Review by Tim Robins
Faced with so much superhero disappointment, I’ve decided to review something off-topic but that I’ve actually enjoyed – Only Murders in the Building, a whodunnit created by Steve Martin (The Jerk) and John Hoffman (Northern Lights), now in its second season on streaming service Hulu in the United States.
The premise is resolutely “high concept”. Martin plays a nearly semi-retired actor, Charles Haden-Savage, best known for his role as a TV detective series, Brazzos, (catchphrase “This takes the investigation in a whole new direction”). Martin Short (Mars Attacks!) plays a broke theatre director, Oliver Putnam, reduced to asking his son for loans to meet the rent. Savage and Putnam live in Arcadia, a huge block of luxury flats, and share a love of true crime podcasts.
When a young neighbour, Tim Kono, is murdered, the odd couple decide to focus their podcast only on murders in their building. Along the way, the pair are joined by an ensemble cast including cute as a button youngsters Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) and Oscar Torres (Aaron Dominguez).
Across the season, the amateur detectives expose other criminal activity: poisoned pets, grave robbing, a stabbing, a miscarriage of justice and a murder in the buliding’s past. The first season opens with a yet-to-be identified young woman, covered in blood and kneeling beside a corpse. By the end of the season, you may have forgotten this scene, but don’t worry, the script hasn’t.
It’s clear Only Murders in the Building is not a high-powered police procedural such as the Law & Order and the CSI series. It explicitly references The Hardy Boys and Murder She Wrote – so we’re talking afternoon TV in the UK. The half hour episodes are entertaining, bite-sized chunks of farce, relationship drama and gently comedic performances.
There are smart moments, especially in an episode about characters being compelled to keep quiet about what they know, told through the eyes and ears of the hearing-impaired son of the podcast’s sponsor, Theo Demas (James Caverly). In another episode, fans of the podcast who have staked out the Arcadia are invited by Putnam to help restage the murder under investigation.
Although Martin and Short take centre stage, the bright, sassy cast of female characters advance the plot, contribute to the various conflicts and are enormously entertaining. Tina Fey (in a parody of real-life podcaster Sarah Koenig) is Cinda Channing, the host of the true crime podcast All Is Not OK in Oklahoma, who inadvertently boosts Savage and Putnam’s work by making fun of it during a TV appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. .
Jayne Houdyshell plays the domineering president of the Arconia’s board of residents with great gusto, Jane Lynch gives the later episodes a kick-up-the arse as Savage’s female stunt double on Brazzos and Amy Ryan plays bassoon as Haden-Savage’s new, somewhat off kilter romantic interest, Jan Bellows.
Special mention goes to Da’Vine Joy Radolf, as Detective Williams whose girl-friend gradually persuades her that Savage and Putnam may be on to something.
Then there’s celebrity suspect, Sting. Stunt casting or a genuine suspect? When a threatening note reading “I’ll be watching you” is posted on the door of a stab victim, the answer may be both.
Thank you, Hulu, for bringing this comedic, lightly suspenseful, always entertaining summer treat to our screens. Season two awaits!
Only Murders in the Building Season One is available in the UK on Disney+ and Season Two is running now on the service, with new episodes every Tuesday. (Episode 5 out today)
Dear reader, a review is an opinion, not a statement of fact – other opinions are available, including yours