Our Take: 4 Stars
True crime podcasts and theatre references. New York in the fall and sweaters. Steve Martin and Martin Short. Selena Gomez and combat boots. Hulu’s new “Only Murders in the Building” excels in its clever pairings.
After a shocking and hilarious flash forward to an impending murder, the show begins with a sequence of introductions of its three main characters flashing back to two months earlier. Narrating their own strut through the Upper Westside of New York, each character is showcased with a theme song.
Charles Hagen Savage (Steve Martin, “Cheaper by the Dozen”) used to play a detective on TV, and now he can be found repeating his old catchline to the children of his fans. His narration, an excited ode to the safety of the city over the common-murder-podcast-setting the “boonies,” is set to a swinging, jazz number “Manhattan.”
After a man gives her an unwanted comment as she walks down the street, Mabel (Selena Gomez, “Wizards of Waverly Place”) details in her narration her study of true crime podcasts to prepare her for the dangers of the city and her fantasy of killing an intruder. Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now” plays for this stylish young woman.
Oliver (Martin Short, “The Santa Clause 3”), unemployed off-off Broadway director, remarks on the city’s resilience in his opening narration. The song “Never Fully Dressed”, from Annie, plays as he theatrically over-glamorizes his nostalgia for the city. The façade Martin Short is famous for playing dissolves as the music fades into Clair De Lune, showing the sincerity this show can muster.
And after their individual introductions to the audience, these characters are unwillingly introduced to each other in the elevator, start off on the wrong foot, and part ways.
But, fortunately, after an alarm in the building goes off and the apartment must be evacuated, the three characters meet again in a restaurant. They realize they are each trying to listen to the same podcast and bond over a shared love of true crime podcasts. Then, when they realize the alarm was due to a mysterious death, they bond over their shared suspicion of this true crime.
“Only Murders in the Building” balances the drama of a true crime show with the humor of the character’s lack of investigative ability and absurd twists, such as guest stars Sting and Tina Fey. It shows a deep awareness, balancing parody with homages to podcasting. Most compellingly, the endearment and banter of friends that forms between these detectives feels honest and refreshing.
The visual aesthetic and attention to styling in the show is remarkable. The characters wear detective versions of the subtly 60s influenced trends (that are also appearing on Georgia Tech campus). For Gomez’s character this means big belt buckles on miniskirts, turtlenecks, stockings, and plaid pants. For the gentlemen, it’s button ups under sweaters and, yes, plaid pants. And the titular “Building” itself is quite stylish too, with the classic French architecture trends expected of an old New York apartment building.
“Only Murders In the Building” is funny and honest, but it loses a star for its at times disorganized pacing. Cliffhangers for one episode go unacknowledged while other plots are prioritized. This mixed focus might annoy viewers expecting a case-per-episode pace of a pure crime show like “NCIS,” but for fans looking for comedy and endearing characters, this show has lots to offer. It’s great for a group-watch with plenty of room for mystery theory discussion, but it’s also fun to watch alone to fully appreciate all the one-liners.
Watch “Only Murders In the Building” now on Hulu or save for a more festive watch when Georgia’s weather starts to realize what season it is.