Only murders In The Building is like a warm cup of coffee. It’s comforting, refreshing but also stimulating. A campy and fun whodunnit that doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet executes its premise expertly.
Written by Tresca Mallon
Centring around an unlikely trio, washed-up actor Charles Haden Savage (Steve Martin), failed theatre producer Oliver Putnam (Martin Shortt) and surly wannabe interior decorator Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), who are united by their love of true crime. After a murder is committed in their building, the Arconia, the trio set off to solve the murder while recording their own true crime podcast.
Making a Murderer, Tiger King and Wine and Crime have made true crime into a mainstream trend over the last few years. However, our interest with true crime didn’t begin with the Netflix six-part series or the binge-worthy podcast. As a society we have always been obsessed with the gory details of murder. From tales of assassination plots in Ancient Rome, to street performers re-enacting Jack the Ripper, to the rapidity of the tabloid press. True crime has always been an obsession. Shows like CrimeWatch or DateLine have been a staple in the culture for years and podcasts like Serial have long been big hits.
Only Murders in the Building is unique in its ability to take this global intrigue and satirise the inherent morbidity and voyeuristic nature of the genre. The detachment of the characters from the tragic circumstances allows for a comedy of errors which is compelling but also an effective comment on the cognitive dissonance which allows us as an audience to engage with such a dark subject matter as comedic entertainment.
Every episode has a different tone which takes the characters on twists and turns, with false starts and red herrings galore. While there are various heartwarming moments the show is never allowed to become sickly sweet or overly sincere. Following a comfortingly formulaic murder mystery structure, with enough intrigue to keep the audience guessing, the show refreshes the genre without reinventing the wheel. One of the most innovative episodes is episode 7. Most of it is from the perspective of the deaf antagonist Theo (James Caverly). This episode is brilliant for representation, especially given the important conversations taking place surrounding access to close-captioning for deaf and hard of hearing viewers. In addition, the scenes which aren’t from Theo’s perspective have no dialogue and showcase ingenious ways for the characters to communicate action without speaking allowing for some wonderful physical comedy. The scrabble scene is particularly inventive and adorable.
Veteran comedic duo Steve Martin and Martin Shortt are typically hysterical, injecting a large dose of screwball comedy and pitch perfect timing into the narrative. The dynamic is enhanced by the inclusion of Selena Gomez, who is in many ways polar opposite the old-guard comedians. Gomez’s sullen and matter-of-fact tone is the perfect foil to the more outlandish characters of Martin and Short. The trios dynamic is unexpectedly electric as they bounce off each other and allow each their own moments. Steve Martin’s drug-induced paralysis scenes are particularly excellent. The generational difference is utilised to comedic effect without feeling hammed or ageist to either generation. There’s very little regressive stereotyping between the three which would have been an easy crutch for the writers.
Only Murders In The Building also benefits from a stellar supporting cast, as well as some excellent guest appearances. Amy Ryan excels as Charles’ wholesomely weird love interest Jan and Nathan Lane is perfectly menacing as early antagonist, the Greek food behemoth Teddy Dimas. Guest appearances from Tina Fey as the calculating and manipulative podcast host Cinda Canning and Jaboukie-Young-White as an obsessive fan, provide fun side-plots while revealing some of the murkier parts of the True Crime industrial complex. A true stand-out supporting character is Detective Williams. Da’Vine Joy Rando’s dead-pan delivery is a perfect and hilarious contrast to the high-energy tone of the caper. While her screen-time is unfortunately minimal, she steals her scenes every time.
Boasting one of the most enjoyable title sequences and theme tunes in recent memory and a gorgeously vibrant colour palette. Only Murders In The Building has a fun time playing with it’s audience’s senses as it creates the world of the Arconia. The show proves that sometimes the simplest of premises spark the greatest results. By imbuing a tried and tested formula with original detail and carefully crafted characters, Only Murders grips us while allowing us to relax into a cosy murder mystery.