Monday, April 5, 2021

Murder, She Wrote Monday: Episodes 3-1 and 3-2: Death Stalks the Big Top

My antennae go up whenever an hourlong TV show has a two-parter. Sometimes it leads to a gem, but often it means stretching out a single-episode with filler. Sometimes a radical change in the show's premise or an expansion of the milieu warrants more time--we will see an example later this season--but does "Jessica goes to the circus" really need a two-parter?

The short answer is no, but "Death Stalks the Big Top" is a fun outing nonetheless. It doesn't really take advantage of the traveling circus theme, though, even with the extra running time, and here's one big waste: How in the world do you have BOTNS fave Greg Evigan as a guest star and not have him sing?

The episode has a bizarre structure: We start in Washington D.C. as Jessica arrives in town for the wedding of her niece (a young Courtney Cox). On a flimsy pretext, Jessica flies right back out of there to track down a relative (this is all on late hubby Frank's side)  presumed dead. I think she just wants to get away from her niece's snooty, annoying family, but Jessica has a mission that takes her into the world of the circus and of course gets her involved with a murder and an obnoxious small-town D.A. (Ronny "No relation to Courtney" Cox).

The main guest star is Jackie Cooper, who is likable enough and gets some showcase scenes.  The circus is really more like a carnival, and we are supposed to think of them as tight-knit carnies who don't like outsiders. There is some family intrigue, an annoying kid, and MURDER!

Here is the best reason to see this episode: In order to get a foothold in the closed-off circus community, Jessica "goes undercover" as a local general store owner. To get in character, she dons outlandish clothes and some kind of Southern accent. It works--both to get an "in" and to double me up with laughter. Even before season 3, my better half and I enjoyed joking about Jessica's endless array of nieces and nephews, so we had a good laugh about that, but nothing tops that glorious scene.

I haven't mentioned guests Marty Balsam, Florence Henderson, and Laraine Day, who seem underused even in a two-parter, but Gregg Henry has a nice juicy part as one of the local law enforcers. Did this need to be a two-parter? No, it didn't, but it's entertaining enough even if lacking the showcase Evigan performance for which you keep waiting.

Next time on Murder, She Wrote Monday: William "Seth" Windom gets a run for his "That guy" money, and one of my favorite old-school actors makes a surprise appearance.

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