Tuesday, October 03, 2023

The Spencer Sisters, on CW

A lot of mystery novelists probably think they could be the next Jessica Fletcher. Of course, it is not like she ever had to solve any particularly complex mysteries. Each episode basically had three guest stars: a cop, the daughter of an old friend, and some dude acting squirrely. Regardless, Darby Spencer has little patience for her novelist mother Victoria’s drama, but she still solves cases with her, because she doesn’t have anything better to do in creator Alan McCullough’s The Spencer Sisters, which premieres tomorrow on the CW.

Sometimes, flatterers say Victoria and Darby Spencer look like sisters. The mother loves it, but it makes the daughter wince. The daughter-sister was trying to pursue a career as a Toronto cop, like her deceased father, but she quits in frustration at the sexism and incompetence of senior detectives. She also breaks up with her cheating crypto-trading boyfriend, forcing her to temporarily crash with mom.

Mother Victoria is stressing everyone out over her latest book launch, because sales have been slipping. Of course, Darby is annoyed to be there, but it offers her a chance to catch up with her old friend, Kaia Zhang, who will become their first client in the pilot, “The Scholar’s Snafu.” Poor Zhang has been unfairly accused of plagiarism, because her thesis turned up on a site of frequently re-purposed academic papers. However, the posted paper happens to be an earlier draft, not reflecting her recent revisions.

McCullough and co-writer Jason Ip are clearly more focused on the mother-daughter relationship dynamic than intricately plotted mysteries. However, this episode shines a light on corruption in academia, which most network programs are reluctant to address. Jennifer Hui is reasonable credible as the confused and alarmed Zhang, so we can almost believe she would desperate enough to ask the squabbling Spencers for help.

The second episode is a legit murder case, ostensibly being investigated by the Ontario suburb’s new Lestrade-like detective, so naturally Victoria Spencer wants to step in. She sees crime-solving as a way to heal her strained relationship with her daughter. Darby is not so sure, but she still doesn’t have any better offers. Apparently, Marlina Briggs’ boy-toy fiancĂ© was killed with an experimental drug her own company developed, but at least the episode is not as anti-Big Pharma as you might expect. It isn’t very complicated either. (Of course, it does not help that each episode must devote substantial time for Darby Spencer to seek the sage counsel of her gay besties, Zane and Antonio).

Be that as it may, Lea Thompson is entertainingly regal as Victoria Spencer, sometimes even earning a few laughs here and there. It is definitely a different look for her if you mainly know her from
Back to the Future and Red Dawn. (Remember, Angela Lansbury was nominated for twelve Emmys for playing Fletcher, but did anyone ever watch Murder She Wrote and think “wow, she is so chameleon-like?”) In contrast, Stacey Farber is annoyingly pouty as Darby, whereas the rest of the regulars are just exhaustingly wise and saccharine.

Frankly, if
Murder She Wrote was your speed, you will probably be okay with The Spencer Sisters. It is largely harmless, despite a few minutes of cringe each episode. Not distinctive or intriguing enough to recommend, The Spencer Sisters starts airing tomorrow (10/4) on the CW.