Series Review: “Only Murders in the Building”

A delightfully sneaky send-up of true crime fandom in the podcast culture, with a nod to the eccentricities of the uptown NYC zeitgeist.

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in “Only Murders in the Building”

SnapShot Plot

It takes a good episode or two to adjust to what may seem like over-intentioned quirkiness laced with old New York schtick until you realize it’s just that brand of silly that you’ve been craving for a very long time. Only Murders in the Building is a surprisingly refreshing antidote to the cynicism of our times, while still engaging in plenty of smirky winks to the camera, proving it’s well aware of its own joke.

In a bit of casting whimsy, Steve Martin and Martin Short have reprised their buddy dynamic (going back decades to The Three Amigos and just recently with their Netflix special, An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life) with the addition of Selena Gomez completing the equation as three mismatched partners attempting to solve a murder in their Upper West Side apartment building. All the while producing a podcast about the entire project, no less. They are: a has-been TV detective (played by Martin); a washed-up Broadway musical director mostly known for his flamboyant flops (played by Short); and a young woman stuck in a failure-to-launch scenario, basically hiding from life in her aunt’s apartment (played by Gomez). What brings them together is the shocking death of one of their neighbors, Tim Kono, a young man seemingly despised by everyone in the building, whose death is first deemed a suicide, until this unlikely trio of would-be sleuths start connecting the dots.

Parting Shot

Created by Steve Martin, Dan Fogelman & John Hoffman for Hulu, the series pokes fun at many of the modern tropes of our times, touching on social media obsessions, fan and celebrity culture, ageism, generational disconnects, and more. It’s the kind of show that makes you pay attention to the character-driven jokes in the dialogue, which usually come fast and frequently in throwaway lines, so when you catch them, it makes you feel like an insider of sorts. And with a marvelous supporting cast that includes Amy Ryan, Nathan Lane, Tina Fey, Jane Lynch, and of all people, Sting, Only Murders in the Building is a sardonic and delightfully spoof-filled romp of a show.

As much as this is indeed a screwball comedy series, it’s still very much a murder mystery, with solid sleuthing that will keep anyone familiar with the genre, glued to their seats. What is unexpected — and perhaps explains its instant popularity and the promise of a second season — is how surprisingly touching are the relationships between Martin, Short, and Gomez’s characters. But true to the wisecracking nature of the City that Never Sleeps, the moment you feel a tear coming to your eye, another voice will whisper in your ear, ‘Get over it!”

Only Murders in the Building is presently streaming on Hulu, with a second season already in the works.

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