Let me preface this by saying, this show was the best. If you were a child of the 90’s who loved Nancy Drew Mysteries, then you were into The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo. In each episode, Shelby shows us one of her case files (on an old ass computer that was very innovative at the time). She also lives with her grandpa, Pat Morita, who I recently learned once had his own detective series!
This Christmas episode is kind of weird. The mystery starts at a restaurant where someone has swapped out an entree with um…live mice…
The very easy solution here is to not serve covered dishes at the table…but this restaurant is very into the room service aesthetic, so unfortunately live mice have been served up for dinner. Yikes.
When the health department closes the restaurant. Shelby not only tries to find the culprit because she loves a good mystery, but also because her friend’s parents own the place.
Clue #1: An empty strawberry basket filled with cheese is in the kitchen trash. (Both Shelby and the detective think it’s mouse-related because obviously this kitchen wouldn’t have cheese for any other reason. But to be fair, the cheese in the strawberry container is odd and does look just like the cheese on the mouse plate).
Back at the station, we’re introduced to a B-Plot: Secret Santa! (More on this later.)
Clue #2: The chef destroyed the original plate of food before the detectives arrived. (Okay, but seriously who sends a detective to respond to mice at a restaurant? Is this a thing?)
Oh also the C-plot is Pat Morita playing Santa for a bunch of underprivileged kids. He takes knowledge of Santa’s backstory very seriously and studies the lore extensively throughout the episode.
In the midst of all these happenings, the restaurant owners’ older daughter finds the time to help the younger daughter study fractions by using measuring cups and the restaurants supplies…but okay that also feels like another health department no-no. Anyway…
Clue #3: A very small attempt at arson in the restaurant’s kitchen with a type-written note that mentions going out of business. Bold move to leave a paper message in the midst of arson. (Also note, the couple’s younger daughter tries to throw the half-burned note away before Shelby can read what’s left of it.)
Clue #4: The chef buys cooking spices at the market. Buying his own ingredients is suspicious cause he’s trying to destroy the restaurant and take it back from the owners (according to Shelby) but…I dunno…I’m not buying it.
Later on at the restaurant, the food has been spiked with chilies!!!
Clue #5: One guest’s table doesn’t get any spiked food. Shelby also remembers that she saw this guest drive past the restaurant on the night of the fire.
And time for another C-Plot, Pat Morita appearance. This time, he’s testing the authenticity of his beard.
Clue #6: Shelby’s friend’s eyes hurt from the chilies but all she touched at the restaurant were the plates, not the food. She also touched the sugar dispenser.
This final clue helps Shelby solve the mystery…
Did you solve it as well?
Time to find out…
THE YOUNGER DAUGHTER IS THE CULPRIT!
She doesn’t see her parents anymore because they are sooooo busy. They’re even working on Christmas Eve!! And before you’re like woah woah woah but that arson was still psychotic — the fire was an accident. The note was the intention (the candle was presumably to call attention to it). The good news is they decided to keep the restaurant but just close for family time on Christmas Eve. And hopefully, that child decided to stop handling live mice for good.
And now back to the B-Plot: Shelby and her crush are each other’s secret santas and they each got one another thoughtful gifts and they are probably in looooooooveeeeee. Shelby made him a painting and he made her a mixtape. The 90’s awwwww.
And Pat Morita finally nails the Santa thing.
And in what we now know is workplace sexual harassment, Shelby’s boss makes her kiss her crush underneath the mistletoe.
Very Special Lesson(s): Really what I learned is that it’s important to STATE YOUR NEEDS and not BE RUINING EVERYONE’S LIVES because you’re being passive-aggressive. Yes, this culprit was a child and so I’m willing to grade on a cruve. Now that I know she’s not literally trying to burn down the place, she seems fine. However, I think we could have avoided this whole thing if she had simply left a note (without an open flame) saying she wanted to spend Christmas Eve at home as a family.
Also Pat Morita is the perfect Santa. I mean. Wow. I didn’t know I needed to see Pat Morita as Santa, but my heart knew. You know? And it was awesome.
I also do have some questions about how long they left that food unattended in the kitchen long enough that the kid could swap out a plate of food for a plate of mice but oh well it’s Christmas so I’ll overlook it!
I hope you have a Merry Christmas, Very Special Readers! See you in 2022 for more very special episodes!
This episode opens with a Christmas party in which the host introduces his future son-in-law, a NEW Cabot Cove Resident. Has this man seen the violent crime rate in the otherwise sleepy town? RUN!! Get out while you still can! There’s something toxic in the water! This town should be a case study for the lead-crime hypothesis!
But no, it’s just so charming here in Cabot Cove. This guy is going to stick around, work for his father-in-law, and be a tax accountant. Ugh have I ever written a more depressing sentence? Well, maybe it’s not depressing for people who love math (not me).
Anyway, Jess has a heart to heart with the bride-to-be, Beth, who cannot understand why her fiancee, Charlie, seems a little bummed out after the Gulf War. Jess explains how post traumatic stress works and we cut to Mort inviting Charlie to go shooting. Charlie’s like cool, my gun is at the hotel. Ugh. This feels like a real Chekov’s gun moment. Why can’t we have anything nice in Cabot Cove?
Before things get too heavy, we move on to Jess and Seth arguing over whether or not they will have a white Christmas. Ah the yin and yang of Cabot Cove. One moment, you’re worried that your friends and acquaintances might not survive the week because every one of your neighbors could be a cold blooded killer. The next moment you’re overwhelmed by the hygge.
As the party wraps up, Charlie heads to his car and finds a mysterious, wrapped gift on the passengers seat. He unwraps what appears to be a Willie Nelson cassette tape. But when he pops it into the player, he discovers that it’s really a mysterious message from “a friend” asking him to meet at Sally’s Landing for some holiday blackmail.
And before you’re like “oh my! how dark!” can I interest you in a Christmas store front?
Or a great shot of Mrs. Fletcher buying some holiday wrapping?
I mean this town goes ALL out. They even decorate the life preserver. Oh and before I forget to mention this crucial plot point, Charlie recognizes the woman waiting for him as Wanda, from the Christmas party, and he proceeds to drive away from the landing without even speaking to her.
In the next scene, we see Wanda helping with decorations at the community center. Everyone is incredibly hostile to her because she’s apparently screwing everyone’s husband. A fact we learn from Beth while she and Jess make cute little paper chains.
Jess, now decked out in tinsel herself, seems to be the only one who can be cordial to Wanda. She requests four red balloons from Wanda and Wanda is like cool but can you bring me my lunch? Um, she’s not your maid, Wanda!
Anyway, Jess is like I think I see it in that locker behind you. And Wanda abruptly shuts the locker and is like no, that’s not my lunch.
She then tries to hand Jess four green balloons, which is how we learn that Wanda is colorblind. Something tells me this fact will be important later.
Anyway, Beth heads over to Charlie’s hotel because she’s not buying the whole stressed from the war thing and she thinks something else is up. He isn’t in his room, but she plays the mysterious tape and finds an appointment in his planner for a meeting at the Light House Motel. Beth books it over there and finds Charlie greeting another woman with a kiss.
Now at this point, we’ve been seeing a lot of heavy kissing from Beth and Charlie. This looks way more like a friendly greeting to me. My hunch is that this woman is Charlie’s sister, but of course Beth does not see it that way. Hold on a second. You’re not getting sad in this Christmas episode are you? Here’s a glimpse of a happy couple with a Christmas package just behind Beth’s car as she tearfully drives away.
As Beth cries upstairs at her parents’ house, her mother tells Charlie that Beth is feeling sick. She seems to genuinely believe Beth’s fake food poisoning and begs Charlie to still attend the party at the community center with Beth’s father and her.
At the community center, Jess and Seth watch Mort lead a chorus of carolers. Too bad Adele can’t be there. She’s busy delivering baskets of food to the poor in another town. She’s missing Seth play Santa!
Meanwhile, Charlie follows Wanda into the women’s locker room to a soundtrack of a very ominous riff on Good King Wenceslas. We hear a shot (that makes Seth flinch outside of the locker room but of course he doesn’t check it out even though this is Cabot Cove). Charlie passes another Santa in the locker room and (presuming its Seth), he asks what the shot was. The Santa (not Seth, obvious) dashes away without responding. And just as Charlie happens upon Wanda’s motionless body, J.Fletch appears — presumably to check out the noise but if this arrival isn’t an easy win for the “she killed them all” camp then I don’t know what is.
Luckily, she is wearing an excellent Christmas tree broach.
The real Seth examines Wanda, and declaring her close to death, accompanies her to the hospital. Jess and Mort then seem to imply that Seth has been such a Scrooge that they fear even Christmas is not safe from toxic negativity — toxic enough for MURDER. I’m not even kidding: Mort says “doc stacked the deck against us.” Although, given that this is the ONE Christmas episode in the show’s run he might have a point. Perhaps even a town full of nosey people with poor impulse control decides not to go murdering on a day meant for peace and goodwill.
Beth then chooses this very moment to confront Charlie. He’s like do you know what just happened? And she’s like yeah but I still want to talk about you and that strange woman from earlierat right this very moment. I know cheating is bad but the dude literally just found a nearly lifeless woman’s body. Can Beth please show him a little grace? We can talk about cheating tomorrow.
Luckily, the next morning we learn that Wanda will live because, according to Seth’s medical description, the bullet “was deflected in some sort of flukey fashion” and for this reason didn’t do any major damage that couldn’t be corrected with emergency surgery.
Beth then shows up at Jessica’s house to say that Charlie’s gun was used to shoot Wanda. The cops found Wanda’s blackmail tape and Charlie confessed to going to the landing. He’s been arrested for murder and Beth wants Jess’s help. Wow, that’s stressful isn’t it! Good thing we get a great glimpse at Jess’s awesome Christmas decorations.
Jess gives Seth the signal to get lost so that Beth will open up to her. As soon as Seth is out the door, Beth says she’s worried that Charlie got the money for her ring in nefarious ways. She also confesses that she’s worried he’s cheating.
Jess goes to see Mort and asks if Wanda had any time to go to California within the past year and he’s like no way. You want to know why? One time when Jess was away, a group of delegates from Cabot Cove went to Tokyo because they wanted to build trade relations. Mort then makes a joke about opening a chain of CABOT BURGERS in Japan. What is this Cabot Burgers? I haven’t heard of it. I need an establishing shot stat!
Floyd Bigelow went on the trip so Wanda handled the books. When Floyd returned, the pension accounts and short-term CD accounts were a freaking mess. And he thinks that Wanda was behind it and that she was embezzling funds! Oh by the way, here’s Floyd Bigelow. We also met him at the Christmas party earlier:
With absolutely no connection between Wanda and Charlie, Jess and Mort start to wonder if maybe the tape was left in Charlie’s car by mistake. And then they’re like hey, Beth had access to that room too. But Jess doesn’t think Beth is a murderer — which is weird because like everyone in that town is a murderer. Maybe Jess has rose colored glasses and that’s the whole reason she’s able to even live there. Maybe it’s genuinely shocking to her that people die on the regular in that town.
Anyway, Jess goes to the Light House Motel to see what’s up with that strange woman and it turns out that she is his sister! But also…he has a toddler..he’s a dad! He was afraid to tell Beth that he had a child out of wedlock. I mean. It really seems like this is something that you would mention before proposing…but…Jess can’t figure out why this would be grounds for blackmail since Charlie was going to have to mention the kid at some point anyway.
And that’s when Jess remembers that Wanda is colorblind. She calls down to the hardware store that Floyd owns and asks him to bring the master keys for the community center, so that they can access Wanda’s locker. Floyd heads to the community center with a revolver.
When Floyd starts to open the locker (early and without Jess), his eavesdropping assistant Amy confronts him and tells him that she framed Charlie. And that she’s the only one who knows the truth and she looooves him. THAT IS NOT THE CHRISTMAS SPIRIT. Anyway, Mort and Jess show up right at this moment. And in a true Murder, She Wrote anomaly, NO ONE DIES. And that, for Cabot Cove, is a Christmas miracle.
Very Special Holiday Lesson: If you’re colorblind and you’re going to leave a wrapped gift in someone’ s car — make sure to note the correct license plate.
P.S. In a very sweet moment, Jess gives Seth the toy train he always wanted as a child because they are in loooove.
And WAIT is that blond woman caroling with Mort ADELE???
Hello! We’re still a couple of days out from A Very Special Holiday Season, but I’ve got an early edition (addition, actually) for you! I am participating in You Knew My Name: The Bond Not Bond Blogathon with Remington Steele‘s Christmas episode, “Dance, Prancer, Donner and Steele.” The rules of the blogathon are that you pick an actor that played Bond but write about a non-Bond entry on his resume. So I picked Pierce Brosnan, of course.
Full disclosure: I have never in my life seen an episode of Remington Steele, but I must have seen it on I Love the 80’s or something because I do know the premise. For the unfamiliar, here’s a brief summary: a female private investigator, Laura, has her own agency but no one trusts her competency because misogyny. She invents a fake boss named Remington Steele and a former con artist, played by Pierce Brosnan, assumes his identity. Mystery-solving and flirtation ensues. For what it’s worth, Remington has a lot of low key Bond energy. (The show even prevented Brosnan from assuming the role as planned in The Living Daylights.)
In this episode, the agency is having an “open house” holiday party, but Pierce/Remington is moping in his office instead of partying because it’s 97 degrees on Christmas Eve. I assume we’re in like LA or something where maybe that’s normal? IDK I’m an east coaster, but 97 degrees on Christmas is my climate change nightmare, so I do understand the need to mope.
Anyway, the open house party is basically just like random office tenants and the vibe is awkward. There’s a podiatrist, an advertising agent, some man in a suit, and a plant lady — who can’t stay long. Also there’s no booze. There is, however, a scheduled Santa appearance…which is an odd choice for a party full of random business neighbors.
Unfortunately, Santa is two hours late. And…he also has a gun and is part of an entire series of Santa psychos named Dancer, Prancer, and Donner. This episode is like if The Taking of Pelham 123 and Die Hard had a sparsely-decorated, mid-rise office building baby. All these Santas are waiting for a fourth Santa named Blitzen. He’s the ringleader and also has the exit plan. Seems like you’d want to make sure the guy with the exit plan was there before you started the heist…but I’ve never heisted before so what do I know?
The Santas insist that Remington hand over the “hardware.” And Laura’s like sure I’ll go get you “the agency gun.” What??? I’m not pro-gun, but shouldn’t an agency of private investigators have more than one gun? Like if you’re going to have a gun, then why not have a 1:1 gun/investigator ratio. How are you sharing the agency gun in the field?? That’s a dangerous relay-race that I don’t even want to imagine. I can only hope she’s lying to hide the fact that there is more than one gun.
Luckily, agency employee Mildred (Doris Roberts) has a secret gun. She briefly looks like she’ll get control of the situation, but the Santas overpower her. Remington jumps through the throng of Santas and recovers the gun. Unfortunately, he can’t actually use it because he knows it is unloaded since he found the bullets in his office. OH MY GOD THERE GENUINELY IS ONLY ONE AGENCY GUN.
With this in mind, I would only recommend hiring Remington Steele if you need help with asset tracing or getting a telephoto lens shot of your cheating lover. For everything else, you’re probably going to want to go with Magnum, P.I. or Charlie’s Angels because all of those ladies know martial arts and would probably have already overpowered the Santas.
Okay, I might have sold these Santa’s short on the ruthlessness — they’re not exactly Hans Gruber — but they are planning on blowing up the building unless the owner pays a ransom. Suffice it to say the stakes of this are a lot higher than I originally thought.
Also turns out the Pelham 123 reference is meant to be explicit. Remington explains the whole plot of the movie to the other hostages and describes how the Santas are riffing on it.
Remington’s big plan is to get the podiatrist to fake going to the bathroom while actually setting a fire in there. Meanwhile, he tries to get one Santa, who has been expressing doubts about the hostage situation, to break. In the midst of this, the landlord and the cops show up.
The Santas allow Remington to speak with the authorities privately in the hall just outside the office’s glass door main entrance–wait seriously? NO WAY would they actually do that…but okay…Remington tells the cops to allow Blitzen through when he arrives. He’s too worried the other Santas will get spastic without him. And he’s right to worry, because while he tries to negotiate with the landlord for the hostage money, a whole kerfuffle happens in the office. Shots are fired. But thankfully no is hurt.
When Blitzen finally shows, the Santas are super relieved to see him. And in a plot twist I truly did not see coming — it isn’t really Blitzen. It’s the SANTA THE AGENCY HIRED and he is TRASHED. He is truly drunk as a skunk. That does explain the whole lateness thing.
Per Blitzen’s instructions, they pick the seemingly most unhinged hostage to transport the money: The Plant Lady. But she doesn’t come back with the money…so they go through her bag and find a recording device with Blitzen’s voice giving the instructions. It turns out SHE’S BLITZEN. Okay, that’s kinda cool and unexpected. It does feel like a bit of a plot hole that she was able to sneak off and play this tape into a 1980s satellite phone or whatever — without anyone noticing — but idk maybe she also employed the bathroom fake-out trick.
Plant Lady/Blitzen tries to make off with the money. She heads into a store room and changes into a cop costume (once again, undetected). But now the Santas are obviously pissed at being double crossed. Luckily, Doris Roberts saves the day with a hot pot of coffee to the face and a gun that presumably has ammunition.
Remington and Laura rush downstairs where they just announce their identities to the cops, who let them through what is supposed to be a sealed-off building. They hop on an unattended police motorcycle and chase Plant Lady–who is fleeing on another police motorcycle. Laura jumps off the back of their bike and onto the Plant Lady’s bike, causing her to crash into a Christmas Tree lot. Their fall is cushioned by all the fake snow and then Laura overpowers her to recover the cash.
Would i seek out more Remington Steele episodes? Probably not. But Pierce was dreamyyyy and I love Doris Roberts. I also like that the lady who supplied the office with plants was also a plant. Who doesn’t love a deep pun? All in all, not a bad watch.
To view the other blogathon participants and their entries, please click the image below:
Hello! Today is the 29th anniversary of this episode. And I’m low-key obsessed with it. Why, you ask? Because our friend, Jessica Fletcher, has been turned into a controversial comic strip character. And she’s a fox (which of course we already knew) but a literal fox in this case. Oh and Harvey Fierstein is in this episode. What I’m trying to say is, it’s perfect.
The fox is accusing NYPD officers of doing corrupt shit — so actually this comic strip could be a public good — but unfortunately Jessica isn’t involved in the comic strip and can’t verify the information. Of course, everyone thinks she’s behind it — I guess because she’s a writer — but she’s genuinely not involved. She sincerely asks a lieutenant if he’s stealing drugs from evidence and he just straight up doesn’t answer — which feels like a YES to me — but it’s MSW so he’s probably falsely accused.
It looks like Jessica Fox is also exposing a Wall Street scandal. And Jessica Fletcher will now be sued for libel (which makes noooo sense) along with the artist and comic strip syndicator.
With actual money on the line now, Jessica tracks down the artist, Mr. Hatter. And that’s how we finally get to see Angela and Harvey on the screen together!
That’s when Mr. Hatter explains that he didn’t draw the comic strips that appeared in the newspaper. And his syndicator cannot figure out how the artwork got switched. He shows Jess his real comic strip which involves Jessica Fox solving innocent little barnyard animal mysteries. It’s all quite wholesome (aside from the murder).
Anyway, Mr. Hatter agrees to kill off the Jessica Fox character, which would seem like the end of all this. Except then the lieutenant comes back to see Jess and shows her a blackmail letter. Some of the letters in the note were cut out of the Cabot Cove Gazette.
Jess finds the letter perplexing, but she explains that she hasn’t been in Cabot Cove for three weeks. Even more importantly, she was in Italy on the date the newspaper shown in the letter cutout was published. So she goes back to Mr. Hatter and blames him for everything — saying he could have purchased the paper from a stand at Grand Central that carries one-week old issues of Cabot Cove Gazette — which like yeah, right I’m sure it does…
But Mr. Hatter shows her the strange comic strip in the day’s paper and points out explicit stylistic differences between the printed copy and the versions he showed her in his studio. His whole team backs him up, stating that the printed copy is most definitely a forgery.
The whole thing explodes into a very public argument between Mr. Hatter, Jess, and the people who want to sue them. So Jess decides they should all sit down and try to figure out who has motive to print all this stuff in this dirty laundry sort of way. And Mr. Hatter is kinda like well, I do have a lot of enemies.
The next morning, Mr. Hatter’s letterist (I’m not sure the correct term for someone who draws letters in comic strip so I am going with letterist) heads to work at 3:45 am (evidently, he likes to get an early start) and is hit over the head by an unknown assailant. Hopefully, he’s knocked out and not dead, but I’m not sure because we cut to Jess interviewing a potential suspect.
This guy, Mr. Whiting, says that Mr. Hatter used to be his assistant and stole the idea for the comic strip from him. And then all of his artwork disappeared in a mysterious fire. He says Mr. Hatter is just trying to get attention/money for his work and urges her to sue him. And she’s like no, I’m trying to avoid lawsuits, thanks. Plus she doesn’t think Mr. Hatter would make his characters look bad because they mean so much to him. Kind of a thin argument. But she says it’s exactly how she feels about the characters in her books.
Unfortunately, we do get confirmation that the letterist is dead. The detective on the scene doesn’t notice the damaged award (that was totally the murder weapon) until Jess points it out.
At this point, the detective openely accuses literally everyone around her of the crime — including Jess! (To be fair, I’ve frequently wondered about Jess’s proximity to all these murders myself…)
Meanwhile, it finally occurs to Jess that she should look for the source of the information in the comics. This leads her to a tabloid writer (who has been lurking around this whole time and for some reason she never checked up on him until now). She accuses him of being involved in blackmail and he claims that his files were stolen.
This leads Jess back to Mr. Whiting who says he was too busy having an affair to kill anyone. And then Jess is abruptly like okay, cool so if it’s not you then I know who it is. This leads us back to the studio in the middle of the night.
Jess notices that a plant has been rotated and discovers that this was done to hide a bloody artist’s glove. So she calls every single person that the letterist worked for and found out that he wasn’t scheduled to be in the studio when he was — meaning the murder wasn’t premeditated. There’s also no evidence on the glove except for the letterist’s blood. So Jess replaces the glove and calls Mr. Hatter.
That night, she catches one of the artists going back to remove the evidence. He explains that the letterist caught him drawing the libelous comic strips, so he faked his suicide.
Jess then explains that she really had no evidence on him whatsoever, but luckily he took the “message for Mr. Hatter” as bait. And most importantly, I need to point out that the detective has been making the below face for like two solid minutes:
But you know what, maybe that is the correct reaction to whatever the hell just happened in this episode.
I now have a multi-part series on fictional book covers. I honestly didn’t see that coming. But I really like them! And actually this one is sort of like an off-shoot of my previous two. Mapleworth Murders is a parody of Murder, She Wrote (which you can watch for free on Roku) and features a lead character who imagines herself as the protagonist sleuth she writes about in her novellas — not unlike Tom Selleck’s character in Her Alibi.
Peppered throughout the series are book covers featuring the Mrs. Mapleworth mysteries.
Anytime our lead, Abigail (played by Paula Pell), finds herself in a jam, she imagines what Mrs. Mapleworth would do to get out of a bad situation. The fantasy never matches up with the reality and the results are hilarious.
There are also a lot of great guest stars from the greater NBC family, including multiple SNL alums, Terry Crewes, Jack McBrayer, and Paul Lieberstein.
Honestly, I think I need to figure out how to be a book cover designer. I think I’ve uncovered deep passion here.
Released in February of 1989, Her Alibi earned a whopping half-star rating from Roger Ebert and lead actress, Paulina Porizkova, was nominated for a Razzie.
“This movie is desperately bankrupt of imagination and wit, and Tom Selleck looks adrift in it. He plays a detective novelist, named Blackwood, who has run out of inspiration. So he goes to criminal court for fresh ideas, and there he falls instantly in love with Nina (Paulina Porizkova), a Romanian immigrant who is accused of murdering a young man with a pair of scissors. Blackwood disguises himself as a priest, smuggles himself into jail to meet Nina, and offers to supply her with an alibi: She can claim they were having an affair at his country home in Connecticut at the time of the crime.” — Roger Ebert in his review of Her Alibi (1989)
As with many negative things in life, the bad reviews are a problem of perspective. Much like I hated Footloose when I rented it from the video store as a thirteen year-old who took all older teenagers very seriously, I loved the movie seven years later when I caught it on television and realized it was hilarious and metaphorical in all the best ways possible. It was also an early sign of a doomed relationship when the guy I was dating at the time negged me for loving it! Pro-tip, only date people who graciously give you the space to love campy things!
Okay, back to Her Alibi. We’re going to approach this from the perspective of literally everything is a joke whether or not the movie is in on it. This starts with the opening credits, which has some Clue-worthy theme music. It also features a lot of fake book titles. If you regularly read this blog, you know I’m already a sucker for that. More importantly, the book titles let you in on a very important aspect of this movie: it isn’t take itself that seriously.
Much of the narration in this film comes from Tom Selleck’s character writing his latest novel in a detective series. The titular detective is “Peter Swift,” reminiscent of Tom Swift from the same syndicate that brought you Nancy Drew and The Hard Boys. These are airport novels with corny titles. The cover that features a football helmet bears the title “The Dying Position.” The one with a theater setting is called “Looks Like Curtains.” My personal favorite features a stained glass window of a nun with a giant syringe in the foreground. It’s called “The Dying Habit.” You get the picture.
The film opens with a murder in a New York City apartment building. The only leads are that the victim was a student whose downstairs neighbor heard an argument in a “weird language.” Meanwhile, Phil (Tom Selleck) meets with his editor (William Daniels a.k.a. Mr. Feeny) to discuss his four-year long writing dry spell. Shortly thereafter, Phil heads to court where he sits with a group of other writers, eavesdropping on arraignments for inspiration.
When Nina (Paulina Porizkova) enters the courtroom, Phil develops a crush (and a sudden rush of writing inspiration). There’s just one catch — remember that dead body from just a few minutes ago? They think Nina and a pair of nine-inch scissors are responsible.
Dressed as a priest, Phil visits Nina in jail and offers her an alibi. He will pretend to be her lover and she can come home with him to Connecticut. (They work out this deal while Phil shouts at her across the room with a correctional officer just on the other side of the door. Very stealth.) Understandably, Nina plans to ditch Phil as soon as she is released. Unfortunately, there are a whole bunch of thugs waiting for her as she leaves the jail, so she goes to Phil with Connecticut anyway.
Phil’s Connecticut home is a lovely old farmhouse with lots of vaulted ceilings and stone-facing. True to the promise he made in the jail, he gives Nina the guest room and doesn’t attempt to do anything creepy. He mostly just cooks poorly and writes his novel in his head.
The recurring joke of the movie is that Phil is fairly paranoid, who were it not for the power of lust would probably never take a risk at all. We see this paranoia frequently juxtaposed with Phil’s narration of Peter Swift’s daring exploits. As the night wears on, Phil becomes increasingly terrified of Nina, which is understandable given that she’s an accused murderer who throws a giant knife at his head — to kill a bug.
Isolated in Connecticut, Phil interprets almost everything Nina does as an attempt on his life. He’s so jumpy he falls into the pool while taking out the trash because he catches a glimpse of her through the window. She’s painting her face entirely white. Clearly murderous stuff. But who can’t relate to a(n) (un)healthy dose of paranoia these days?
One day, Nina rides her bike to a local shopping center. While there, she narrowly escapes the thugs from earlier and rushes home to Phil, who is just about to leave for the barber shop. She’s afraid to be alone, so she insists on cutting his hair herself. Phil reluctantly agrees to let her use the presumed murder weapon so close to his major arteries. And we get this sexy haircut scene in return:
Shortly thereafter, Phil teaches Nina how to use a bow and arrow — you can see his new level of trust after having survived the haircut. Unfortunately, shoots him in the ass. One harrowing drive to the hospital later and Phil is paranoid again.
Eventually, Phil works up the courage to ask Nina point blank if she committed the murder. She refuses to answer. He follows her downstairs and sees her brandishing a pair of scissors through a crack in the door. As Phil attempts to barricade himself in his room, Nina appears behind him with a rose. She was only using the scissors to remove the thorns.
We then learn that Phil’s been in a bit of a rut since his wife left him. And taking an attractive accused murderer home might be some kind of subconscious attempt at DIY exposure-response therapy. So does Phil finally trust Nina? He does until a bomb explodes behind him in the kitchen while Nina is a safe distance away in the pool.
Phil asks a writer friend to use her connections to research Nina’s past. He also begins listening in on her conversations. Unfortunately, the only thing Phil’s able to glean from his pocket Romanian dictionary is that Nina has mentioned something about a funeral.
In the next scene, Nina makes dinner for Phil’s entire family. She says it’s a Romanian custom where the youngest woman makes dinner for everyone and then takes a walk while they eat it. When Nina leaves for her walk, Phil gives a little portion of the food to the cat before the rest of the family sits down for dinner.
As it turns out, Nina’s walk consists of fleeing with a friend in a car. Meanwhile over dinner, Phil laughs with his family about all the times he thought Nina had tried to murder him. He then goes to the kitchen and finds the cat, dead. He returns to the table and announces that Nina poisoned them all, but the family thinks it’s another joke. The cat’s dead body quickly proves otherwise.
As the family heads to the hospital, Nina returns to the house so that she can tell Phil the truth about everything — which you may have guessed does not include poison. Alone with Phil’s laptop, Nina reads the novel he’s been writing.
Just as the family arrives home after having their stomachs pumped, a neighbor approaches and explains that his wife saw the cat get electrocuted outside and left its body by the door so as not to interrupt their dinner. Nina then confronts Phil for depicting her as a murderer in his new novel and leaves him for good.
Phil later learns from his contact that Nina’s family of famous acrobats has disappeared in the United States after trying to defect from Romania. It turns out the “funeral” from Nina’s phone call is The Funeral of Grimaldi.
Dressed as a clown, Phil finds Nina at the funeral. This must be sort of a Sandy/Danny at the carnival moment because they both instantaneously overcome their trust issues. They’re chased by the Romanian thugs but fight them off just in time for the lead detective to show up. And good news: Nina’s family’s asylum has been approved! Oh and that dead guy from earlier? He was trying to help them to defect and wasn’t as lucky as Nina and Phil when it came to escaping the thugs.
This movie is not quite suspense, not quite romantic comedy (though it’s probably trying to be both). Think of it as a TV movie version of Romancing the Stone. Whether or not you like this movie really comes down to whether or not you’ll get a laugh out of Phil’s corny narration because his novel truly is terrible. Personally, I find tight shots of Tom Selleck mixing a chocolate milk while his voice over says “Swift poured himself a bourbon” to be nothing short of hilarious.
This post is part of the Third Annual So Bad It’s Good Blogathon. For the full roster of posts please click here.
I participated in the December installment of #MurderSheDrank and it was a JOY. The 2021 series will feature episodes from Season 7, so little old me thought I would take a look ahead and see what’s in store. First of all, this season brings us into the 90’s, which I am quite excited about. Secondly, I think it may contain one of the most gloriously ridiculous plot descriptions I have ever seen with my own two eyes.
The official description on Peacock in innocuous enough: “A fan, posing as Jessica, is arrested and later murdered.” But if you’re wondering for what purpose this fan impersonated Jessica — it was to investigate a local dog show. After reading that, I immediately said to myself: “Oh I have to watch this as soon as humanly possible!”
Let me tell you, this episode did not disappoint. It features a Jess Fletcher fan club that meets around a giant framed photo of her and they all carry around little fake Jessica Fletcher ID Cards. Okay, I’m hearing how stalkery that sounds out of context. But they’re all old ladies! And they all live in a small town in Texas! And it’s 1990! Sadly, one of the fan club members does die in the process of investigating a crime as JB Fletcher. It’s one of the few times the show acknowledges that amateur sleuthing can be deadly.
But mostly it’s just super, super cute. Jess pretends to be a dog owner with a very bad fake Southern accent, which she then abruptly drops when she realizes she’s in-character with someone who has already met her as the real Jess Fletcher. It’s one of the few times I’ve ever seen her off her game. She’s also only able to solve the mystery with the help of her wannabe sleuth fan club. To be fair, the stress of having someone steal her identity and then die must have been a lot.
Jess also has to deal with the logistical nightmare of people thinking she’s dead. This involves a tense phone call with Seth back in Cabot Cove and a lot of canceled credit cards. And she has to use the author’s photo on the back of one of her mass-market paperback (purchased at a local drugstore) in order to prove her identity to the local authorities. And as an added bonus, Jethro from The Beverly Hillbillies and Edna from Laverne & Shirley are in the guest cast!
I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see any ridiculous dog show antics. I super wanted to see that. But that’s my only complaint! Another high point of this episode was that a dog was at one time the prime suspect in this murder-by-gunshot case. So. Classic.
Once JB solves the case…for some reason I feel like not spoiling this one for you…the super sleuth crowd hangs a giant photo of the dead former club member right next to the giant photo of JB. Enshrined in sleuth memoriam. God bless.
For those of you who want to join: This month’s Murder She Drank is tomorrow (Friday, January 15th) and features the first two episodes of Season 7. This includes season 7 episode 2, “Deadly Misunderstanding,” which I covered back in 2015 when I attempted to take on the arduous task of proving how Jessica Fletcher serial killed hundreds of people. Needless to say, JB Fletcher outsmarted me and my “Murder She Did” series didn’t last very long.
I’m going to ask you to engage in a little activity before you read this post. Hold an image of Murder, She Wrote in your mind and think of all the words you associate with the show. Here are some of the ones that come up for me: Cozy, gently-paced, feels like the inside of a leather bound book, less violent than an Agatha Christie novel, usually involves a murder but I still somehow feel like I’m drink a warm cup of tea — okay you get the picture. This, my friends, is none of those things. (If you want to watch along, Murder She Wrote is free on Peacock.) Are you ready? Let’s go.
1988’s “Snow White, Blood Red” feels like an aspiring writer went to the video store, rented The Lost Boys, decided Murder, She Wrote needed the same treatment, did a line of coke, wrote something on spec, and somehow that script ended up in the production pile for season 5, purely by accident.
In this episode, Jess is enjoying a ski vacation at the Sable Mountain Lodge courtesy of her nephew. While she waits for his arrival, she witnesses a lovers spat involving the owner of the lodge, a phone call with her “boyfriend”(Gunnar), and a very aggressive other man who snatches the phone from her hands.
Cut to the lodge bar where we meet Pamela. Let me pause here and mention how much I love her whole aesthetic. Pam is pissed because she signed a ski pro (omg you guys this is Gunnar from the telephone) on to endorse her company’s ski gear. However, she has just heard that he’s planning on not competing in the World Cup. Also she’s also heard he’s some kind of playboy. Wait, wait? Gunnar is the playboy??? The earlier scene made me think that the lodge owner was the player. To use an 80’s term: who’s zoomin’ who?
So the big drama continues to be Gunnar’s potential retirement. His coach confronts him in the gym and they get into it. Things even get a little physical, but everyone emerges unscathed (thus far). Meanwhile, Pamela continues to shop around for a better pro to rep her brand. She has dinner with another pro, Larry, and tries to convince him to sign with her even though Gunnar is still under contract.
While Pam tries to negotiate a new deal, Jessica arrives for dinner and cannot find a table because it is so crowded. This is 100% my experience of every single restaurant on a mountain during ski season. Jess ends up sharing a table with Ed, who is a detective from New York, and his wife, Sylvia. Dinner goes well. Everyone has a good time.
Cut to some night skiing where Gunnar is murdered by a crossbow. Yes, you read that correctly. Murdered by a crossbow ON MURDER SHE WROTE.
Honestly, my chief complaint about this show is that it can be a little too dull, so I’m really enjoying this change of pace and I truly want to see what happens. OH and also. There is a blizzard. And everyone at the lodge is now snowed in. So if you were the murderer and your plan was to kill Gunnar with a crossbow and then get the heck out of Dodge, you would be in some seriously deep shit right now.
Meanwhile, no one from the outside can reach the mountain to attend to Gunnar’s corpse! (This seems a little odd to me…I don’t know enough about inclement weather travel logistics to dispute it but…there was a murder…and you’re telling me they all just have to hang out with the body for a while????)
That is, in fact, exactly what they do. The lodge owner (I promise to learn her name before the end of this post) and her husband — not boyfriend — (whose name I also need to learn, sorry, sorry) enlist Jessica to help them with the dead man and obvious crime scene. At first, she resists…and that’s saying a lot for a woman who loves to get involved with murder whenever possible. But she’s like, no seriously you guys I’m a book writer who sometimes does some Nancy Drew stuff on the side, but I’m definitely not someone who could examine a body.
Cut to Jessica examining the body:
She is conducting this post-mortem examination with a gynecologist by the way. Being the only doctor on the entire mountain, he has been roped into helping. Meanwhile, Ed from dinner (who everyone thought had gone home) returns because they “ran into a snow bank the size of the Chrysler building,” which is the first of many annoying at best and offensive at worst statements in reference to Ed’s life in New York City.
Upon seeing the dead body, this dude promptly says, “Oh, beautiful. Well, in the South Bronx we learn to live with stuff like this. But here? How does it figure?” which is a genuinely awful thing to say. It’s especially shitty coming from someone who was presumably on the force during a number of high profile murders that happened right in the heart of midtown Manhattan around the time this episode was filmed. Did we learn to live with those too, Ed? Or do the rules only apply to the South Bronx?
But I guess it was better for tourism if the writers established the New Yorkiness of a character by denigrating a low income neighborhood where — this episode would have you believe — people get used to murder.
Nevertheless, Jessica tries to get Ed to take over the investigation…which like fine…he has a badge or whatever…ughhhhhhhh. But he refuses. And just in case you didn’t hate Ed before, wait until you hear his reason for not wanting to help: “If this was some punk pusher getting knifed under the the Deegan expressway, fine. But bows and arrows? I mean this is a little out of my league.”
In other words, Ed is a piece of shit.
Once Ed has made it abundantly clear that he is not capable of investigating rich, white people at a ski lodge, he finally agrees to help out as long as Jessica runs point. And you know what, she really should be in charge. She’s got a square head on her shoulders and she isn’t an insane piece of shit who thinks one murder victim is less worthy than another.
The cop and the gynecologist leave Jess alone with the body while she goes through his personal effects. In his pocket she finds a key to room 301. Shortly thereafter, the lodge owner gives her an urgent message that had been left for Gunnar that morning. It’s from a woman named Vicki and she has a Nevada area code. Jess calls the number and the man who answers the phone identifies the number as that of the “Tartaglia residence.” Jess asks for Vicki, but the man says she isn’t there and he doesn’t now when she will be back. By the way, he’s super irritated.
Jess takes the key to room 301 and starts poking around the room. The lodge owner’s boyfriend shows up and starts snooping while Jess is lying in wait. She confronts him with a lighter that belongs to his girlfriend, Anne. (The lodge owner’s name is Anne!) It’s obviously that’s what he’s there to retrieve. When Jess doesn’t hand it over immediately, he gets a little threatening. Dude seems unhinged, frankly. So she puts the lighter down on the end table where he can take it back without getting closer to her. She then moves closer to the hall door.
The husband softens up a bit after this, allowing Jess to get some key information out of him. Anne and he were engaged when he had an accident. Even though they did get married, he never felt that he was enough for her. But he swears that she was in the room for an hour after Gunnar left because he was staring down the hall watching the door like a creepy, stalker. I get that they’re married and she’s stepping out on him and so I’m judging a little less on the door staring…but it also doesn’t feel like that can go anywhere good.
Now we jump to a scene with a little light acoustic guitar concert at a table with a pitcher of beer. This appears to be some sort of memorial service for Gunnar. During the memorial, Larry gets upset that everyone is having a little too much fun and leaves mid-celebration of life. In the meantime, Jess starts up a conversation in the cafe with Pam. She complains to Jess about the contract situation. She even says she “could have killed him,” but she’s just being metaphorical. Or so she says.
Cut to a spooky gloved hand with a crossbow. I mean we’re getting zoomed in shots of the arrow tip with spooky-ass horror music. What is happening on Murder, She Wrote right now???
We cut from the crossbow to Larry and Pam working out in the gym. Larry is still complaining about the memorial service not being somber enough. He then leaves Pam alone in the gym where Gunnar’s drunk coach accuses her of trying to force Gunnar out of his endorsement contract. He says she was embarrassed by Gunnar’s womanizing and set out to sabotage him. He also accuses her of having something to do with the murder. He wrenches her wrist and says that he’d kill her if she wasn’t a woman. GEEZE. So many terrible people in this episode!
Pam heads into the locker room and finds some bloody workout clothes that look suspiciously like Larry’s. She enters the showers to look for a presumably injured Larry and holy crap honestly I have never seen something so graphic on this show as what she finds in that shower. There is a lot of blood and he’s been strung up over the shower head. Watch at your own risk:
I know you’re all upset and I’m here to comfort you with another photo of Pamela’s excellent fashion sense:
As if the shower horror wasn’t enough, this episode raises the stakes yet again. The phones don’t work! They can still call within the lodge because of a generator, but Anne says they are “totally isolated from the civilized world.” Ed orders the entire lodge searched from top to bottom for the crossbow. And Jess is like Ed, you idiot we’re not just going to find it lying around somewhere.
Ed says there’s something a little off about the Coach in his opinion. This is is the first thing Ed and I have agreed upon all night. While he investigates this theory, Jess and Anne’s husband borrow a CB radio in a guest’s car. They manage to make contact with the sheriff just long enough to report the two murders, but then the radio loses the signal.
Back at the lodge, Jess asks Mike (that’s Anne’s husband’s name!) why he and Anne invited all of their friends to the lodge that week…you know…cause now they’re all dying…He tells her they were hoping to drum up some business and nothing more. She notes two out of the four previous World Cup team members are now dead. Just then, Johnny (the only remaining living team member aside from Mike) stumbles into the room. He’s been shot by an arrow, but he cannot identify the culprit.
Jessica theorizes the killer is left handed based on the way Johnny was injured. However, she also posits that his wound might have been self-inflicted. She thinks he could be picking off other team member in order to secure his spot on the next World Cup team.
That night Jess is awakened by a phone call from Ed’s wife. She says that Ed received a mysterious phone call and left their room with his gun! So now Jess has to trudge down this giant staircase in the blizzard to look for him.
As she tries the doors of the ski shop, Ed almost shoots her. He’s there waiting to meet a man who called him and said he had information. While Ed and Jessica discuss that this situation could very easily be a trap, the killer set them in the sites of his crossbow. Luckily, he misses.
They see a man on a skimobile headed towards them. Ed shoots the person one the skimobile and he falls to the ground. With the unidentified assailant now down, Ed and Jess rush over to find out who the killer is. It turns out it’s…drum roll please…the coach!
But Jess isn’t so sure. She’s enlisted the gyno to extract the bullets from the coach’s body. She then meets Sylvia in the restaurant and inquires as to why Ed is in such a hurry to leave when he was part of the investigation. What hot shot cop wouldn’t want to brag to other cops? Ed’s wife said he just doesn’t want to fill out the paperwork…uh…okay.
When Ed walks in and says they have to wait for their fuel line to be repaired– I assume that’s Jess’s doing — she confronts him with the coach’s winter coat. Jess shows him that the coat only shows a bloodstain from one shot — meaning that the coach was already dead when the second bullet hit him. Jess thinks that Vicki’s husband sent Ed to kill Gunnar. Then Ed killed again to cover up his original crime by making it look like Gunnar was targeted for being on the World Cup team. She also thinks he’s pretending to be a cop…which would make sense with all the really on the nose stereotypes and the fact that he didn’t want to help investigate at all.
Jess then accuses Sylvia of helping Ed. After all, she was the one who lured Jess out of her room. And someone had to shoot the crossbow and start the skimobile. Also they were the only two people who even tried to leave the lodge before the roads were closed. Plus, when Jessica was double checking the crime scene, she noticed an internal phone next to sleigh bells in the car barn where the skimobiles are. And come to think of it, she is sure she heard sleigh bells in the background while speaking to Sylvia.
Very Special Bizzaro Lesson: If you’re an arrogant jackass, who tries to flee a crime scene, a lovely mystery author will ensnare you in a trap you never see coming. Is this my favorite episode of Murder, She Wrote ever??? I’m really liking the Murder, She Wrote bizzaro world. I liked the thriller/suspense vibe in terms of holding my attention. I also very much love that this dude who was so flagrantly a jackass right from the beginning gets knocked down a peg by Jessica when he thought he was pulling one over on her. Annnnnd in a bizzaro world, it’s not even bizarre that murder follows Jessica literally everywhere she goes.
If you’re still reading this (probably my longest post ever) thanks for sticking around! And also please check out Murder She Drank as they live tweet this episode on Friday, December 18th!
Finally, quick shout out to Joanna at Murder, She Watched. That photo of Ed & Jess talking about motive came from her post on the episode. She also has a beautiful cast of characters for your reference! (Way better than me forgetting everyone’s names.)
I’ve been cooking up a fun little end of the year celebration for this blog. In the midst of drafting one of my posts, I found this really great website called Murder, She Drank. They have printable bingo cards (fun whether or not you drink) and live tweet episodes twice a month. And it just so happened that I found them while drafting a post on one of their upcoming episodes “Snow White, Blood Red.” So if you want to have a little fun on Twitter this Friday, December 18th, here are the details: