Although the show ended back in 1996, Murder, She Wrote has developed a cultural cachet like few other TV programmes. After being exposed to seemingly endless repeats in the decades since, some viewers have even become hardcore fans of this cosy murder series. However, I must confess that I’d never seen an episode all the way through until watching Solve-Along-A-Murder-She-Wrote. This interactive viewing party event is hosted by Tim Benzies, an amiable Australian and one of the aforementioned hardcore fans, who really does know a thing or two about protagonist Jessica Fletcher. He's now transformed his love for the camp retro series into a lighthearted two hours of entertainment that both die-hard devotees and Cabot Cove novices will enjoy.
In an era of binge watching high quality content, it’s refreshing to take a deep dive into a single episode of a show that has become omnipresent through its sheer innocuousness. You get to learn about the guest stars, alongside interesting nuggets about the series production. If that makes the experience sound a little too academic then don’t worry: it is also reassuringly silly. Get ready to gasp, boo, and squeal more than you would at a pantomime as you simultaneously wave your paddle prop to indicate your suspicions.
Benzies as host is the secret sauce in what could otherwise be a tired rerun. His genuine love and enthusiasm for the programme shines through, whether in his carefully researched asides, or increasingly committed attempts at Jessica Fletcher cosplay. Thankfully, he doesn’t allow this adoration to turn into reverence, and he is more than willing to poke fun at the characters’ overly expressive reactions, heavy handed attempts at plot exposition, and sub-Hollywood scores. His good natured - and occasionally rude - humour had the audience in stitches throughout.
The combination of regular pauses for distractions, discussions and games, and the unlikely happenings on screen, meant that it occasionally became a little hard to follow who was who in the episode. In addition, although the audience was respectful, in a sold out Komedia it might have been preferable to have subtitles on screen.
The fandom has now gone full circle, as Benzies has clearly begun to develop a fervent fanbase of his own. Solve-Along-A might already be too knowing to truly become a cult hit, but it’s easy to see how groups of friends would attend time and time again, just as you could get sucked into watching episode after episode of Murder, She Wrote. Benzies tries not to bring the same episode to the same venue twice, and with 264 episodes he clearly has some way to go before exhausting all of the possibilities, promising a bright future for this format.
Although we all might have binged too much TV over the past couple of years, the camaraderie of a live audience makes this experience a solve-along, sing-along hit.