Yaaaaay, a non-Indian review/recommendation! And I swear, this is so good that you will enjoy it even if you are all snobby and “I only want to watch Indian stuff”.
Let’s talk Angela Lansbury! She was raised by a single mother who fled England to escape an abusive partner. She went to work as a teenager in the same profession her mother had (acting). She divorced her first husband but remained friendly with him, and her second marriage lasted 54 years, to a man in the same profession as she but less successful. During her very long career, she was not only a film, TV, and stage actress, she was also a producer and business woman who controlled her own career with her husband’s support as co-parent and business partner. This is what a feminist looks like, she made her own choices and controlled her life in every way. She did not care what patriarchal society thought of her (divorced, working mother, executive with power over her own husband). But she also wore nice blouses and pantyhose and got her hair “done” every week. And she never used foul language, she didn’t talk about sex, she didn’t “burn bras” or march in rallies. She just quietly went about her life as though the world was fair and equal and ignored anything that said it wasn’t.
In the 1980s, Angela Lansbury became famous all of a sudden after years of steady work on film and stage for a TV role in the show Murder She Wrote. This was the golden age of episodic TV mysteries, really good plots, really good guest stars, really interesting settings, every single week. The concept for Murder She Wrote is a famous crime novelist who is pulled into investigating a real crime every week, usually in order to prove the innocence of a good friend who is wrongfully accused. One week she will be in Paris helping a high school friend achieve her dream of launching a fashion line and then clearing her name when her scuzzy French financial backer is killed. Next week she will be back in her small home town of Cabot Cove Maine solving the murder of the owner of the local shoe factory. After 5 years on the show, Lansbury renegotiated her contract and ended up as executive producer with total creative control. Even before that, she already had strong input into the script and general direction of the show. Especially her character, Jessica Fletcher.
Jessica Fletcher is a widow with no children who worked as an English teacher for years. She has a wide variety of very close female friendships with women ranging from college professors to business executives to fashion designers, some of them married and some of them single, most of them middle-aged or older. And Jessica Fletcher herself became a bestselling author of murder mysteries in her retirement, eventually a respected lecturer on criminology.
So here is a woman who experienced life both with and without a romantic partner and was almost equally happy either way. Who never had children and is no worse off for that, no less loving and wise. Who worked her whole life at jobs she took seriously and which she exceled at. And who is a faithful loyal friend to women all over the world. And yes, she also goes by her married name, loved her husband deeply, likes to cook, keeps a nice house, wears make-up and dresses properly, is always polite and says “please” and “thank you”, and all the other signs of a “nice” woman.
What’s wonderful about the show “Murder She Wrote” is that it approaches feminism as simply “women are interesting people”. The writers didn’t sit down and say “this episode will be about a successful cookie company executive who is being brought down by her dumb ex-husband and crooked employees because of The Patriarchy”. They said “our heroine is an intelligent interesting woman of a certain age, we just read an article about the female founder of a cookie company, that is the kind of person our heroine would be friends with. And the kind of problem the female founder of a cookie company would have is a lazy ex-husband and crooked employees”. It’s not about making a statement, it is simply about following a logical conclusion of a character.
I’ll put it another way. If you want to make a product that has a social message, there are two general common approaches. First is to show an idealized world. Something aspirational, something that makes the audience think “YES! We can DO IT!!!!” The alternative is to make folks angry, to show them all the flaws of the current world, make them think “we need to fix this!” Think like 9 to 5, the first half was all the flaws that make you angry, the second half was all the “YES! We can fix it!” solutions. But Murder She Wrote is unique, it found a third way. What Murder She Wrote does is show the world as it actually is, but force you to see the truth that is already there.
There are successful female crime authors, loads of them. And there are successful female executives and computer programmers and college professors and all kinds of things. This isn’t fiction, this isn’t a scary feminist statement, this is just showing nice middle-aged women quietly and competently going about their lives. If I am watching Murder She Wrote as a man, I am going to see all these nice women who talk and look and act like my mother or my aunt or my grandmother, and I am also going to see how they are very good at their jobs and often have to deal with men who dismiss them just because they are women. And I am going to identify with the “nice” men, the smart police officers who appreciate Jessica Fletcher and listen to her, or the supportive husband of the successful woman. If I am watching Murder She Wrote as a woman, I am going to see my life. I’m not out there marching for change necessarily, or being abused in some dramatic darkly lit way, but I am struggling to get that promotion at work because my boss doesn’t appreciate me the way he should, just like this week’s guest star, and if Jessica Fletcher encourages her to stand up for herself, I should stand up for myself too.
If you want to watch a mystery show that deals with spousal abuse, workplace harassment, lazy husbands, unappreciative bosses, and shows you how you can stand up to all that with intelligence and fearlessness and perfect hair, watch Murder She Wrote.
Also, the mysteries are pretty dang good!!!!
Okay, that’s all the stuff to sell you on the show if you haven’t seen it. Now, for those of you who have seen it, what was up with Jessica and Seth? Were they sleeping together or just good friends? And if they were sleeping together, was it exclusive or was she also having flings with Leslie Nielsen, Red Buttons, etc.?