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Murder, She Wrote: The Complete First Season

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We gave it a B

Before she was a best-selling writer and small-town sleuth solving mysteries on a weekly basis, Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury, who received 12 Emmy nominations for her plucky portrayal) was a substitute English teacher kicking around the coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine. These initial 21 episodes of Murder, She Wrote are chock-full of charm. Even though the dialogue can be hilariously heavy-handed (on a hurricane: ”Real deadly lady”) and studded with mixed metaphors (to Jessica: ”You’re a very shrewd cookie but you’re barking up the wrong tree”), the plot twists are delightful and the cavalcade of guest stars can’t be beat: A pre-Law & Order Jerry Orbach first has his way with a wisecrack as a wry PI in the episode ”Tough Guys Don’t Die” (and got his own short-lived spin-off, The Law and Harry McGraw); Bert Convy plays a crooked composer in the TV-movie pilot, ”The Murder of Sherlock Holmes”; and Vivian Blaine and Lorna Luft are a dynamic mother-daughter talent team in ”Broadway Malady.” Also keep an eye peeled for Andy Garcia (as a mugger in ”Sherlock Holmes”) and Joaquin Phoenix, who — billed as Leaf Phoenix — appears as Jessica’s nephew in ”We’re Off to Kill the Wizard.” EXTRAS Where are they? That’s the real mystery.