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Murder, She Joked: Paula Pell Plays a Silly Sleuth in “Mapleworth Murders”

The out comic's new series is like "Murder, She Wrote" meets "30 Rock."

Legendary former SNL writer Paula Pell gifted the world with iconic characters like Debbie Downer and the Spartan cheerleaders during her tenure on the late-night sketch show. In recent years she has appeared more and more in front of the camera, playing roles on 30 Rock, Parks and Recreation, and Documentary Now's brilliant "Co-Op" episode. And let's not forget her turn as "Dildo Claus" in last year's Netflix original movie, Wine Country.

Now Pell is the star of her own Quibi series, Mapleworth Murders, which she co-created with actor-comedian John Lutz. In Mapleworth Murders Pell plays Abigail Mapleworth, a murder-mystery writer who, like Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote, steps out from behind her typewriter and starts solving mysterious murders. With the help of her Gen Z niece, Heidi (Hayley Magnus), they crack cases around Abigail's quiet hometown which is populated by an endless parade of special guest stars like Tina Fey, Nicole Byer, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Fred Armisen, and more.

Pell spoke with NewNowNext about her hilarious new whodunnit series, her enduring love for Angela Lansbury, and how even though Abigail is an older, single homebody, she still has the hots for her helpful handywoman—played by her real-life fiancé, Janine Brito.

We'll get to Mapleworth Murders, but first I want to ask, last time we talked, I told you I was such a big fan of Hudson Valley Ballers. Don't you think that there'd be a great quarantine episode of Hudson Valley Ballers? They're already alone in the woods anyway.

God, yes. James Anderson and I, and Michelle Lawler, who created it with us, the three of us have talked about that, of how much we want to create that again and just do it in something. Or like you said, with the quarantine. Just do a little bubble of friends. But we love doing that so much. Hudson Valley Ballers and Mapleworth are kind of similar in the fact that it's just so many friends, so much bizarre, funny, weird stuff that you get to do. We have such a heart for that show. And anytime I know anyone that has watched it and talked about it, it makes my heart go into a million birds that fly away with joy because I love that people have appreciated it.

You mentioned how bizarre Mapleworth Murders is, which I love. It's very Zucker Brothers meets Murder, She Wrote. Where did the idea come from?

The idea came from John Lutz. He was looking to create a show for himself. And he was searching for a fresh idea, something different. And his wife is Galloway was like, "What if you did something with Paula? Picked up a character for Paula?" So he started thinking of me solving crimes. And then it became like, oh my gosh, we could do kind of a Jessica Fletcher but also similar to those BBC heroines that are these cantankerous, older ladies. That matronly sort of murder mystery lady. And so he just called me one day and he was like, "What if we did a show that was an homage to Murder, She Wrote and you were like the Jessica Fletcher and I was the deputy?" That is the dream call. I love anything with a little mystery to it, but also just all the different characters in it. I love all the guest stars of those shows back in the day.

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So you're rewatching Murder, She Wrote. I, like many other gay boys, grew up watching it with my grandmother. Did you watch it when it was on?

Oh my God, yes. I watched it all the time. I loved it. I loved her. I was also such a theater nerd. I was so in love with Angela Lansbury. My Dream part in my life before I die would be Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd. I love her in that so much. I just adore her and I've always adored her. Her and all the Golden Girls, all those older actresses that were such character actors that ended up doing television and becoming these iconic stars in their 50s. It's just such a dream for me to play something that's an homage for her type of character with her snazzy little outfits. And it was just such a fun thing to approximate. It's not an exact parody, but it has so many things similar to Murder, She Wrote and putting the niece in because Jessica Fletcher always had a niece in every single city. Like "I'm going to see my niece in Baltimore..." then you'd see an iconic building of Baltimore and there's a murder at the base of that building. It was always so on the head.

Isn't it crazy that Angela Lansbury was nominated 12 times for an Emmy and never won?

Oh, my God.

What a crime.

I have the whole series on DVD. And I still haven't seen every single one. But John called me one day and told me to watch this episode where she went undercover as a floozy. And she was at a bar, and she was like, "Well, it looks like I'm going to have to go talk to that bartender myself!" And then it just shows her in these jeans, these '70s mom jeans, with a little high skirt on that's kind of showing her bosom, and her hair's all moussed out, so it looks really loose and crazy. And she's got a lot of makeup on and she's just real sweaty. And it was making me laugh so hard. Because of course, Angela Lansbury is such a theater broad. She can play all those dark characters, but she's so prim and buttoned up as Jessica that it's just so funny to play her. Like, "Today, I'm going to be playing a whore. I'm going to be playing a prostitute in this one." We really wanted to do an undercover episode but we didn't. We have so many ideas. We're just hoping that we get to make more of these because we really want to do an undercover episode.

I liked how Abigail lived alone but she wasn't some old spinster. She has a sexual side, like in the scene with the handywoman. Can you talk about that?

So, first of all, that handywoman is my fiance Janine Brito. And if we do more episodes, we want to have the handywoman that's just always there doing something. It's just, those older ladies that were gay, it's like, you'd have an aunt that lived with her friend just sharing expenses just to make it easier for 62 years. And it's just so insane that women could just get away with it so much more than men. Because it's just like, "Oh no, they're just old spinsters. They're just little spinsters that lay around with their legs wrapped around each other." Even when Abigail goes into her fantasies, she's always talking about some zip line instructor that she had a certain affinity towards. And so she's definitely not dead from the waist down. She's got a whole drawer full of neck massagers. She's got a very healthy body. Very healthy.

You had so many guest stars in this season. Was there anyone that you couldn't get or that you are hoping to get for Season 2?

There's a ton of them! Of course the gang of Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, the women from SNL, Rachel Dratch. Dying to have people that can do it that just weren't able to at the time [of filming]. So yes, there was a very long list of guest stars that we would love to have.

Maybe a Wine Country reunion.

Yes, please!

Mapleworth Murders is available now on Quibi.

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