Murder, She Wrote: The Complete Ninth Season
Directed by Anthony Shaw et al
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 1018 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo English
MSRP: $ 49.98
Release Date: February 17, 2009
Review Date: February 13, 2009
By its ninth season, CBS’ Murder, She Wrote had become a Sunday night perennial. Constantly a top ten show (it finished the season as the fifth most popular show on network television), it was as familiar and comfortable as a pair of old slippers. Viewers tuning in to this show were assured there wouldn’t be much variation from its tried-and-true formula: a person of interest (sometimes evil, sometimes not) finds a coterie of people at odds with him for a variety of reasons. The person ends up dead, and mystery writer Jessica Fletcher (sometimes an acquaintance of the deceased, sometimes just a bystander) finds a way to begin her own investigation of the murder. Though in most instances the clues are scattered around the episode and allow the viewer to sleuth along with Jessica trying to race ahead of her to the final solution, occasionally the writing gets sloppy and not enough information is shown or spoken to allow the viewer to solve the crime himself. These occasional lapses are really the only thing that sets apart certain episodes in the ninth season from those of earlier, more consistently penned episodes.
Angela Lansbury earned a fourth Golden Globe and a ninth Emmy nomination for her performance as Jessica Fletcher during this season. She had, by this time, also become ensconced as the program’s executive producer. With such power came a commitment for her to star in every episode. Long gone were those seasons when sometimes half of the episodes featured “guest detectives,” among the dullest and most uninteresting of the show’s history. Lansbury’s natural ebullience and tremendous sense of purpose gave a spring to the stories that was always woefully missed during her absences. By the ninth season, Jessica Fletcher is an internationally renowned author, lecturer, and educator, and her celebrity opens many doors that would have been impossible for her to traverse during the show’s first couple of seasons. With that recognition also came world travel (though only the show’s second unit ever went globe-hopping. Lansbury’s scenes were mostly filmed on Universal’s soundstages and backlot) with only a mere handful of cases occurring in Jessica’s hometown Cabot Cove, Maine. Otherwise, she’s in her spiffy New York apartment or globetrotting from Milan to San Francisco always ready to poke around crime scenes and lend a hand with investigations, sometimes with and often without police supervision or encouragement.
Though being away from Cabot Cove means we don’t see all that much of Dr. Seth Hazlitt (William Windom) and Sheriff Mort Metzger (Ron Masak), the show was known for its multifaceted guest star roster. Among the famous recruited to enhance season nine’s episodes were Steve Forrest, Graham Greene, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Mariette Hartley, Len Cariou (in his recurring role as MI-6 agent Michael Hagerty), James Shigeta, Louise Latham, John Rubenstein, Michael E. Knight, Diane Baker, Amy Brenneman, Ken Swofford, Larry Wilcox, Michael Tolan, Richard Beymer, Edd Byrnes, Keene Curtis, Julie Adams (in her recurring role as Eve Simpson), Bradford Dillman, Dennis Christopher, Laurence Luckinbill, Sheila MacRae, Edward Winter, Neil Patrick Harris, Beth Howland, Don Stroud, Hope Lange, Evelyn Keyes, Michael Beck, Chad Everett, Gregg Henry, Margot Kidder, David Soul, Cynthia Nixon, John Gabriel, Sally Kellerman, Gregory Sierra, Lindsay Crouse, Harry Guardino, Penny Fuller, Raymond Cruz, Cesar Romero, Phyllis Thaxter, Joe Bologna, Herb Edelman (in two episodes), Ken Howard, George Hearn, Harvey Fierstein, George Firth, Patrick Macnee, Jon Cypher, Lee Meriweather, Keith Michell (in his recurring role as Dennis Stanton), Jane Withers, Monte Markham, Carroll Baker, and William Katt.
Here’s the list of season nine’s twenty-two episodes contained on five discs:
1 - Murder in Milan
2 - Family Secrets
3 - The Mole
4 - The Wind Around the Tower
5 - The Dead File
6 - Night of the Coyote
7 - Sugar & Spice, Malice & Vice
8 - The Classic Murder
9 - A Christmas Secret
10 - The Sound of Murder
11 - Final Curtain
12 - Double Jeopardy
13 - Dead Eye
14 - Killer Radio
15 - The Petrified Florist (twist ending makes it my favorite of the season)
16 - Threshold of Fear
17 - The Big Kill
18 - Dead to Rights
19 - Lone Witness
20 - Ship of Thieves
21 - The Survivor
22 - Love’s Deadly Desire
The program’s 1.33:1 original aspect ratio is faithfully retained in these DVD transfers. The quality of the image, sad to say, is erratic. Some episodes look very good, very fresh with good color, fine sharpness, and excellent black levels. Others seem softer, more washed out with a drab look. Almost all of the episodes feature dust specks and occasional debris or slight white scratches. Each episode has been divided into 4 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo track diverts the music to the front stage right and left channels leaving all of the dialog and sound effects in the center channel. It’s an adequate sound design and typical of its era but ADR is often painfully obvious and takes the listener right out of the story.
Apart from previews of Columbo, 30 Rock, Monk, Friday Night Lights, House, The Office, Life, Quantum Leap, and Northern Exposure, there are no bonus features.
Murder She Wrote may be a highly formulaic program, but the mysteries are often involving, and the number of guest stars employed by the show is second to none. It’s disappointing there are no bonus featurettes at all in this ninth season box, but fans will welcome having another box set of the long-running show to peruse and enjoy.