Only Murders in the Building is a comedy-drama television series about three mystery-loving residents of the fictional Arconia apartment building in present-day New York City. The three start a podcast to explore the strange happenings in their building, a podcast fittingly titled “Only Murders in the Building.” It stars Selena Gomez as a young artist named Mabel Mora; Martin Short as an out-of-work theater director named Oliver Putnam; and Steve Martin as Charles-Haden Savage, a semi-retired actor whose claim to fame was playing Detective Brazzos in the 1990s fictional crime drama, Brazzos.
The show begins with a cold open of Oliver and Charles running down a hallway and rushing into an apartment and into the middle of a crime scene, where they find Mabel stating “It’s not what you think!” This scene creates immediate intrigue, which is probably why this scene appears in commercials for the show! The viewer may wonder: How did Oliver and Charles know to run to this apartment? Why is Mabel in a crime scene? Why is she saying “It’s not what you think!” when the surroundings clearly indicate that it’s exactly what we think? The show cleverly draws viewers in and makes them want to know more.
Only Murders in the Building wasn’t a show that I ever planned to watch. At first, all I knew about the show was that it starred Short, Martin, and Gomez, and that it was a murder mystery. The premise was intriguing, but I couldn’t picture a show where this threesome worked well together. The idea of Short and Martin together was a fine one; they have years of projects together, including Three Amigos! (1986), Father of the Bride (1991), Father of the Bride Part II (1995), and Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life (2018). The two have definite comedy chemistry, play well off of each other, and are comedy legends. But I just couldn’t picture the two gelling well with Gomez. I knew her from shows and movies like Wizards of Waverly Place (2007–2012) and Another Cinderella Story (2008). Hers was a dreamy world of kid/teen-friendly entertainment, and far from the universe of a show that might work with the tried-and-true dynamic duo of Martin and Short. It wasn’t until I saw the aforementioned commercial and learned the show was renewed for a second season that I finally decided the show was worth watching.
As the story begins to unfold, one thing becomes very clear: mysteries are embedded within the main mystery, and everyone has their secrets. These secrets drive the plot forward as Charles, Oliver, and Mabel make it their mission to find answers to the murder(s) committed inside the Arconia, while still holding onto their own baggage.
During the two seasons currently available to stream, the three protagonists all stay very consistent. With any investigative lead, the three jump into action in their individual comedic ways, creating plans to gather even more information and proof to support their theories.
When it comes to the comedy, of course, a show co-created by Steve Martin is clever and funny. The comedic pieces come out of nowhere. There is fainting at random times over unexpected things, a surprising amount of dip, and a Millennial joke that I personally found very amusing as a Millennial myself.
The casting for this show is fantastic. Though Only Murders in the Building has three main characters, it could almost be called an ensemble cast with such great and notable actors as Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, and Amy Ryan gracing the program. It also features many other apartment residents that burst with personality, their own quirks, and motivations.
We also meet the fan club of the podcast, the Arconiacs. The lively personalities of the residents, however, make the Arconiacs seem dull by comparison. We get to know them the least. This could be done on purpose; perhaps we will get to know them more as the story continues, as Only Murders in the Building has been renewed for a third season.
Episodes of the show move at a steady pace that is easy to follow but don’t make viewers feel as if they are being coddled. Each episode brings in new details or connects previous dots of the plot in ways one might not see coming.
Another excellent component used in Only Murders in the Building’s episodes is the inventive storytelling. A great highlight of this is Season 1 Episode 7, which has virtually no spoken sound. It’s an entire episode done without the spoken word and is full of American Sign Language (ASL) and subtitles. In this episode, the viewer gets to know more about one of the residents who is deaf, Theo Dimas, played by James Caverly, an actor who was born deaf in real life. This episode from Theo’s point-of-view is a great step in the direction of inclusivity. Many important details are revealed, and it is one of the most enthralling episodes to date.
Overall, the change in viewpoints during the show is used masterfully, allowing the viewer to get to know several of the characters through a day-in-the-life for them. Not only are we given more information to apply to the major mystery, but also the information builds upon that mystery, creating deeper layers of meaning and more intrigue.
In addition to being comedic and filled with dramatic situations, Only Murders in the Building is nice to look at visually. Both the color palette and lighting give a look of new-school opulence, which makes sense for a tale set in an upscale apartment building that houses the likes of Sting! It is beautifully lit with warm, rich colors. The décor matches well with this theme. The sound is clear, and the editing choices make sense, letting viewers know and see just enough.
An additional great facet of Only Murders in the Building is the music. With original music composed by Siddhartha Khosla, the soundtrack includes a wide yet somehow fitting range from “you should see me in a crown” by Billie Eilish to “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus & Chaka Khan to “Keep Searchin’” by Del Shannon.
With so many great elements, Only Murders in the Building is a fun ride filled with mystery, hilarity, and unlikely drama. It is surprisingly good and makes viewers feel like unofficial residents of the Arconia. I’m very curious to see what this whodunit program has in store for Season 3, and I look forward to being captivated by it once again.
Only Murders in the Building
Created by: Steve Martin and John Hoffman
Starring: Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez
Streaming on Hulu