'Only Murders in the Building' Has All the Fun of True Crime Without the Guilt

Created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman

Starring Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, Martin Short, Amy Ryan, Aaron Dominguez, Nathan Lane, Julian Cihi

BY Alex HudsonPublished Sep 7, 2021

"True crime lover" has, perhaps regrettably, become a bit of a personality type, as serious investigation podcasts like Serial and S-Town have been replaced in the zeitgeist by shamelessly pulpy shows like My Favorite Murder and True Crime & Cocktails. Only Murders in the Building skewers the trend — kind of — by following three true crime obsessives who launch their own podcast when someone dies in their swanky Manhattan apartment building.

Washed up actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), struggling Broadway director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and directionless millennial Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) are all fans of the podcast All Is Not OK in Oklahoma, and they bond over a cliffhanger when they're forced out of their apartment building by a fire alarm. It turns out that their neighbour Tim Kono (Julian Cihi) has died in an apparent suicide, but our trio aren't buying the official story, so they launch their own podcast.

Only Murders in the Building is a bit muddled in its target. It pokes fun at true crime podcasts, parodies the self-importance of minor showbiz figures, and takes jabs at both luddite boomers and entitled millennials. Many of the jokes land — Charles's texting typos are particularly funny, and there are a couple of perfectly chosen celeb cameos — but they never cohere into a clear tone or point of view.

But even though Only Murders in the Building is billed as a comedy, its best parts aren't funny at all. The moments that really stick are meditations on loneliness: an elderly man who isolates himself for fear of getting hurt, a grandfather alienated from his son's family, a 20-something still wallowing in the traumas of youth. The mournful piano score by Siddhartha Khosla — including the slightly familiar-sounding theme song — emphasizes the quiet isolation of living in a huge city and being isolated amidst anonymous strangers, and all of the actors convey emotional wounds from behind a confident veneer. The show has arty ambitions; without spoiling too much, one episode in the second half of the season totally switches up the format.

Like Knives Out, Only Murders in the Building is a parody of a whodunnit that effectively embodies the very genre it's making fun of. The characters are worth getting invested in, and the plot is decently twisty. It's got all of the fun of crime without any of the real-life exploitation.

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