This will doubtless be the least surprising entry on my still-not-keenly-anticipated list, because this poor man (kind of like Cranston) had a whole other television career before the second television career that launched his movie career. I speak, of course, of the Facts of Life-gracing, Roseanne-enhancing George Clooney—or "Kip Howard," as nobody calls him despite the fact that that was his name in the Murder She Wrote episode "No Laughing Murder" (1987).
But when else in his varied, storied career has he appeared in a totally original reimagining of Romeo and Juliet? (Totally original in that no one else before or since has thought of replacing Montague with Buddy Hackett.)
He and his girlfriend (played by a woman likely so overwhelmed by George's audacious pairing of plaid shirt and taupe raincoat that she soon after retired from acting) are completely in love, but their fathers (one is Buddy Hackett, the other Steve Lawrence) are comedians who were once partners but are now estranged...and someone is killed...and Jessica gazes piercingly at things...and the murderer confesses after being confronted by the kind of evidence that would absolutely hold up in court...and the warring comedians are reconciled...and George tells everyone that in the years to come he will become only more handsome and successful...and Angela Lansbury hisses "you handsome, smirking son of a bitch—I was in Gypsy!"
And then in real life George left to shoot an episode of The Golden Girls.
I was not planning to include this person in my list of the awesomest people ever to appear on Murder She Wrote, but I just watched his episode again, and to overlook it would be to do a great disservice to all hour-long mystery shows that dealt with the possibilities of virtual reality in the '90s.
So in "A Virtual Murder" (1993), Jessica, who is obviously just the kind of author every teen boy wants writing video games, goes to Silicon Valley at the behest of a Cabot Cove wunderkind programmer to write what is obviously just the kind of video game a company would develop in order to exploit the possibilities of a ground-breaking technology: "A Killing at Hastings Rock."
When you try to think of the kind of actor with the credibility and hair to play the role of project manager for this game, I'll bet only one name springs to mind: Sorbo.
You can tell he's not Hercules here because he's wearing glasses and standing next to Angela Lansbury.
Sorbo's undeniable all-round awesomeness has deadly consequences, though, when a lady programmer (I'm pretty sure she was a programmer) kills an unpleasant computer genius for love of him.
This is what a message made by an unpleasant computer genius and then hidden inside a video game looks like, by the way:
And this is what Jessica Fletcher looks like using the technology of the future:
Really, I suppose it's the episode as a whole I have great affection for and not Kevin Sorbo in particular (although both his voice and massive chest are incredibly soothing).
It's impossible not to have great affection for any show that features a character saying (after Jessica has sensibly and plausibly suggested removing a character from the game in order to avoid a "cascade" of mysterious computer-y glitches poised to delay the launch), "Elegant...a literary solution to a binary problem."
I tried hard to think of a snappy title. And that's why I got. Damn it—that's what I got.
I've been thinking about my friend Tim a great deal this week because he's had about the worst week a person can have. He is also literally the only person in the world with whom I have ever had a serious discussion about how the same actors regularly appeared on both Star Trek: TNG and Murder, She Wrote. So today seemed like a fine day to kick off my long-planned and not-at-all-awaited list of my top five favourite least-appropriate Murder, She Wrote guest stars of all time...
5. Bryan Cranston
Bryan Cranston damn well deserves all the success he now has, seeing as how he spent the 80s and 90s in the goddamn network tv trenches. CHIPs. Airwolf. Matlock. Walker, Texas Ranger. And, inevitably, Murder, She Wrote. THREE TOTALLY DIFFERENT TIMES.
First there was...
"Menace, Anyone?" (1986)
Bryan Cranston is engaged to a professional tennis player (played by Linda Hamilton) and is tragically killed when her car explodes. Is Linda Hamilton insane? Why does she think her dead sister is still alive? And why is a mystery writer the guest of honour at a tennis tournament?
"Good-bye Charlie" (1990)
Bryan Cranston is involved in an attempt to falsely identify a dead body. We will return to this one in a later post, because in it he is tragically upstaged by the ludicrousness of one of his co-stars.
"Something Foul in Flappieville" (1996)
I confronted and was defeated by the prospect of summarizing the plot of this particular episode. I decided it was simply un-summarizable, but then found this glorious attempt on imdb:
All is not well on the set of a children's puppet show. Jessica is there because the shows latest puppet character, Inspector LeChat, is based on a character from one of her novels. Jessica is delighted at the idea and the general consensus is that the new puppet will likely get its own show. The show's creator, Darren Crosley, finds himself being pulled in a number of opposing direction however. Parker Cranston feels the show is losing its edge and its audience and let's it be known that it may be canceled altogether. What he really wants is to line his pockets. One of the producers thinks his wife may be having an affair while those in the creative department are fighting over credit for creating the new puppet. When a security guard is killed and someone breaks into the locked case where the new puppet design is being kept, it's up to Jessica to find the murderer.
I'm probably fondest of this Cranston episode, because it so perfectly captured the spirit of the first Clinton administration.
Also, "Parker Cranston" is actually Bryan Cranston playing someone called Parker Foreman.