Murder She Wrote and Representing the Ladies
Like any other child with a busy parent and no babysitter, I spent a lot time getting to know my favorite television and book characters. Unlike most other children, however, my taste was TV-skewed, well, older. That isn’t to say I wasn’t taken in by the world of animation and cartoons; I can still recall the Captain Planet theme song despite not seeing the show for years. But in between episodes of The Rugrats and Arthur, I found myself growing a strong attachment to another television show, Murder, She Wrote.
Yes, six-year old me would spend a couple hours each week watching the trials, tribulations, and, now that I think about it, truly alarming amount of homicides that took place in that little New England town of Cabot Cove. As a child, I probably could not tell you why I enjoyed the show so much. I mean, think about it. Why would a six-year old whose life revolved around getting her hands on pizza bagels and candy be interested in a show about this older retired woman, solving crime in her spare time? It’s not like I had an affinity for sleuth-style televsion. I certainly wasn’t fighting my brother for the remote control to watch Matlock or Law and Order. But now that I’m almost two decades older with the ability to buy my own pizza bagels, candy, and remote control (well, online streaming service), I can say why this show meant so much to me as a little girl. And that reason is the marvelous representation of women in the form Jessica Fletcher.
What I didn’t understand at six years of age was how revolutionary this television show was in terms of women and representation. Throughout film and television history, the detective has always been a staunchly masculine role. Just think of the famed old film-noir detectives: Philip Marlow, Sam Spade, Jeff Bailey, and Mike Hammer. Or even the 70’s detective series such as The Rockford Files or Kojak. All masculine, all cynical, and all more than just a little bit misogynistic in the handling of their cases. But when Fletcher hit the scene in 1984, all of that changed.
I mean this, with dogmatic intensity, when I say this woman is perfection.
Much like her masculine counterparts, Fletcher is above all, a survivor. In her early 50’s she lost her husband and became a childless widow. While an event like that could cause someone to break, Fletcher did the only thing she could do and created a new life for herself. She stayed in her small hometown in Maine, wrote a couple of murder mystery novels and, in the process, became well-respected author. By the age of 60, she was new woman, as spritely and spirited as any 20-year I’ve ever met. And most of this is before the series even started!
With Fletcher, we didn’t get the same old, worn-out private detective just looking to get by in the world. Instead, we got an intelligent, kindly woman looking to do right in this world. When it came to Fletcher’s actual sleuthing, her methods were quite detached from the traditionally masculine methods audiences were used to. She never forced her way into situations with a heavy hand or cruel jape but would instead spark up an innocuous conversation with the police force, witnesses or persons possibly involved with the murder. By doing something as simple as offering a potential witness a lift in taxicab, Fletcher would gain more information in a 12-block car ride than the police could do in a 12-hour interrogation. By using her feminine charms and generally light-hearted attitude, Fletcher was able to gain pertinent information that would have otherwise been lost in the larger scope of a police investigation. Through the strength of her kindness and due diligence, this unassuming 60-year old woman solved murders with more wit, pizzazz, and know-how than her local police department. And in the process, showed a six-year old girl that you can be a woman, act like a woman, and still be as good as any boy.
Looking back, it’s so obvious. Although I most certainly didn’t realize it at the time, I wasn’t watching Murder, She Wrote for its sheer entertainment value or its intricately plotted stories. No, I was watching it because I needed a role model in my life and who better than Jessica Fletcher.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub