After 35 years of sharing stage and screen, it’s still a delight to watch Steve Martin and Martin Short work together. Now, along with Selena Gomez, they find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery via Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, a 10-episode series co-created by Martin and John Hoffman (Grace & Frankie, Looking). The endearing but sometimes cheesy comedy follows the trio of true-crime obsessives as they try to crack a case in their shared apartment building.
The neighbors make an unlikely gang: Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) is a washed-up actor who used to star as a TV detective, and the overconfidence he has in his residual investigative skills thinly masks a deeply insecure man; Oliver Putnam (Short) contrasts Charles as a flamboyant former theater director with a big personality and even bigger debts; Mabel (a well-cast Gomez) is a stylish and quietly mysterious young woman who has more of a connection to the case than she initially lets on. But when they find out they share a suspicion that a tragic suicide in their building was actually a homicide, they decide to try their hand at uncovering the truth—and start a podcast to follow their investigation.
Though Only Murders in the Building is mostly a lighthearted show, there are still effective dark moments, like when the bloody murder scene is first revealed. But they’re always played for laughs, and the farcical investigation takes amusing turns throughout the eight episodes provided for review. Often toeing the line between silly and corny, Only Murders keeps you invested in the central mystery while playing with quirky possibilities that can hardly be believed. But it also features a few great cameos along the way: in addition to our primary detectives, Amy Ryan and Nathan Lane make excellent guest stars, and the overall group of Arconia’s (primarily) elderly residents are a comical selection of possible suspects.
The series—and the podcast within—depend on our central trio being engaging, and the combination of personalities works out well; the cast is dynamic, earning laughs while slowly revealing morsels of their secretly lonely lives to each other. They all call the high-end apartment building home, but none have felt truly comfortable there for years. Overcoming their surface-level differences, their blossoming bonds are genuine and endearing. Though the group works very well together, it’s Martin Short who steals nearly every scene. His familiar over-the-top line reads and bizarre bits are great at helping temper the grisly subject matter with humor. (Without explanation, Oliver exclusively eats dips. “I haven’t had a real entree in years,” he brags at one point. “It’s all containers and fingers.”)
Just as it tries to balance silliness with danger, Only Murders in the Building also tries to balance appealing to multiple audiences; it seems likely to draw an older crowd because of Martin and Short, but the humor should land for younger audiences, too. Though the characters like to complicate things, Only Murders in the Building itself keeps things simple; it’s a pleasant and enjoyable series that’s clearly made with a lot of heart.
Only Murders in the Building’s first three episodes premiere August 31 on Hulu, with new episodes on Tuesdays.
Kristen Reid is a culture writer and TV intern for Paste Magazine. She’s been known to spend too much time rewatching her favorite sitcoms, yelling at her friends to watch more TV, and falling in love with fictional characters. You can follow her on Twitter @kreidd for late-night thoughts on whatever she’s bingeing now.
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