Social distancing in Cabot Cove

Amazon, the enabler of numerous of my bad habits, has the first five seasons of Murder, She Wrote on Prime Video. A dear friend alerted me to its availability last week and, once again, I have been seduced by its formulaic charm. The show first came to my attention when I was about 10 years old. It was still in production at that time, and I spent the next seven years waiting each week for a new episode. I loved the quaint little seaside town of Cabot Cove, Maine, whose murder rate per capita was the highest in America from 1985 to 1996, where the show is set. The series follows Jessica Fletcher, a widowed, retired high school English teacher, whose nephew, Grady (an entire story arc unto himself), shares her draft murder-mystery manuscript with his then-girlfriend, a young up-and-comer at a renowned New York City publishing house. One thing leads to another and J. B. Fletcher becomes a best-selling author and celebrity. This transformation also leads to at least one person around her dying every week. With friends like that…

Ironically, I find Murder, She Wrote delightfully comforting. Like an Anglo-Catholic mass, it is ritualistic, following the same pattern each episode. There’s the opening scene in which a person is murdered in a poorly lit location by a shadowy figure that could be any of the characters we will soon meet. Often, the victim blurts out a won’t-make-sense-until-Jessica-reveals-the-killer-at-53-minutes-past-the-hour (accounting for commercials) clue. Then, there are the opening credits. During the first season, the initial sequence was painfully long, featuring much bicycle riding, jogging, and an excessive amount of full-arm waving. The first half of the show involves meeting the full cast of characters and having the wrong person accused of murder by the fumbling local constabulary. The second half of the show offers one or two moments where the killer slips up and reveals a couldn’t-know-it-unless-they-did-it clue, followed by Jessica finding an opportunity for a tête-à-tête with the murderer. The police are either on their way or lurking in the background as the perpetrator delivers their justification for the crime. About half the time, the suspect threatens Jessica for finding them out. After a where-CSI-got-the-idea-for-the-final-one-liner-before-the-credits quip, the frame freezes and the closing theme song plays.

Oddly enough, I think MSW is exactly what I need right now. After months of Jerk Brain-induced exile, isolating myself and withdrawing from the world, I am starting to come back to life. This transformation is taking place at the exact same time that, for public health and safety reasons, people around the globe are being urged to practice social distancing and self-quarantine. I’ve always thought I had bad timing and this turn of events just further proves it to me.

Right now, I find myself craving routine and habit. For so long, I’ve been living with lethargy and apathy. My little traditions, working out in the mornings with my bootcamp friends, setting aside time for reading and schoolwork, and cooking dinner with my husband, have been a struggle. Recently, I have the energy and interest in them again, but I need to keep things simple and regular.

And that’s what brings me back to Jessica Fletcher and the breezily familiar template of her weekly run-ins with the macabre. Yes, it’s predictable and repetitive, but it’s also established and comfortable. It’s strangely normal and, currently, that’s not a bad way to describe me.

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