famous writer, she is way less hampered in her movements. In short, she has all the strength of the character Agatha Christie created, but none of the weaknesses which limited the kind of cases Miss Marple could deal with. Jessica Fletcher is not forced to sit at home while other people collect information for her. She goes and investigates herself.
If I look back at “Murder, she wrote” I have to admit that the show is extremely formulaic. Like most crime shows created in the 1980s, there is no on-going story arc, and every episode more or less follows the same pattern. Jessica somehow gets involved in a murder, the law enforcement arrest the wrong suspect, Jessica confronts the real murderer by quoting real or made up clues for his guilt, and in the end everyone is happy and the episode closes with a smiling Jessica. Since the characters barely change, you can watch more or less every episode out of context with no problems and the cases in itself are somewhat similar, too, though there is an interesting twist once in a while. What carries the show is really the character Jessica Fletcher (or Jessica Beatrice Fletcher, nee MacGill) , expertly portrayed by Angela Lansbury. This is especially notable in some of the later episode, in which Jessica Fletcher only makes some sort of introduction and the actual case is built around some acquaintance of her. They are easily the weakest of the show.
Quote: “In the end it all comes down to four things: patience, direction, determination and strengths.”
Best episode: The show has twelve seasons, plus four TV-movies…there is a lot to pick from, but I go for the Pilot in this case. It is always fun to watch, mostly because Jessica first has to struggle with her unexpected fame.
Best moment: Again one from the pilot, to be precise when Jessica’s friends try to talk her into changing for public appearance…and she sticks to her own style in the end.
If you like a good whodunit, this show might be the right one for you. Also if you are a fan of Angela Lansbury, this is one role you shouldn’t miss.