Judging by the fact that as a child/pre-teen I loved shows like The Golden Girls and Murder, She Wrote, I must have an affinity for series about spunky older ladies out to prove to the world that life does not end at 50.
Murder, She Wrote, a popular CBS series that ran from 1984-1996, stars the talented Angela Lansbury and centers on the life of renowned author Jessica Fletcher, who lives in the quaint town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Cabot Cove has an alarmingly high death rate for a town so small, and Jessica is always in the center of things, asking endless questions, annoying suspects, and in the end, never failing to finger the one who did it. She is aided by the hapless Sheriff Tupper (and in later seasons, Sheriff Metzger) as well as the town doctor, Seth Hazlitt.
As with shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, Murder, She Wrote relies on an endless parade of guest stars to drive the plot lines, as well as a familiar formula. Early on in each episode, a murder is committed, and Jessica is somewhere in the vicinity or hears about it and instantly involves herself in the resolution of the crime. Guest stars over the years read like a veritable Who's Who of television and included the late, great Jerry Orbach of Law and Order fame, Shelley Fabares (Coach), Larry Wilcox (CHIPs), Robert Reed (The Brady Bunch), Tony Dow (Leave it to Beaver, and Genie Francis (All My Children), among many, many others.
Season Two is one of the strongest seasons, as the series really hit its stride and allowed Jessica ample time in both Cabot Cove and around the world, keeping the episodes fresh and fun. The series was also still far from resorting to unpopular gimmicks, the worst of which was having "characters" of Jessica's solve mysteries so that star Angela Lansbury could take a break. As with any given season of this show, Lansbury's acting is impeccable, but it's a hit-or-miss proposition when it comes to the guest stars: they camp it up, overact, or sometimes actually add value to the story at hand.
Standout episodes from this season include:
"Sing a Song of Murder": Jessica's cousin, Emma (Angela Lansbury in a dual role), fakes her death, which means Jessica must travel to merry olde England to figure out what is going on.
"Widow, Weep for Me": Family turmoil and intrigue is the name of the game as Jessica travels to the Caribbean and finds herself stumbling across yet another murder.
"Jessica Behind Bars": A terrifically fun episode (reminiscent of a similar setting of the Charlie's Angels episode, "Angels in Chains") in which Jessica ends up in a prison and must solve the murder of a prison doctor.
"Murder in the Electric Cathedral": Jessica and the surviving heirs of a wealthy woman are suspicious of a televangelist to whom a large fortune has been left.
"Keep the Home Fries Burning": In my humble opinion, one of the best, most clever episodes of the entire series, in which a group of diners are poisoned at a new, colonial-themed restaurant when tainted strawberry preserves are passed from table to table. Mercifully, Jessica is spared, giving her plenty of time to solve the mystery of who poisoned the preserves and why.
Viewers will enjoy the guest stars this season, who include Dick VanPatten, Donna Pescow of Saturday Night Fever fame, Mama's Family's Vicki Lawrence, former teen heartthrob Rex Smith, and even a grown-up Judy Geeson, of the stellar 1960s Sidney Poitier drama To Sir, With Love.
Considering the fact that these episodes are over twenty years old, the picture quality and color are quite good if you can overlook the dated hairstyles and costuming, which give away the decade in which they were filmed. As it was shown on television, the discs are offered in a full-frame 1.33:1 presentation.
Viewers will be pleased to find that there are a variety of audio options available in this collection. There are English and French language tracks, both in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, as well as English and Spanish subtitles. The sound quality itself is nothing spectacular; it neither adds nor detracts from the overall experience, but producers should be commended for offering more than just the standard English presentation.
Alas, there are no extras to be found here, which is a crying shame for a series that was, and remains, beloved by so many. A quick check of Amazon revealed that the same appears to have been the case for the Season One release. Perhaps this show will go the way of The Golden Girls releases, where Season One had one measly special feature not even worth inclusion, but the successive releases have improved immensely. At the very least, Murder, She Wrote deserves at least that. An interview with Lansbury and some of the many, many guest stars is the least they could do.
Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Second Season is a worthy purchase: it is a must-have for fans of the series and a terrific primer for those have yet to discover it.