Also: see the first trailer for the Quibi comedy, which launches Aug. 10.

By Dan Snierson
August 04, 2020 at 01:00 PM EDT
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Paula Pell has murder on the brain.

Actually, Murder, She Wrote, to be more specific. The A.P. Bio standout, Wine Country scene-stealer, and legendary Saturday Night Live writer — yep! all the same person! — furrows her brow quizzically and makes all sorts of deductions in Mapleworth Murders, a quirky Quibi comedy that debuts Aug. 10. The new short-form streamer got off to a rough start, but now it's ready to unleash holy Pell on you. In her most dangerous role yet, the writer-actress stars as the Jessica Fletcher-esque crime novella-ist turned amateur sleuth Abigail Mapleworth, who aims to solve murders in the not-so-sleepy town of Mapleworth while she's (somewhat) kept in line by Heidi (Hayley Magnus), her niece and partner in crime-solving. Abigail is proper, she's spicy, she's... an absurdist extrapolation of a treasured procedural heroine.

A long-time devotee of Murder, She Wrote, Pell was over the Cabot Cove, Maine moon when 30 Rock alum John Lutz [who co-created Mapleworth with Pell] reached out with a bold proposition. "John called me one day and he was like, 'I have an idea for a show," says Pell, whose A.P. Bio moves to Peacock for season 3 on Sept. 3. "I wanted to see if you wanted to be in it and/or write it with me. It would be Murder, She Wrote, but you would be like Jessica Fletcher, but you're gay. And I was like, 'When? And where? And immediately!'"

Indeed, Pell and Lutz (who shares the screen with her as a highly unskilled detective) re-binged the mid-'80s-to-mid-'90s CBS drama starring Angela Lansbury as the folksy-yet-formidable Jessica Fletcher. "We would laugh so hard at how Jessica was so warm in so many ways, but she also was constantly judging — like, she had very big eyes and eyebrows up and she was always discerning," she says. "Because you do have to be judgmental to solve a murder. You have to be cynical and not believe the bullshit people are feeding you. So she just always had this look." Pell also was tickled by the relaxed pace of the hourlong murder mystery. "They'd be in a scene in a nightclub and the [waiter] would be like, 'What would you like this evening?'" she says. "And then she'd just be looking at the menu for a whole 15 seconds and be like, 'I think I would like a white wine.' And then she would look at her niece — because she’s always with some niece; every single episode she has a different niece — and she's like, "What would you like?" And then they're looking and it's like, 'Is his part of the crime or the solving?' No, this is just scene work. We would laugh so hard at how leisurely it was."

Of course, given Quibi's format, Mapleworth cut to the chase after the criminal a little faster in the 11-episode first season. ("We had to be like “Murder!” in the first few minutes!") You can check out the first Mapleworth trailer in the video above — which is replete with famous faces — and fully assess her crime-solving skills for yourself next week. But you might want to think twice about doing that. Here, in a shocking, fourth-act twist, Pell offers you nine reasons NOT to watch her show.

Credit: Darren Michaels, SMPSP / Courtesy of Quibi

1. This is sheer subversion of a beloved television institution! “If you hated Murder, She Wrote and don’t still watch it while eating cereal out of a salad spinner, then avert your eyes from our comedy homage. Also call a doctor, because you’re dead inside.”

2. Beware of unexpected violence! “If you’re a fan of boring, traditional TV murders — a ’70s pistol shot to the tuxedo — you should stream elsewhere. There will be death by lunch meat and murder by merlot.”

3. Look out for line-crossing language! "If listening to a prim spinster with 'irregular pubic borders' yell out phrases like 'pain in the pucker hole' and 'put a stick in my prune shoot and call me street corn' causes you to roll your eyes like an antique baby doll, then go watch a show with cute young people saying things like 'totally' or 'off the chain.' They’re still staying that, right?"

4. There are simply too many fam0us guest stars! “If you have no interest in watching comedy heroes like Tina Fey, Andy Samberg, Nicole Byer, J.B. Smoove, Patton Oswalt, and Fred Armisen pop up as odd-AF suspects or victims in bats--- murders, this will disappoint, so KINDLY BE ON YOUR WAY. But I should mention: Maya Rudolph is in a creepy singing group and breaks her vulva on a stripper pole during a memorial service.”

5. The detective work is nothing short of dunderheaded! “If you loved John Lutz on 30 Rock but don’t want to see him be insanely funny as a deputy with the investigative acumen of a potato skin, I get it. Some people like to deny themselves joy and laughter. It’s a thing.”

6. These butchers are out of control! "If you don’t wish to see Tim Meadows and Chris Parnell as rival butchers fighting over the heft of their brats, then let’s just agree to disagree and we'll release your ticket."

7. It's utter craziness! "If you turn your nose up and deeply judge Abigail’s pronunciations such as marder, koocumber, and Amazyn, then don't let the door hit you square in the buddocks on your way out."

8. Expect expectorate! "If you find it rude to watch people blast a smiling Jack McBrayer with spit takes, this is not for you. We get it. Ask the valet for your keys and get the f--- out."

9. Shield your eyes from the fleeting, flaunting nudity! “If you’re not a fan of brief but tasteful nudity of an elderly leading lady, run like a cheetah looking for a bathroom or you may glimpse Abigail’s (my) perfect bosom. P.S. There’s a subplot about crab penises. But since you won’t be watching, I don’t want to get emotionally invested with you.”

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