This is the first of the “bookend” episodes of the show, which means that it’s meant to be about one of J. B. Fletcher’s latest novels. Jessica occasionally appears on screen to narrate the episode, and while the episode isn’t about her, she still manages to deliver some great one-liners!
“Have you ever tried to argue with a computer? It’s like trying to talk sense to Amos Tupper once he’s made up his mind about something.”
Just the facts ma’am:
The basics of the featured mystery are…
- The victim was… a music professor at a southern California university!
- killed by… his long-suffering wife! (highlight space to reveal answer)
- in… his office on campus!
- with… a tuning fork!
- because… he was a
douchebag!…no, that’s right, it was pretty much because he was a douchebag. (And also a plagiarist.)
This episode features a couple big-name stars:
Karen Grassle (a.k.a. Caroline Ingalls, ma from Little House on the Prairie) plays the victim’s wife.
And Shaun Cassidy, singer and former Hardy Boys actor, plays Chad Singer (ha! get it? “singer”?), the law student that solves the crime.
There are also several familiar faces for FletcherFans:
Herb Edelman appeared in a total of 10 Murder, She Wrote episodes. This is his third appearance as a random character (in this case a Broadway producer), wearing what I can only imagine is a leftover costume from a Sherlock Holmes drama. After this he will come back to continuously play NYPD Lieutenant Artie Gelber.
Alexander Folk plays campus security chief, Mr. Hargrove. He has appeared in a total of seven Murder, She Wrote episodes, each time in a minor role. This is the only one in which he has a name.
There were also a few actors who had appeared in a handful of episodes:
- George Grizzard (Prof. Tyler Stoneham, the victim), and Tom Hallick (Vice Chancellor Simon), each appeared in two other episodes.
- Jennifer Holmes (Reagan Miller the lyricist) , Rene Auberjonois (Prof. Papasian), and Karen Grassle (Mrs. Stoneham), each appear in one other episode.
Danny Young, who played the school newspaper editor, gets a mention purely for sporting that spectacular mustache. I am amazed at the depiction of undergrads on TV.
Speaking of undergrads on TV… Here’s Dinah Manoff (whom you may know from Empty Nest, the Golden Girls spin-off) illustrating what J.B. Fletcher thinks undergrads do in their free time. Dinah Manoff also had the honour of delivering the most unrealistic bit of dialogue in the entire show: “You know, I’m just a struggling would-be social worker…”, which was said to her on-screen boyfriend, who presumably is aware of that fact.
I quite like this episode, even though “bookend” episodes tend to get a bad rap from most FletcherFans. But I think Jess’s narration is what really makes the episode great. Plus, it ends with a satisfying Murder She Wrote-esque ending: a reconstruction of the crime.
What?! No! No I didn’t. Don’t look so smug, Jess. Why don’t you stop making me feel dumb and instead go back to “noodling” with the idea where the two main characters travel to Mississippi and run into a defrocked priest and a professional wrestler? I’d love to hear more about that!
Edit May 18th 2021: Thanks to Sylvia Morris in the Jessica Fletcher-Murder She Wrote Facebook group for pointing out that the plot of this episode very closely follows the plot of the Perry Mason episode “The Case of the Cheating Chancellor”.