I never really watched “Murder, She Wrote” when it was on in the 1980s. There were just too many other shows and movies for a young boy to care about an older, mystery solving sleuth. This said, I made a big mistake not watching this show when it was on. Seeing each episode unspool in my DVD player, I couldn’t believe that I let such a gem of a show pass me by. I guess when you’re younger you don’t think about these things, but the older I get I realize how important and how effected by the past I am.
I especially liked the show “Hooray For Homicide”. In this episode, Jessica Fletcher goes to LA not to solve a crime, but to stop one from being committed to one of her novels. It turns out some producer is going to turn it into a movie and she really is not happy about this. Things get even more interesting when the producer ends up murdered. As someone who writes screenplays as well as books, there was a lot about the Jessica Fletcher character that I could relate to and this show certainly had a special resonance with me.
Another really intriguing episode was “Murder Takes the Bus”. In a nutshell, Jessica Fletcher is on a bus ride to Portland and somebody gets murdered. It reminded me a little bit of the Agatha Christie novel “Murder on the Orient Express”. Truthfully, I really enjoyed every one of these episodes. Yeah, Fletcher is never really in any danger. I never thought she was going to die, it was just very interesting seeing her in various situations and seeing how she got out of them. A lot of people who review these kinds of DVDs mention that they think that this gets old after awhile, but I don’t simply because I love seeing how the situations are built up and then resolved. This makes for great TV.
With guest stars such as the late Jerry Orbach, Joaquin Phoenix, Andy Garcia, Martin Landau and many others, I constantly was impressed with what these players brought to the roles that they play. It is very interesting to me the levels to which these people who are only on the show for an episode, create characters and performances that are lasting. That stay with us and make us want to see more of the show and what it has to offer. Everything is created very simply. The camera angles and shots are done in such a way so that they do not obscure the story. Nothing is happening to take our focus off what is on screen. I often wonder why this has changed so much in TV. Everyone talks about our attention spans and how because of MTV everything has to be cut quickly, but in many respects I beg to differ.
I find that quick cutting and flashy camera angles wear me out. I much prefer the style of something like Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season. The shows just unfold in an easy two dimensional way. They aren’t muddled in imagery that only confuses the story. There isn’t a need to make the medium a character in the piece. The characters of Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season do that fine all by themselves. By just acting and letting their performance slowly burn through the screen.
No extras with this boxset. Lately this seems to be a trend with the TV on DVD box sets that I have reviewed. It seems like the only box sets for TV that really get a lot of extras are the fantasy shows. Why this is I have no idea but it just seems to be the case. This show is ripe for a lot of extras. Or at least a featurette or something. It would be great to get some insight into the process of how this show was created from the the shows writers. Every episode is so well crafted and put together it just would have been nice to know a little more. As it is, this show had a healthy run, so I am sure that there will be ample opportunities for the DVDs creators to make up for this with future releases.
1.33:1 Full Frame presentation. Straight out of 1984 this is a show with look and place that I remember. No, I didn’t grow up in Cabot Cove, Maine but I was actually alive during this time. I was 11 so I was more coherent and attentive to the things happening around me then I was for the shows I have reviewed from the 1970s. This is a show from my time. Seeing the characters conservative hairstyles, clothing choices, etc..., I feel like I am back in elementary school all over again. This is a blast from the past in the best way. The DVDs have very clean transfers. In many ways it doesn’t even look like I am watching something that was shot for TV. The only thing that gives this away is the datedness of the show. These first season episodes were shot over 20 years ago, so of course they are going to have a certain look from that time. There is only so much cleaning up that these DVDs can do. Yet, within this, these new dvd transfers add a certain slickness that really adds another dimension to these shows. You get to see things in the picture quality that you never got to see before. You notice the little things. All this does is add to what a rich experience TV on DVD is.
English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. I am watching Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season on a very cheap setup. My DVD player is very bottom of the barrel and my TV is really small, there is only one speaker, yet all the discs in this boxset played perfectly. They sounded great. What I love about these early shows is that sound is used conservatively. Even though TV had been around a while, in the 1980s, nothing about the sound design of these shows was too big or overblown. The music plays and changes up only as the plot unfolds. When the shows end and Jessica Fletcher has solved her case, the music swells with an “I told you so”, ”It’s all in a days work” vibe. I don’t know if this was really thought about at the time but I think that this is a great use of sound and image. We get the feeling of illumination, of events unfolding at the same time that Jessica does. We are always in the dark as much as her even though it seems like we might know more. We are given information and she is given information, but it is all in the way that she processes and explores it that sets the stage for what happens in the show. The sound is always right there exposing all of this to our naked ears.
The packaging on this DVD while simple is certainly well done. I mean, it looks like a hardcover murder mystery novel. Jessica Fletcher stares at us from behind her typewriter. The “book cover” is dark brown with gold lettering. Above Jessica it says “Murder, She Wrote’ and below her it reads “The Complete First Season”. The back of the boxset has another picture of Fletecher as well as some shots from the TV show. As is the case with most of these 21 season episode packages I review, the description isn’t too descriptive, just mainly giving us the basic idea and concept of what this show is about. There are also some tech specs listed too. Each of the 3 discs comes with an individual plastic covering, as well as a description of of what the episodes are for each one. The packaging on these is white, with the same picture of Jessica from the front cover, only she now has a fingerprint as her background. The discs have no images on them whatsoever. I really like the way this packaging is done. It is very easy to follow, is not confusing in the slightest and makes for a very enjoyable screening experience. I also like how on the DVDs menus you can read a small blurb for what the upcoming show is about.
Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season is very well good TV. Angela Lansbury is perfect as the grand dame of the show. She is the kind of women who knows how to keep home. One gets the feeling that if you stayed with her, she would put you up in a nice room, with soft pillows and good food. Seeing her solve crime after crime never gets old. I think this has a lot to do with how the situations she gets in are just thrown at her. She is a mystery writer by trade and super sleuth out of necessity. She is someone who is always where needs to be. More to the point she is someone who always ends up in the right place, even if she has to take a very roundabout way to get there.
As I sat through Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season it dawned on me how strong the stories were for each show. The characters were all well written without taking away from Jessica Fletcher. She was always given ample screen time and nothing about her performance, or how she conducted herself during the investigations felt rushed in any way. She always seems to be uncovering things, even if it doesn’t seem like she is doing much on the screen. One can almost sense the inner workings of a great mind as she puts together the pieces where others can’t.
I very much recommend Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season. It is sharp, strongly written and highly enjoyable. It is also filled with memorable performances from bit players and guest players that add a whole other dimension to certain episodes. I found nothing false or too “out there” for the subject matter of this show. There is no discussion needed...Murder, She Wrote - The Complete First Season is a boxset to be had!
Murder, She Wrote was released .