'Only Murders in the Building': A Witty Mystery and One of the Year's Biggest Surprises
Updated: Jan 24
As someone who is a big fan of Steve Martin, I was intrigued when it was announced that he was set to star in a new show on Hulu alongside longtime collaborator Martin Short. The promise of these two doing anything is always enough to pique my interest, but when it was announced that the cast would be rounded out by Selena Gomez, I was even more curious as to what this show would be. With Martin and Short, you pretty much know what you're going to be in for. But Gomez is such a left-field casting choice, that I was wondering just how she would fit into this whole thing. As it turns out, she fits in much more naturally (no pun intended) than I would have ever guessed, which is the first of many surprises that this show had in store for me.
Only Murders in the Building is centered around our unlikely trio, made up of Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez). They live in the same upscale apartment building, and their paths cross when they bond over their obsession with a true crime podcast. When another resident in the building, Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), allegedly commits suicide, the three start to suspect that there is more to this case than meets the eye, and that he has actually been murdered. As a result, they decide to start their own podcast that details their investigation of the murder, and try to find out who killed Tim Kono.
Part of the reason the show works as well as it does is because of the chemistry of the three leads. It's no secret that Martin and Short are a great duo, but Selena Gomez holds her own with them much better than I expected. I would argue that she's the weakest link of the three, but that's more of an issue with the writing than with Gomez's performance. Out of the three, Gomez's character seems the least developed. Part of that is by design so that her character is more mysterious, but I definitely hope they flesh out her character a little more in the next season. However, she makes the most of what she's given, and does a rather admirable job.
I was surprised by how Steve Martin is pretty much the de facto straight man of the group in the show. I initially thought this was going to be more of him and Martin Short being goofy and Selena Gomez would be more of the voice of reason. Make no mistake, he does get his chance to be goofy, but he is much more reined in. While this is more in line with the types of roles he has been playing over the past couple of decades, I still was thinking his character would be a little different than what we get here. Martin's character is lonely and neurotic, and he is dealing with his own baggage. Most of the humor that comes from his character is rather dry, and he is often the butt of the joke. It may be different than I was expecting, but it works exceptionally well.
I would even go as far to say that this is Martin's best work in some time. He is funny and charming as always, and he shines in his character's more dramatic moments as well. His work in the episode The Sting is especially great, specifically the monologue he gives near the end of it. The season as a whole is a great showcase for him, as he gets the chance to flex these dramatic muscles, all the while reminding audiences why he's a comedic legend.
As for Martin Short, he's doing what he does best. He brings his trademark manic energy to the show, and it is simply a delight. In the hands of a lesser actor, the character might become tiresome or annoying, but Short brings just the right amount of nuance to the character to offset that. His character gets a lot of the big laugh lines in the show, and he has the potential to be the show's breakout character. I know that his schtick is a bit too much for some, but I think that he is used just enough here to where he doesn't overstay his welcome.
The series also benefits from a great supporting cast filled with talented actors. The biggest standout of them being Amy Ryan, who plays Jan, a bassoonist who lives in the building. She is the love interest of Steve Martin's character, and she has such great chemistry with him. I have been a fan of Ryan for years, and it's always nice to see her show up in things. She's so charming here, and does a pretty great job overall.
There is also a bevy of excellent guest stars that pop in throughout the season, including Nathan Lane, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Jane Lynch, and Tina Fey. This show isn't nearly as absurd as There is another guest star in the season that I will not spoil in this review, but their involvement was a highlight of the season for me.
The show itself does a decent job of blending comedy with elements of crime drama, and in the process, becomes a rather compelling mystery series. It's not like it's the most gripping thing in the world, but it reeled me in more than I was expecting. I liked how the show targets true crime obsession, and uses it to propel the action. Many true crime junkies like to think they have the skills to solve real life cases, when in reality, it would probably end up like it does for our trio here. I do think it could have cut a little deeper, but it does satirize the obsession that some have with true crime nicely. It benefits from having some great talent behind the camera, with great directors such as Jamie Babbit, Gillian Robespierre, Cherien Dabis, and Don Scardino all stepping in to helm at least two episodes throughout the season. Siddhartha Khosla's almost Serial-esque score is both relaxing and tense in the best possible way, and the show's writing staff is also quite solid.
In the first season of most shows, the first few episodes tend to be a little rough. Those first few episodes are where they find their footing, and sometimes it takes a little bit. Murders is no different, as the first three episodes are a bit rough. I feel that the show starts to take off in episode 4, and gets better from there. One of my favorite elements of the series is how each episode is narrated by a different character. The best use of this is in the episode The Boy from 6B, where the episode is mainly told from the perspective of a deaf resident of the apartment building. It's one of the strongest episodes of the season, and opens the door for the show to experiment with the way it unfolds its narrative.
Once the show finds its footing, it becomes a pretty solid first season of television. It's not perfect, and those first episodes may scare some viewers off, but those who stick with the show will be rewarded nicely. The back half of the season is quite strong, and the narrative builds up quite well. The finale is excellent, as it wraps up the main plotlines of the season, while leaving a few things open. It also ends on a massive cliffhanger, which has me wondering where the show will go next.
It's always hard to know what the future holds for a show after its first season. In the case of Murders, I can see some potential. It definitely starts out a little rocky, in my opinion, but by the end of the season, it really has begun to come into its own. It still has room to grow, and with the way the season ends, there are some interesting places it can go. It's honestly a good place for a new show to be in. So many shows start off so strong, and then the second season ends up feeling like a disappointment by comparison. With this show, we get a season that may not be perfect, but acts as a nice starting point for what could end up being a pretty good series. I can definitely see this show getting more popular, especially now that the full season is available for streaming, and I'll be curious to see it it ends up getting to the level of popularity that shows like Ted Lasso or Schitt's Creek have. Either way, this first season is a nice little watch, and a fun riff on true crime.
The entire first season of Only Murders in the Building is now available to stream on Hulu.