Octavia Spencer to Reboot 'Murder, She Wrote' — Are The Tides Finally Changing For Women of Color on TV?
The reboot of a classic TV series may just be proof of an overdue wave of change. NBC is bringing a new take on TV history staple, Murder, She Wrote, with Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer as the lead. And while it's easy to poke fun at NBC (the perpetual network television loser) for returning to the '80s for new series material, the prospect doesn't actually seem all that ridiculous. In fact, it might even hold significant weight in the fate of contemporary television.
After all, we already have a pseudo reboot of Murder, She Wrote in Castle, which stars Nathan Fillon as a best-selling mystery novelist who teams up with a police detective to solve crimes. It's not a far cry from Angela Lansbury's Jessica Fletcher — except for the part where Richard Castle is a young, sexy guy and Jessica Fletcher is an over-50 retired English Teacher. Potato, potahto, really. Finding Spencer's new Jessica Fletcher as a "hospital administrator and amateur sleuth" (yes, she writes at least one mystery novel or it'd be called Murder, She Investigated, which is just Law and Order: SVU that's been renamed by Yoda) gives the pilot the opportunity to bank off the nostalgia of the name while still being its own iteration. But the truly exciting notion of this series' creation is that we may find ourselves with yet another network heroine who's a woman of color and who doesn't necessarily stick to the age-old stereotype of a no-nonsense hard-ass.
Most obvious in this wave of programming that dares to give black women on television a voice that's not been shoved into a constrictive box is Shonda Rhimes' Scandal, which stars Emmy-nominee Kerry Washington as the emotional, intelligent, enigma Olivia Pope. Over two seasons, audiences have come to adore Olivia and her incredibly complicated character. This season, Sleepy Hollow introduced Detective Abbie Mills (Nicole Beharie), who serves as the series' grounded heroine, sharing the spotlight with (of course) the time-traveler Ichabod Crane (Tom Mison). Whether or not the supernatural nonsense is to your taste, it's clear that Abbie's character is just starting to reveal itself. Rather than playing the simplistic tough cop who's ruthlessly dedicated to her job, Abbie's incredibly layered and, as her story unfolds, we continually learn that she's not quite who we thought she was.
One would hope that when NBC adds Spencer to its schedule, producers have the sense to give the Oscar-winner (as in, someone who has an Academy Award for acting really, really ridiculously well) some material that doesn't force her to play a bland character stuck in the box mainstream television has decided she belongs in. If NBC lets Spencer create a great character, this reboot could just be the next step in a long road to true diversity on television — and even the die-hard Murder, She Wrote fans (they exist, I swear) dead-set against a reboot should be able to support that.