TV Review: ‘Only Murders In The Building’—A Whodunnit That Middles In Execution

Source: Hulu

Steve Martin’s 10-part return to television hits the notes of jovial fun needed in post-pandemic viewing, but fails to keep up momentum through the peaks and pits of close-contact crime. 

If Gossip Girl mutated to delve into the world of crime scene investigations, the outcome might bear a striking resemblance to Only Murders In The Building. In collaboration with Hulu, Starz, and Disney+, the light-hearted 10-episode crime series provides the filling for the Steve-Martin-shaped hole viewers have been left with over the past decade. Intended to become a staple upbeat farce, the show provides a much-needed antidote to other current crime series’ grounded in realism—whilst simultaneously highlighting facets of everyday life rarely touched upon in televised narratives. However,  as some episodes don’t seem overly in conjunction with others, viewers can often be left asking the question every screenwriter dreads most—what’s the point? 

Following an unsightly death in their shared building, ailing actor Charles (Steve Martin), struggling Broadway director Oliver (Martin Short) and secretive Mabel (Selena Gomez) make an unexpected trio after deciding to start a podcast looking into the possible homicide. Coming under scrutiny from friends, family, neighbours, and local law enforcement, the haphazard investigation hits the comedy beats of a 1970s sitcom, while simultaneously exploring new digital territory. As whodunnits go, all is not what it seems as a simple suicide turns into something far more complex. 

From left to right: Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, Martin Short in ‘Only Murders in the Building’
Source: Craig Blankenhorn / ©Hulu / Courtesy Everett Collection

Only Murders In The Building starts with a corker of an opening episode. Our inciting death is set up beautifully, dangling all the threads viewers need to be willing to watch for the long haul. From the very beginning, the series explores breaking ground and effortlessly weaves in perspectives of those people we don’t often see (finally, two people over the age of 60 go on a first date). Not only is the context of podcast creation typically unchartered waters for TV, but the cross-generational friendships are a joy to behold in their wholesomeness. Purely platonic boundaries are never crossed, while their essence of inclusion remains completely valid—each offering something to another that they don’t have access to. 

Despite celebrity cameos making enjoyable highlights over the rest of the series (appearances by Tina Fey and Jane Lynch continue to be a delight throughout the series), much of the shows’  middle ground acts out like a wild fever dream. Through scattered lift sequences and disorganised debriefs, there’s almost an air of trying too hard to be farcical, tonally switching between deadly darkness and outrageous hilarity. Narrative hooks often feel too dragged out, either resulting in predictable outcomes or a level of far-fetched disbelief tending towards the point of no return. Significance of visual cues can feel instinctively lost—almost pointless links to Looney Tunes and bassoon-based innuendos lack in effect, only to be too little, too late to make up for. 

When the suspense does return (and it does), it’s sharp. Episodes in between the boring fillers claw back the edge-of-our-seat feeling, with an ultimately satisfying conclusion. The investigation almost doesn’t matter—the real fun comes from seeing the trio’s friendship blossom into solidarity. When the action heats up with drive chase scenes, jewellery heists and apartment break-ins, the audience has the team to fall back on. A particular shoutout is due to Episode 6, which explores dialogue-free drama through the lens of a deaf character to excellent realisation.

The Verdict 

While the series leaves the viewers rooting for our main characters’ friendship, we’re not rooting for much else. Only Murders In The Building is almost better suited to one-day binging, so the loss of a constant drive is less noticeable. It’s a guaranteed fun watch, leaving you laughing or texting your friends because you can’t believe things are that absurd. Seemingly unnecessary inclusions do pay off—at the very least, you’ll come away learning “tingling my balls” in American Sign Language. 

Words by Jasmine Valentine

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