The team behind Only Murders in the Building certainly knows how to hook in viewers. It starts as early as the opening seconds of the pilot episode where a panicked Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin) and Oliver Putman (Martin Short) find a blood-covered Mabel (Selena Gomez) sitting over a dead body, exclaiming “It’s not what you think.” If you know Selena Gomez then you know murder is totally off brand for the actress/musician/business mogul. The tease of a setup quickly had me dying for more
As the first season wrapped and just moments after the murderer was apprehended you would expect time the show would give you time to catch your breath. Instead, in the closing minutes Mabel is implicated in a new murder, this time along with her podcast-mates and friends, Charles and Oliver. The trio that just solved one mystery are led out in handcuffs with viewers hooked again, trailing their every step, waiting to see how this mystery would be resolved.
The trend continues to set up season three as we watch new character Ben Glenroy (played by Paul Rudd) drop dead on stage in Oliver’s comeback Broadway production. Reacting to the shocking death, Mabel says exactly what the viewers may be thinking, “You’ve got to be f*cking kidding me.” As ludicrous as a third murder so closely connected to The Arconia podcast crew may be, no one (including me) seems to mind, it is actually part of its charm. Plus, a new murder in the building means another mystery and another season of one of the most enjoyable escapes on television.
After all, the series has always been rooted in the farcical. Even the premise of two past-their-prime men teaming up with a young artist to solve murders in their building while documenting every step on their true crime podcast could be easy to question if it was not so much damn fun.
Season one was a purely magical mix: a novel murder, clever writing, meta moments, plenty of style, the charm, injecting humor, creativity and depth into every scene and character. It was followed by a second season that captured the same magic. How long can this streak continue for the John Hoffman/Steve Martin created series? Perhaps the answer is as long as there are murders in the building and colorful characters to suspect, because season three delivers yet another captivating caper even if it continues to fight off its age a little.
The third season can be a make it or break it point for a series, that is if it is lucky enough to survive the sophomore slump. Thankfully for Murders built into it is one of the most clever creative devices to avoid crashing and burning. By setting itself in a large apartment building which allows for an endless array of suspicious characters. Behind every apartment door is a new suspect with their own unique background to explore.
They have ranged a mob-connected financier (played by Nathan Lane, who is sadly missing in season three) to his deaf son Theo (played by James Caverly showcased in one of the series best episodes to date), to real life rock stars and comedians Sting and Amy Schumer who both play fictionalized versions of themselves, the incredible Tina Fey, and even screen legends like Shirley MacCaline.
Season three expands the pool of potential suspects by including the cast and crew of Oliver’s play which becomes a musical, “Death Rattle.” Someone wanted Ben dead and everyone in the cast is a suspect, even Charles. The most notable additions for season three are the victim, Ben (Rudd) and Meryl Streep as his co-star Loretta – both playfully going against type. Rudd sets aside his loveable everyman image to play a narcissistic and grating actor. Ben is known for his hit franchise “CoBro” (a man who transforms into a giant crime-fighting cobra) something he never lets his cast mates forget. It does not take long to understand why he’s the victim.
Streep, as always, understands the assignment. She is as wonderful as ever doing as Streep does, turning every moment on screen into must watch television. The beloved actress puts everything into playing Loretta, the fumbling but talented actress looking for her first big roles. Just like everyone else she becomes a suspect and also a potential love interest, which we know from past seasons makes things deliciously more complex for all involved. It also means she is not used sparingly.
Even when name dropping and surprise guest starring (and this season has some doozies) it all feels unpretentious and natural fit because of how ridiculous of a starting point we came in at. The revolving door of A-list actors, celebrity guests, new and returning characters are a treat (Ashley Park, Andrea Martin, Jeremy Shamos), but what keeps bringing people back for more are the core three – Martin, Short and Gomez. The addition of big name talent like Streep and Rudd never skips into the trap of the shiny new toy overshadowing the main trio who are as appealing now as they were in the pilot. The showrunners are sure to give viewers plenty of what they came for.
Martin and Short deliver plenty of their trademark jabs at each other while the droll Selena Gomez drops deadpan commentary while eye rolling her way through it all. Our main trio are never forced to evolve too quickly nor are they in a state of arrested development commonly found in other shows. There is a progression with each characters’ lives, the podcast, and the mysteries that feels relatively organic.
The latest mystery is full of twists, turns and surprises kicked off with a whopper of an episode one reveal which I won’t spoil here. Season three goes beyond laying out a good whodunnit in The Arconia to avoid getting too formulaic by making the musical at the center of the season much more than a plot device, it becomes a character of its own.
The silly musical “Death Rattle” which centers around infant Nova Scotians triplets accused of murder (yep, you read that right.) It also serves as both Oliver and Charles’ comeback vehicle while giving Mabel time for a romance, self-reflection and investigating of her own. So the stakes are high as the mystery builds and we watch the musical take shape from the ground up.
Being a sucker for a good musical I found it a joy to watch what starts as a silly gag grow into something much bigger. Auditions, table reads, and rehearsals are just the tip of the iceberg; it goes full blown musical, exceeding all my expectations. To do so they enlisted some surprisingly strong Broadway pedigree to do so. The uber-talented Academy Award winners Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land and Spirited) are on board delivering the tricky tongue twisting, “Which of the Pickwick Triplets Did It.”
Even though I can barely sing one line of it, the song becomes an earworm as we watch Charles try to conquer the challenging rapid-fire ditty leading him to come down with newfound crippling anxiety issues. Also contributing to the song list are Sara Bareilles and Michael C. Jackson whose song, “Look for the Light” performed by Streep is an absolute showstopper.
You never forget your first Murders. As a series adds onto its number of the seasons it can be challenging to replicate the magic. Some of OMITB’s humor and beats become a little familiar along the way, it never rests on its laurels, finding inventive and bold ways to remain fresh and engaging without losing its original spirit. This season snuck up on me. Like the musical, the mystery unfolds in a slow but deliberate fashion. By the end of episode eight (the last episode I was given screeners for) both snowball into something captivating, hitting both the heightened dramatic and musical high notes. While season three does not recreate the magic of season one, it create magic of its own.
The first two episodes of season three of Only Murders In the Building are now streaming on Hulu with new episodes of the 10-episode season premiering each Tuesday.