Murderville Found Guilty of Being an Unfunny FlopImage courtesy of Netflix Comedy Reviews Murderville
The list of failed UK-to-US television adaptations grew one stronger this February with the premiere of the comedy Murderville on Netflix, based on the BBC Three show Murder in Successville. Often these botched programs suffer because more obvious American comic sensibilities flatten the drier British humor, but in the case of Murderville, there are even more culprits to blame.
For those unfamiliar with Murderville, the show follows a hardboiled detective, Terry Seattle (Will Arnett of Arrested Development fame), and a celebrity guest as they try to solve a murder. The catch: the famous guest must improvise their way through the show, while everyone else has scripted lines.
Murderville departs from the original in quite a few ways—and always to its detriment—but the most egregious change is the overuse of comedians as the celebrity guest. Murder in Successville brought in people who weren’t accustomed to improv, from Dragons’ Den presenter Deborah Meaden to Baby Spice to straight-laced radio presenters. Watching them fumble through ridiculous scenarios and try not to laugh proved much funnier than seeing Conan O’Brien (who features in the first Murderville episode) navigate prompts with ease. The best Murderville episode by far stars ex-football running back Marshawn Lynch (and if you’ve ever seen the video of him enjoying Buffalo nightlife, you know how funny he can be), because he’s so guileless and out of his comfort zone.
Beyond the poor choice in guests, the writing is simply not that funny in Murderville, partly thanks to a change in the identities of suspects and victims. In Murder in Successville, the murder victims and possible culprits were all celebrities, which lent quite a bit of room for fun with impressions and playing off known personalities. Murderville’s world is made up of original characters, none of whom are that memorable (not that they have much screen time to leave an impression).
Sometimes subpar writing can be carried by a charismatic star, but Arnett unfortunately isn’t as funny as the UK show’s D.I. Sleet, aka Tom Davis (who’ll be a familiar face to any Paddington 2 fans). Yes, they both have gravelly voices, and both of their characters are sad sacks, but Arnett’s simply too cartoonish and bumbling as Seattle. Davis’ self-seriousness offset the awkwardness of the celebrity guests, while pretty much anyone must become a straight man next to Arnett’s goofiness.
The production of Murderville also leaves something to be desired, with most shots being relatively light and flat. A lack of visual depth can have its place, like in Parks and Recreation, which was all about bureaucracy and everyday foibles, but just adds to the overall blandness of Murderville. Murder in Successville, on the other hand, played with visual language related to the crime genre, whether using the neon lights and high contrast of noir films or the grandeur of an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
The failure of Netflix’s latest comedy is utterly predictable. The dull production choices and misguided changes just compound the lack of creativity that comes with lifting an already established premise. All this to say: don’t waste your time, just flick past and re-watch something that’s actually funny.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.