A Comedy That Shoots to Kill
‘Only Murders in the Building’ puts true-crime obsessives at the center of a hilarious amateur investigation
Only Murders in the Building puts true-crime obsessives at the center of a hilarious amateur investigation. Plus, Y: The Last Man.
‘Only Murders in the Building” centers on three neighbors in a fancy Manhattan apartment complex — Steve Martin, as has-been actor Charles; Martin Short, as unemployable theater director Oliver; and Selena Gomez, as directionless Mabel — who have nothing to say to one another until realizing they’re all fans of the same true-crime podcast. When a suspicious death in their building is dismissed as a suicide, the trio realize they can cross the fan-creator divide and begin investigating, and recording, on their own.
If Only Murders were content simply to make fun of true-crime podcasts and the people who obsess over them, it would already be one of this year’s greatest TV delights. Between the passive-aggressive insults hurled by Charles and Oliver, the generation gap separating those two from Mabel (Oliver to Charles: “‘Rando’ is a slang for a person of no significance”), and the extremely New York-specific jokes (Charles is incredulous that Oliver pays for a parking spot in the building), it runs the gamut of high and low comedy. At times, the show is keenly self-aware; at others, like a running gag about how cheapskate Oliver subsists entirely on dips and sauces, it’s blessedly silly.
But the series, created by Martin and writer John Hoffman, soon turns out to be that rare and wonderful thing: a parody that also offers a great example of the genuine article. (See
The Princess Bride, Galaxy Quest, Jane the Virgin.)
Few true-crime podcasters are as bad at their jobs as this trio, which generates a lot of humor, even if it may occasionally give genre aficionados hives.
Yet the show manages to take the mystery itself seriously, as well as the lonely inner lives of these unlikely sleuths, in a way that enhances the comedy rather than undercutting it. The plot is twisty and engaging, and our heroes all feel three-dimensional; even Short’s over-the-top moments feel very true to the persona Oliver has crafted for himself. They’re flanked by a murderers’ row of supporting and guest actors, including Tina Fey, as the revered host of a Serial- esque podcast; Amy Ryan, as Charles’ potential love interest; Nathan Lane, as Oliver’s longtime benefactor; Da’Vine Joy Randolph, as a cynical cop; and Sting, as himself.
At one point, Oliver praises Mabel as being weird “the way all your favorite people are weird.” Prepare for these weirdos to become your new favorite people, and Only Murders to become your new addiction.