AB­SUR­DITY, SHE WROTE

‘SNL’ writer’s par­ody fails to live up to cast’s tal­ents

Chicago Sun-Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - RICHARD ROEPER MOVIE COLUM­NIST rroeper@sun­times.com | @RichardERo­eper

Can you be­lieve it? There’s been yet an­other mur­der in the quaint and seem­ingly idyl­lic town of New Wood­stream, and once again it’ll fall to the leg­endary author/am­a­teur sleuth Abi­gail Maple­worth to solve the case. Af­ter all, even as Abi­gail strug­gles with writer’s block in an at­tempt to write her first full-length work of fic­tion af­ter pub­lish­ing dozens of pop­u­lar crime novel­las, she has found the time to solve some 116 mur­ders.

Take that, Jes­sica Fletcher.

Paula Pell’s new Quibi se­ries “Maple­worth Mur­ders” is an af­fec­tion­ate al­beit raunchy send-up of “Mur­der, She Wrote,” with at least one new corpse sur­fac­ing in nearly ev­ery episodic chap­ter — with each episode last­ing fewer than 10 min­utes, in not-so-clas­sic Quibi tra­di­tion. The im­mensely tal­ented and lik­able Pell cre­ated such char­ac­ters as the Spar­tan Cheer­lead­ers, the Culps and Deb­bie Downer dur­ing her leg­endary run as a writer on “Sat­ur­day Night Live,” and while “The Maple­worth Mur­ders” has its laugh­out-loud mo­ments of in­spired lu­nacy, the broad tone and highly ex­ag­ger­ated char­ac­ters seem bet­ter suited for an “SNL” sketch than a con­tin­u­ing se­ries.

But I did get a kick out of ol’ Abi­gail, a good­hearted, no-fil­ter busy­body who lives with un­told num­bers of cats and dogs in her cozy coun­try home, is prone to ut­ter­ances drip­ping with sex­ual in­nu­endo, and de­lights in say­ing, “There’s been a MAAAHRDER!” ev­ery time she walks in on yet an­other fresh crime scene. And oh, does Abi­gail have keen de­duc­tive pow­ers. When she walks into a butcher shop and sees the pro­pri­etor (Chris Par­nell) un­der glass, deader than dead with a giant hunk of prod­uct pro­trud­ing from his mouth, she pro­claims: “Mur­der by ham!” She’s not wrong.

Hay­ley Mag­nus is a bright pres­ence as Abi­gail’s Aus­tralian niece, Heidi, a gan­gly charmer in or­ange Con­verse gym shoes who ea­gerly ac­com­pa­nies her aunt around town and loves to post self­ies with the lat­est dead body be­fore the cops even ar­rive. (Heidi is quick with the dead­pan hu­mor. When a butcher played by Tim Mead­ows is sus­pected of mur­der and a long­time town res­i­dent says that’s im­pos­si­ble, as he wouldn’t hurt a fly, Heidi cracks, “Well, he’s a butcher.”) Not that the po­lice force is any help. J.B. Smoove’s Chief of Po­lice Bills (that’s his name, Bills) is dum­ber than a slab of ham, while John Lutz (who co-cre­ated the show with Pell) plays Gil­bert, an of­fi­cer who might be even thicker, if that’s pos­si­ble, and is in love with Abi­gail. (Spoiler alert: Given Abi­gail’s in­nu­endo-laced sto­ries of trav­el­ing with var­i­ous fe­male com­pan­ions, the deputy might not stand a chance.)

Chief: I’m go­ing to ques­tion ev­ery sin­gle per­son here.

Gil­bert: So none of the mar­ried peo­ple? So many of the jokes in “Maple­worth Mur­ders,” in­clud­ing many too racy to re­peat here, sound like they’re in need of a rimshot from a nearby drum­mer. Some of my fa­vorite comedic hu­mans in the world, in­clud­ing Pat­ton Oswalt, Tina Fey, Andy Sam­berg, Ike Bar­in­holtz, Wanda Sykes, Maya Ru­dolph and Fred Ar­misen, make cameo ap­pear­ances, but their re­spec­tive shticks range from the mildly amus­ing to bor­der­line ter­ri­ble. (A sto­ry­line in­volv­ing a sib­ling singing group with in­ces­tu­ous lean­ings and deepseated jeal­ousies is pro­foundly un­funny.) With an in­trigu­ing enough premise and some fan­tas­ti­cally gifted comedic minds driv­ing the ve­hi­cle, “Maple­worth Mur­ders” could have been so much bet­ter than all the dou­ble-en­ten­dre jokes, flat­u­lence hu­mor and high-deci­bel yelling. Alas, the town of New Wood­stream might just have an­other life­less body on its hands.

As for that Quibi de­liv­ery sys­tem: al­though it was orig­i­nally a mo­bile-de­viceonly ser­vice, you can now watch its of­fer­ings on your TV mon­i­tor via Ap­ple TV or Chrome­cast — but only if you first in­stall the app on your phone or tablet. Con­tent­wise, I’ve yet to see the value in dol­ing out ma­te­rial in short seg­ments. It just feels like the sto­ry­telling mo­men­tum has to stop for a mini-cliffhange­r ev­ery eight min­utes or so, to ac­com­mo­date the sys­tem. There’s no sense in slic­ing the pie if it de­tracts from the fla­vor. ‘MAPLE­WORTH MUR­DERS’ ★★ 1/2 A se­ries premiering Mon­day on Quibi.

QUIBI

Former “Sat­ur­day Night Live” writer Paula Pell co-cre­ated “Maple­worth Mur­ders” and stars as a mystery author adept at solv­ing real cases.

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