Plot:A hilarious murder mystery series from the minds of Steve Martin, Dan Fogelman, and John Hoffman. “Only Murders In The Building” follows three strangers (Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez) who share a passion for true crime and find themselves caught up in one when they least expect it. When a gruesome death occurs in their opulent Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and uses their in-depth knowledge of true crime to uncover the truth. The three unravel the building’s complex secrets, which date back years, as they record their own podcast to document the case. The lies they tell each other are perhaps even more explosive. As they race to decipher the mounting clues before it’s too late, the endangered trio realises that a killer may be among them.
Review: Martin Short and Steve Martin are comedy legends and two of the funniest performers of all time. Only Murders in the Building, a series co-created and written by Steve Martin and starring Selena Gomez, is more than enough of a reason to tune in to see them reunite. This series takes the concept of a murder mystery and the whodunit style of Knives Out and delivers it in a hilariously dark comedy that also highlights just how damn good the three leads are as actors, channelling the differences between Boomers and Millennials through the lens of a true-crime podcast. This is a series that may not be quite as cutting edge as the earlier work from Martin and Short but it is some of the best work they have done in years.
The ten-episode series (of which 8 were made available for this review) begins with three strangers living in the same New York City building, The Arconia. Charles (Steve Martin) is a reclusive actor who avoids making friends. Oliver (Martin Short) is a Broadway director who has hit rock bottom following a disastrous production. Mabel (Selena Gomez) is a young woman who is renovating one of the building’s apartments. A shared love of a true-crime podcast has brought the three of them together. When Tim Kono, a young investment banker, dies mysteriously, the trio investigates and decides to document their adventures. Very quickly, it becomes apparent that there are deeper motives to the death of Tim Kono as well as all three of these main characters.
The star power in this series is not limited to the leads, with Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, and none other than Sting making a hilarious cameo. Instead of going for cheap laughs, everyone does a fantastic job of treating this as a serious storey that happens to be funny. Of course, there are some that involve everything from nosebleeds to dead cats, but the humour comes from the solid writing the majority of the time. Martin Short gives the broadest performance as Charles, who is mostly portrayed as a hermit who is starting to come out of his shell. Short’s over-the-top Oliver, on the other hand, carries a lot of emotional baggage that explains why he is the way he is. In the early episodes, each character has moments of their own that made me invest in following this story to the end.
It’s ideal for these actors to focus on amateur sleuths who make stupid decisions but still end up in a more complex mystery than they anticipated. Despite being four decades younger than her co-stars, Selena Gomez plays the straightest role of the three, and she plays off of them like a veteran. With many plot elements stretching credulity, it’s easy to overlook how the narrative puts them together, but like any mystery storey, these are red herrings that keep us coming back for more. As the season progressed, I began to predict which leads would prove to be false and what the next twist would be. My biggest issue with Only Murders In The Building is that it tends to use some cliche misdirection and reveals that have been seen countless times before.
This series looks more like a movie than a TV show, with episodes directed by Jamie Babbitt (But I’m A Cheerleader), Gillian Robespierre (Obvious Child), Don Scardino (30 Rock), and Cherien Dabis (Ramy). The Arconia is populated by so many familiar faces and character actors that it almost feels like its own character. The series’ title alludes to the podcasters’ desire to focus solely on crimes committed within The Arconia, which makes me wonder if, without giving anything away about the current season, creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman (Grace and Frankie) would consider setting future seasons in the same location but with new characters. I would love to see Steve Martin and Martin Short continue to work together on screen, especially if Selena Gomez returns as well.
Only Murders In The Building did not live up to my expectations, but that does not mean I didn’t enjoy it. I expected this to be a spoof because so many shows have turned true crime podcasts into serious dramatisations. Instead, it’s a solid ensemble comedy with significantly more dramatic tension than I expected. Selena Gomez holds her own against two living comedy legends who deliver some of their best performances to date. This is a series that is far more balanced, funny, and touching than I anticipated. It’s not quite as funny as some of Steve Martin’s and Martin Short’s classic comedies, but it’s close.
Only Murders In The Building premieres on August 31st on Hulu.