Sally Watches…Diagnosis Murder!

For the We Love Detectives Week Blogathon, I was originally going to create a tier rank list of every film from Hallmark Movies & Mysteries I’ve seen. But the more I thought about this idea, the more ambitious it became. Instead of following through on such a daunting task, I decided to submit an entry that was simpler in nature. I’m currently reading The Magician’s Accomplice by Michael Genelin. But I might not finish the book within the blogathon timeframe. So that’s how I came up with my back-up plan! Recently, while on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ website, I came across an episode of Diagnosis Murder titled “An Education in Murder”. What caught my attention was the episode’s synopsis, as it reminded me of an episode of Murder, She Wrote I reviewed back in 2019: “School for Murder”. Curious to see how similar or different “An Education in Murder” was to “School for Murder”, I thought now would be a good time to introduce myself to a “new” mystery show! Before I continue with my review, I’d like to point out the irony of the situation. That aforementioned review of “School for Murder” was not only the first time I had watched Murder, She Wrote, but that was my submission for a mystery themed blogathon!

Episode Name: An Education in Murder

Season 5, Episode 19

Premiere Date: March 5th, 1998

The title card for “An Education in Murder”. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

What I liked about this episode:

I was impressed by the acting in “An Education in Murder”! But there was one performance that really outshined the rest. Portraying a student named Noelle, Danielle Harris did such a great job with the acting material given! When it comes to describing her character, think Cher from Clueless but more manipulative. There were two sides to Noelle; the sweet, good-natured side she used to give a good first impression and the edgy, sadistic side that causes her fellow classmates to face a living nightmare. Throughout this episode, Danielle effortlessly wove in between these polar opposites, changing her character’s demeanor like a chameleon. It was also interesting to see Noelle interact with the other characters, her unpredictability leaving me wondering what she’ll do next. Danielle’s strong acting talents worked in her favor, as she helped bring to life one of the most memorable characters I’ve seen in any tv show!

What I didn’t like about this episode:

Similar to “School for Murder”, “An Education in Murder” took place at an affluent private school. Kelly, one of the students of the school, explains to Dr. Mark Sloan, the show’s protagonist, just how affluent the student body is. After class, she says that if a student doesn’t keep up with current events, their GPA will suffer. She also tells Mark how she doesn’t have a wealthy father. Despite these words, Norrington Hall, the school featured in this episode, didn’t feel like an affluent private school. I know there are a variety of private schools with their own unique communities, traditions, and ways of operating on a day-to-day basis. But I couldn’t find anything about Norrington Hall that screamed “look how much money can be dumped into a child’s education”. For one, all the students in this episode didn’t behave or interact any differently from public school students in a typical movie or television show. Mark’s science class at Norrington Hall seems like a standard AP (advanced placement) science class. Sure, the school’s interior and exterior had a nice appearance. But if entertainment media and real-life have taught me anything, public school buildings can look just as nice as those belonging to private schools. The way the characters’ words didn’t match up with the visuals reminded me of Chippewa Falls Library from the Hallmark Christmas movie, Holly and Ivy.

The reason I included this screenshot is to show readers how nice the interior of Norrington Hall is. Screenshot taken by me, Sally Silverscreen.

The mystery itself:

I’m glad “An Education in Murder” wasn’t a carbon-copy of “School for Murder”! Even though the Diagnosis Murder episode had a main plot and two subplots, similar to Murder, She Wrote’s episode, the story felt unique from the predecessor. Despite having three stories in one episode, it never seemed overwhelming. Each of these plots held a connection to the mystery. Unfortunately, that mystery was so painfully obvious, you might as well place the guilty party under the brightest neon sign you can find. Because of the mystery’s painful obviousness, the resolution was anti-climactic. This led to a weak mystery.  While watching “An Education in Murder”, I was hoping the guilty party was a red herring, with an unexpected twist hiding around the corner. Sadly, this episode was “cut-and-dry”, leaving little room for intrigue.

The other factors from this episode:

  • “An Education in Murder” brought up several messages relating to medicine and murder mysteries I hadn’t thought of before. For instance, after a classmate from Norrington Hall passes away, Mark tells his students how that student’s death is going to make a difference. As morbid as that sounds, he brings up a good point about murder mysteries. Because we, the audience, are so caught up in the story, the murder mystery’s effect on the characters and their surroundings can sometimes be overlooked. This can, to an extent, also be said about real-life cases.
  • At certain points in the episode, Mark gives Kelly advice, ranging from how to prevent dizzy spells to figuring out her life after high school. He helps her in an attempt to provide a trustworthy figure in Kelly’s life. This served as a major difference between Diagnosis Murder and Murder, She Wrote. Out of the episodes of Murder, She Wrote I’ve seen, I don’t recall Jessica Fletcher giving noteworthy advice to younger characters. Maybe the infrequent presence of younger characters on that show was a reason why? Even though this is my first time watching Diagnosis Murder, it makes me wonder how often younger characters appeared on the show.
  • In one scene, Mark’s son, Steve, gives Mark information about the guilty party’s background. This information was used to explain the motive behind the guilty party’s behavior. After hearing this explanation, it made me wonder if the show was implying the guilty party had RAD (reactive attachment disorder)? I’m not asking this to diagnose a character, but simply out of curiosity. If the guilty party did have RAD, why wouldn’t any of the characters mention this? I know this show doesn’t revolve around the psychological aspect of the medical world. Still, I’m surprised the disorder wasn’t openly stated in this episode.

My overall thoughts:

For my first time watching Diagnosis Murder, I was left desiring more from the mystery. Even though it was a different story from Murder, She Wrote’s “School for Murder”, it was painfully obvious who the guilty party was. Because of that, I didn’t find the mystery interactive. However, the parts of the story surrounding the mystery made up for the episode’s weaknesses! “An Education in Murder” was more thought-provoking than I expected, sharing interesting ideas about murder mysteries and medicine. Each plot was connected to the mystery, allowing these stories to share importance in the script. But, as I said in the review, the amount of stories never felt overwhelming. Based on the series synopsis I read on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries’ website, it seems like Diagnosis Murder wanted to enjoy the fruits of Murder, She Wrote’s labor. I came to this conclusion because each show shares some common aspects, such as featuring an older protagonist. Like with Murder, She Wrote, I might check out more episodes from Diagnosis Murder.

Rating: A 3.5 out of 5

We Love Detectives Week Blogathon banner created by Hamlette from Hamlette’s Soliloquy

Have fun in Malibu!

Sally Silverscreen

9 thoughts on “Sally Watches…Diagnosis Murder!

  1. I remember when Diagnosis: Murder was on TV (because I am old), but I have never watched it because I was just a kid and not allowed to watch ‘adult’ TV yet (because I am not *that* old). I remember loving how distinguished Dick Van Dyke looked in the ads, though!

    Bummer that they couldn’t glitz up the private school surroundings a bit. Maybe they thought wooden desk chairs instead of metal-and-formica chairs would do the trick?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading my review, Hamlette! When it comes to Norrington Hall, I’m going to speculate it was presented the way it was for two reasons:
      1. The show’s creative team wanted to portray Norrington Hall and its students as “relatable”.
      2. Maybe the show’s creative team wanted to get teenagers and young adults interested in mysteries.
      I understand there are a variety of private schools in the world. But, as I said in my review, Norrington Hall didn’t feel like a wealthier private school.

      Like

  2. I’ve looked forward to reading this review for the longest time! 🙂 Diagnosis Murder was my JAM when I discovered it in middle school. 😀 Original episodes were still airing then (I’d say I jumped in at about Season 3 or 4, and it went on for quite a few more). I’d tape new ones (this was back in the days of VCRs!) and catch reruns however I could. I just fell in love with it. ❤

    What charmed me most was not the mystery aspect, but the cast. Dick Van Dyke has always been a major favorite of mine, and my little preteen heart flipped for his son Barry (who played Steve) and Charlie Schlatter (who played Jesse Travis). ❤ I adored everyone in the main group and found their characters addictively engaging. Their rapport felt fun and real, and there were recurring in-jokes and just little bits of world-building sprinkled throughout that grew over time. So, the more episodes you watched, the more you felt a part of this shared history. These characters began to feel like real people. (I wanted to live with the Sloans in their beach house and help them solve mysteries!) Plus, time was often found to showcase DVD’s many other talents, which I’m always down to enjoy. 😉

    AND, like with Murder, She Wrote, there were often well-known guest stars from classic TV and film (which was definitely a highlight for me, as I was already a bit of classics buff, even at such a young age). When Diagnosis Murder really hit its stride, it took the tributes one step farther by having themed episodes that paid homage to classic films or shows (particularly mystery movies and detective shows), sometimes adding their own twist. I remember one episode (the thought of which still creeps me out to this day!) that was based on Strangers on a Train. A particularly cool one solved an unsolved episode of Mannix and reunited the cast, and one of my personal favorites was a nod to Clue, in which a dead body keeps disappearing and reappearing around the hospital! (I also remember episodes that reunited the casts of MASH and of Happy Days, and several that featured Dick’s other children and family.)

    That being said, the quality of the mysteries themselves were largely secondary, and were often done Columbo-style – where the guilty party is obvious from very early on, and we’re just following their story and waiting for them to get caught. Or it would do that common, “Murder, She Wrote” / “Matlock” thing where there would be three suspects to choose from, and the guilty party was either a surprise fourth, or their guilt was revealed by some clue the viewers weren’t shown and had know way of knowing. Not exactly fair play…There were also whole seasons later on (and some individual episodes here and there, even early in the run) where the show tried to be “edgy”. Those generally don’t play well at all (at least not to me). Dick Van Dyke wholeheartedly disapproved of those efforts, but it was an attempt by producers to reach a younger, key demographic (because of the same old story that “only old people watch CBS”). That may be why so many episodes featured young people as well. That and the fact that Dick Van Dyke is great at playing a “father figure” type. Mark Sloan was a natural mentor, and was often in the position of giving advice – whether as a teacher, senior doctor, friend, actual father, whatever. The show found lots of ways for Dick Van Dyke’s warmth and lovability to shine in that way, which was yet one more reason I loved it so. ❤

    But another factor hampering the overall believability was that the show had that typical CBS “look”. Aside from the stunning beach house and scenes actually on the beach, everything looked fake at best and cheap at worst. I’m sure that was the issue with this supposedly “private school”.

    Since I’m no longer invested on weekly basis like I was when the show was currently airing, the downsides are more noticeable and distracting (and sometimes eyeroll-inducing) when I occasionally jump back in. But the show’s overall charm still gets to me. ❤ That is, when I can find a rerun. They pop up on YouTube occasionally, but that seems to be it, as far as what’s available to me. You said you watched this on Hallmark?

    I know you saw this on Twitter, but I just want to mention that I tagged you in my latest post. Please don’t feel any pressure to participate in the tag. I really just wanted to give you a shoutout! 🙂

    Thanks for this fun blast of nostalgia! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Further Update: I broke into Diagnosis Murder today – and when the theme song started, I literally squealed like I was a preteen again! 😀 It’s not groundbreaking television. In fact, it’s rather ridiculous. All the weaknesses I remembered from before are still in play. But I still ADORE that cast. ❤ I know it’s not a favorite of yours (or it doesn’t sound like it will be), but thank you for bringing it back into my life! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for checking out my review, Jillian! I not only enjoyed reading your comments, but I also appreciate your insight about ‘Diagnosis Murder’! Thanks also for the tag. Will check out your post as soon as possible.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Even Further Update 😉 – I’ve been watching Diagnosis Murder occasionally since you inspired me to find it on Pluto TV. (Thank you again for bringing this show back into my life!) I’ve got an episode recommendation for you, if you’re interested. 😀 Season 1, Episode 14: Guardian Angel. I knew it was one of my favorites, but couldn’t remember why until I watched it just now. I really think it’s one of the best the series has to offer…

    It’s a Columbo-style mystery. The question isn’t who done it (we see the murder take place and know who committed it), but WHY. They spin the possible motive so many ways, it’s really interesting. And then there’s the question of HOW they’re going to get caught…What’s unusual about this one is I’m pretty sure it’s fair play. They technically show you everything you need to know, only I have no idea how anyone could possibly pinpoint the detail that will trap the murderer before it’s revealed. If you want to try it, I’ll be super-interested to know if you figured it all out. It’s still not groundbreaking television (of course), but once it’s all told, the story is dark and sad – but with hope at the end. Perfect combo. 🙂

    Plus, there’s some prime mentor/father action by Dick Van Dyke, which he always does so well. ❤

    This is an early episode, so you’ll meet some characters you who weren’t in the episode you watched – Jack, Doris, and Norman. (Jesse took Jack’s place, and Doris and Norman eventually faded from the show, to its detriment.)

    You can stream it on Pluto TV for free, if you want. Or, since you have Hallmark, you may have another way to access it.

    Let me know if you watch! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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