When I was little, I loved watching Murder She Wrote. Well…okay, I mostly loved the incongruously peppy theme song. Those of you too young to have ever heard it, give it a listen and try to tell me it’s not a bop.
(That’s right. The video’s a two-hour loop. You’ll thank me later.)
What I never noticed, at least at the time, was just how many people wound up dead when fictional detective Jessica Fletcher was around. The woman is a dark harbinger. And she’s not the only one.
Most of us suspect that crime dramas are unrealistic, and expert testimonies bear that out. According to Crispian Strachan of the Cambridge Institute of Criminology: “People get it wildly wrong. It’s not surprising really. There is so much murder on television, in books, in films, and in the news, that people fear it more than they should.”
But “wildly” is a relative term. NCIS: LA, for example, contains an average of six murders per episode. If we multiply that by 24 episodes per season, and if we assume that one season represents a single year, that gives us a total of 144 murders per year. LA’s actual murder rate in 2015 was around 570. So while it’s a bit hard to swallow that one law enforcement unit would be handling such a large proportion of the total homicide cases, at least it’s within the realm of numerical possibility.
The same cannot be said for these other shows.
British series Midsomer Murders takes place in the fictional English county of Midsomer, an isolated place where the the scenery is beautiful and all the locals have something to hide. Some nerd at the BBC calculated that Midsomer has a murder rate of 32 per million–far higher than that of England or Wales, and pretty devastating when you think about how small Midsomer is meant to be. I’ve just crunched some numbers, and it turns out you’re only slightly less likely to be murdered in Midsomer than you are to die in a car accident. Quaint British countryside indeed!
MURDER, SHE WROTE
But Midsomer’s got nothing on the fictional town of Cabot Cove. The little hamlet in Maine, home to 3560 residents, experiences an average of 5.3 murders per year, and Jessica Fletcher is present during or immediately after all of them. Mighty suspicious! One might almost suspect she has some personal responsibility for Cabot Cove’s astronomical murder rate of 1490 per million. To put that number in context, the murder rate for the United States as a whole is only 40 per million. It seems the only thing more dangerous that living in rural Britain is living in the same town as Jessica Fletcher.
You probably don’t know about this long-running and enormously popular Japanese series, but maybe you should. When it comes to being in the wrong place at the wrong time, pint-sized detective Conan Edogawa puts Angela Lansbury and the Midsomer boys to shame. In the course of a single year, the six-year-old (well, actually seventeen-year-old, but…you know what, you better just read the Wiki) witnesses and/or investigates 502 murders. That’s 1.4 murders per day. It’s also far greater than the yearly murder rate for all of Japan, which was only 395 in 2011. That means Conan is not only investigating every single homicide in the country, he’s also looking into quite a few that he never bothers reporting. Maybe someone should take the gun away from this kid…