The characters of the TV series, the ones that lived in a city where I wanted to live, who had wardrobes that didn’t look completely like a four-year-old high on Cheesy Puffs had sketched them up, and who were allowed to put down the penises and let some decent one-liners pass through their hi-shine lips from time to time, are long gone. The cutout dollies that totter through the films are turgid, unwatchable, sick-making puppets.
Literally sick-making. When I was watching the first one in the cinema – purely for the purpose of patronising my sister afterwards, I assure you – a girl actually vomited. Right on the floor two rows over. She and her friends left before the lights went up and the cleaner who came in as the credits rolled eyed us all with suspicion when she found the mess. I don’t blame her – we all looked pretty green around the gills after being forced to eat crap for nigh-on two hours.
I guess I was always ruined for SATC though because I’ve known what my dream lifestyle would be since I was 10 years old and came to know one Jessica Beatrice Fletcher. I’ve been recently reminding myself of what I should be aiming for in about 30 years’ time because RTE One are showing re-runs of Murder, She Wrote as a mid-afternoon delight.
They don’t make daytime TV heroines like crime-novelist/murder-mystery-sleuth JB Fletcher. I can now appreciate how impressive it was at all that an older female actress could anchor such a huge TV series in the 1980s.
But back then, I didn’t care about that. All I knew was that this was a dame whose life I wanted. How amazing was she? Here was a pensionable woman jogging – actually jogging – in the opening credits. This was revolutionary to me because the most exercise old ladies I knew got seemed to be picking up dropped stitches in their knitting.
If she wasn’t cycling around Cabot Cove solving localised murders and tapping away in a disciplined fashion on her typewriter in her nicely-appointed study (She had an actual study! With bookshelves!) she was jetsetting off on some book tour, all expenses paid. This was a woman who was earning enough money from her own talent to be put up at the Plaza.
It hadn’t been easy for Jess, we knew that. We got a nod from her androgynous pen name, JB Fletcher, that she had to be smart to make it in the macho world of crimewriting. As far as I was concerned, that just put her on a par with George Eliot. (I liked Silas Marner. I was a strange child.)
She was also a widow but she wasn’t going to wallow in it. She was out there doing her thing. I admired how easy she was in any social situation, from gutting fish with Amos at home in C.C. to gently keeping leery old millionaires at arms’ length on her many business trips to the metropolis.
This was also a woman who had genuinely platonic male friends in Dr Seth and Sheriff Amos. Jess didn’t play coy games. She liked men but she knew she was absolutely their equal (although secretly, we knew she was more astute and clued-in than them). Jess had friends everywhere – and they were friends with country club memberships and penthouse suites at her disposal.
You or I might be flustered by this kind of social whirl but Jessica was a smart packer. She did city-casual well. Neat crew-neck sweaters, crisp cotton shirts – never blouses, mind – with the cuffs nattily folded back, sharply tailored tweed slacks. But Mrs F. she could pull sophisticated glamour out of the bag. Dinner at the Bosmanian Ambassador’s residence? No problemo; check out Jessica’s night-sky blue silk skirt suit. Charity function with the Guggenheims? Certainly, just give her a moment in her hotel suite to slip into a smart black batwing frock.
Of course the show was formulaic, and she always got her murderous man or woman. But it was the way she moved through the plot, self-sufficient but friendly, wealthy but not complacent about it, her curiousity always tempered with concern and compassion, that made Mrs Fletcher special. I wanted her fulfilling life but more importantly I aspired to be at least half the woman she was.
Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to Jess and the City.