TV Review: ‘Only Murders In The Building’ On HULU

Review by James Lindorf

Steve Martin began his career in Hollywood over 50 years ago, and generations of fans have loved him ever since. With the release of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” on August 31st Martin will be taking on his first lead television role and his first regular TV role since “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour” in 1972. As well as starring in the 10 episode comedic murder-mystery, the show is based on an idea Martin had at a party while talking with other 70+-year-old entertainers. Martin partnered with showrunner John Hoffman (Grace and Frankie) and Dan Fogelman (This is Us) to bring the series to life. The first three episodes will be available on the 31st, with a new episode dropping every Tuesday through October 19th.

“Only Murders In The Building” follows three strangers (Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez) who have only two things in common. They all live in the Arconia on New York’s upper west side, and they are obsessed with true crime podcasts. Unconvinced that the death of Tim Kono, another Arconia resident, is a suicide, the three begin their investigation and podcast titles “Only Murders in the Building” to document the case. Their investigation will not only delve into the life of Kono, but it will also expose long-held secrets about the building and its inhabitants. But perhaps the most shocking lies they will expose will be the ones that have told each other.

Steve Martin plays Charles, an older actor 30 years past his heyday as America’s favorite ’90s TV Detective Brazzos. He has lived in the Arconia for 30 years, but Charles’ habit of keeping to himself means he knows nearly no one in the building and is liked by even fewer. Charles has turned his meticulous nature into an obsession with true crime, carefully documenting clues alongside his favorite podcasts. The unlikely partnership and perhaps friendship that develops in the wake of Tim Kono’s death has reenergized Charles and provided him a sense of purpose for the first time in years.

Martin Short has been Steve Martin’s friend and frequent collaborator over the last 35+ years and joined the show as Oliver, a notorious theater director. Oliver is a perennial showman in constant search of his next great project. He spends his days doting on his beloved bulldog, Winnie, trying to reconnect with his estranged son and being aggressively and abusively friendly. If you give him the time, he will insert himself into your life, treat it like he is doing you a favor, and then take advantage of you financially. Oliver is fascinated with the idea of solving the mystery, but in the end, it is all about turning a profit.

The final member of the team is Selena Gomez’s Mabel. A stylish young woman in her 20’s who has a name as old as her fellow amateur detectives. She lives alone in an apartment she shouldn’t be able to afford and is so guarded with her past it is never clear what is real and what is a lie. She admits to having trouble forming bonds but her love of mysteries beginning with The Hardy Boys as a kid, leads her to partner with her older neighbors. Her keen instincts and intelligence make her the most valuable team member when it comes to actual crime-solving.

“Only Murders in the Building” is never laugh-out-loud funny, but it is chuckle-inducing. It finds its humor in its quirkiness and its exaggeration of real life. Making jokes about the characters’ quirks, how people often mourn the loss of an animal more than that of a person, the relationship between residents and employees at the Arconia, taking shots at the theater, and fad diets. The humor alone is not enough to keep audiences returning every week, but what it lacks in laughs, it makes up for in charm. The three main characters are rich and complex; they are their own mysteries waiting to be unraveled. Both Martin (76) and Short (71) wear their age well, and while they may not be the physical comedians they once were, they haven’t lost a step otherwise. The real stand-out for me was Selena Gomez. I mostly think of her as a singer and a Disney child star where subtle acting is forbidden, but here she is holding her own if not outshining her co-stars. With great performances, charm to spare, a cliffhanger in nearly every episode, and an abundance of cameos, “Only Murders in the Building” is a 4 out of 5.

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