North Texas Daily

Shrewd ‘Only Murders in the Building’ skewers true crime with love

Shrewd ‘Only Murders in the Building’ skewers true crime with love

Shrewd ‘Only Murders in the Building’ skewers true crime with love
September 13
11:35 2021

“Do I wanna break into a dead guy’s apartment and go through all his shit? Sounds like an afternoon.”

The first impression Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” gives to its audience is deceptive — Steve Martin plays his usual grumpy old man schtick, Martin Short is bouncy and campy and Selena Gomez talks about her obsession with true crime and how she would kill an intruder in her apartment. One’s a grouch, one’s a keet and the last is a tad quirky. They all live in the same building, the Arconia. 

This dark comedy reveals its true colors in the following twenty minutes: a neighbor is murdered in the Arconia, the three start bonding over their favorite true-crime podcast and they soon decide to start their own. Shenanigans ensue. Whereas the marketing might lead viewers to expect a broad, safer comedy, “Only Murders” excels as a macabre, loving skewering of true-crime tropes and as a character-driven slice-of-life drama. 

The cast is simultaneously the show’s biggest misdirect and its greatest asset. As Charles Haden-Savage, Martin does lend his comedic stylings and does the washed-up old man well, but there’s more. He also gives space to show his rarely seen serious side, with Charles’s more neurotic, insecure side giving him excellent chemistry with the cast. It makes his more sanguine moments shine all the more. 

Second lead Short similarly shows off his dramatic chops, albeit as failed musical director Oliver Putnam. While Short’s trademark chirpy, over-the-top demeanor is intact, he really does garner a lot more sympathy than expected when he’s reflecting on his past failed shows while also bonding with Charles and Gomez’s Mabel. 

Speaking of Gomez, while she may be the least surprising of the leads in terms of what she brings to Mabel, how she factors into the plot ends up forming a strong core for the show’s heart and mystery. She’s not too far off from a colder Alex Russo, but her balancing of shared snark with the other two along with more emotionally genuine moments show Gomez has always been underrated as a serious acting talent. 

The energy between the three is easily the show’s most true strength, with Mabel’s more modern sensibilities bouncing off the more manic Oliver and pessimistic Charles and vice versa. They’re not afraid to get into conflict either, and the writers handle it in a way that doesn’t feel forced, but a natural result of the trio’s own flaws and the strange circumstances their friendship blossoms from.

Speaking of the writing, the comedy here knows how to swing between light-hearted banter as the amateur podcasters get to know one another then dive headfirst into pitch-black comedy as they try to investigate a bloody crime scene. Plenty of true crime cliches, such as the pretentious monologues, disliked murder victims and even the process of running a podcast are all twisted or pulled apart in some way for comedic effect. The latter is pretty obviously simplified and maybe even distractingly inaccurate for some but as a vehicle for mystery, it works.

There’s also a surprising soft genuine stroke in how “Only Murders” paints its characters. The show is not afraid to explore fraud between all the comedy, while also taking pains to make sure the tone isn’t overwhelming or destroyed. In particular, the pilot alone ventures into the fantastical to explore each protagonist’s emotional state.

Through its first three episodes, “Only Murders in the Building” pulls the rug out on audiences for a pleasant surprise. It’s a tight comedy with an aim at the true-crime genre that’s not particularly mean-spirited while it itself has been a solid mystery through its opening act. With seven left, hopefully, “Murders” manages the trickiest challenges of any mystery: a satisfying resolution to its murder and character arcs.

Current rating: 4.25/5

Image source Hulu

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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