In the first four episodes of the ten-part first season of “Only Murders in the Building” viewed for this critique, one feels a bit reminded of Rian Johnson’s clever crime piece “Knives Out”, which makes classic detective work amazingly entertaining and in some moments too surprised with a dash of social criticism. The series co-created by Steve Martin is certainly less versatile, but its crisp episodes, which are just above or below the 30-minute mark, never allow boredom to arise.
Even the entry takes place without excessive character exposures, but lets the three main characters and their quirks quickly take shape. Charles (Steve Martin) was the star of a once successful crime series, likes to quote dialog sentences from his character, is still recognized on the street, but does not have to be ready for a picture every time. Sometimes the people who approach him just want him to take a picture of them. The former fame has now faded, and this is probably one of the reasons why the misanthropic Charles has withdrawn more and more into his snail shell, the exclusive Arconia residence on New York’s Upper West Side. He’s fine with being alone, he explains with conviction at one point.
The extroverted Broadway director Oliver (Martin Short), who says he is working on various new projects, is more sociable. In fact, the water is up to the dog owner’s neck. And yet he does not want to part with his pleasant life in the Arconia, as suggested by his son Will (Ryan Broussard), who has to help out with cash grants from time to time. The young Mabel (Selena Gomez), on the other hand, doesn’t really seem to fit into the dignified building, but has been associated with it since childhood. Today the talented artist is renovating her aunt’s apartment, which she also lives in. At that time she was moving through the block with her own gang of detectives on vacation visits.
The three neighbors who were initially unknown could not be more different. What they have in common, however, is their love for a true crime podcast called “All Is Not Okay in Oklahoma”. As luck would have it, Mabel, Charles and Oliver are standing in the elevator with a young man (Julian Cihi) of all people, who is found dead a little later. All traces suggest suicide. The crime fans, however, have their doubts and therefore do their own research. They quickly discover evidence that suggests a crime, which only fuels their curiosity. At Oliver’s suggestion, they finally want to produce their own podcast that presents the results of their investigation.
“Only Murders in the Building” – the title refers to the principle that amateur detectives will only investigate murders that happen in their home – has a playful note from the start, which sometimes leads to wonderfully absurd ideas. When the trio is thinking about possible suspects in one scene, for example, the melodramatic Oliver imagines the possible culprits appearing like a casting on a theater stage. Anyone who cannot convince him with his arguments and motives will be referred straight to the second row by the maestro. An actually dreary process that takes place in front of a typical photo board with notes turns unexpectedly into something lively and amusingly over-the-top.
The classic thing about the crime series is that we rarely leave the Arconia. Much of the action takes place in this very place, which we are gradually getting to know better. The pan in the animated opening credits across the facade of the building awakens memories of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “The Window to the Courtyard”, in which a photographer temporarily confined to a wheelchair immerses himself in the lives of his neighbors. The Hulu series, too, step by step defolishes a sometimes curious microcosm with a few dazzling secondary characters. One gets a feeling for the idiosyncratic community during a gathering in honor of the dead, whom obviously nobody could stand. The death of a cat affects those present noticeably more.
The case of the hobby investigator trio certainly doesn’t knock you off your feet because of its twists in the first four episodes. A few secrets of the protagonists, including the close connection between a person and the alleged suicide, make sure that you want to know what happens next and what is behind the possible crime. The fact that you can’t escape the charm of “Only Murders in the Building” is mainly due to the chemistry of the main actors, who – it may sound clichéd, but it’s definitely true here – complement each other well. Selena Gomez brings a refreshing snottiness to the action and repeatedly demonstrates her comedic talent. For example, when Mabel reprimands Oliver for making sexist statements. Martin Short contributes the necessary energy as a forward – also absurd – ideas of sparkling steamy talkers. And Steve Martin shines as a quieter representative who, if he wants, however, has the mischief on his neck. As co-creator of the series, he deserves praise for the many small, funny everyday observations, the satirical view of the true crime phenomenon, the lovingly honest New York insights and the not a few pop cultural allusions, which are mostly not convulsively forced. A coup can certainly be described as the commitment of a well-known musician who embodies himself and at some point comes into the focus of obsessive crime fans. In this context, Mabel, Charles and Oliver briefly discuss one of his most famous songs, which is often misunderstood. One of various moments that put at least a smile on the face of the viewer.
This text is based on the review of the first four of a total of ten episodes of the series “Only Murders in the Building”.
My rating: 4/5
The series “Only Murders in the Building” can be seen from August 31, 2021 on the US streaming service Hulu. At the same time, the German launch will take place via Disney +.