Only Murders in the Building Series Review: A refreshing blend of buddy comedy and murder mystery
Only Murders in the Building's effectiveness comes mostly from its clarity, not just in tone but also in its storytelling structure
Hulu's Only Murders In the Building (OMITB), streaming in India on Disney+ Hotstar, brings together a trio of characters who wouldn't normally find themselves in each other's company if not for a case of murder in their building. It's one of the freshest entries in television, and it comes from the fact that it gives equal importance to interpersonal dynamics and sleuth work. It's also careful not to focus too much on the morbid details. This is Rear Window meets The Hangover, but with moderate profanity.
Creators: Steve Martin, John Hoffman
Cast: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez
Streaming on: Disney+ Hotstar
Let me first introduce the trio: Steve Martin is Charles Haden Savage, a former television star; Martin Short is Oliver Putnam, a currently unsuccessful Broadway director; and Selena Gomez, the young woman whose history becomes a crucial element in solving the crime. The murder mystery aspect aside, OMITB is essentially a buddy comedy with just enough character background to go around. If I mentioned more about the characters, I might step on a spoiler-mine. At its core, OMITB is about three people seeking something to fill that big void in their lives, and age is not necessarily the reason. It carries a surprising amount of emotional heft, which comes mostly from the presence of Martin Short, who plays Putnam as someone desperate but not enough to do something harsh. The hope of a second chance sustains his spirits. He is undoubtedly my favourite character in the show, and it reminds us what an underappreciated actor Short is.
The age aspect is partly true of Martin and Short's characters, though. Their best years are behind them, and when they find an opportunity to revitalise themselves, they give it their all, even if that means having to annoy the hell out of each other with their occasionally unbridled quirkiness and inflated ego. Selena Gomez's inclusion in this picture might feel odd initially, but she grows into an endearing character as the show progresses. That is if you are willing to overlook her one-tone dialogue delivery, which tends to be quite off-putting at times. But as a character, Mabel works wonderfully with Charles and Putnam.
Fortunately, the primary reason for OMITB's effectiveness is its clarity, not just in tone but in its storytelling format too. It manages to find the right balance between its highs and lows. In a whodunit, we usually tend to remember how it began and ended but not necessarily what happened in between, even in some of the most iconic entries in the genre. We take pleasure in the guessing game and are relieved when the culprit gets caught. But most of the time, it's hard to recollect the routes they took. Thankfully, this is not the case with OMITB. When the end credits roll, we have a clear impression of what has transpired so far.
Perhaps the idea of Putnam coming up with a podcast to document each development helps us keep track of everything that happened in the previous episode. In this age where bingeing an entire season is the norm, the construction of OMITB is such that you wouldn't feel as though you missed anything because each episode opens with a recap of the previous one.
It would've been odd for a show of this nature to remain in high spirits all the time. It knows when to feel the blues. Though a large part of it is anchored by the witty banter between the characters, the attention-grabbing twists, turns and cliffhangers, it finds some space for ingenuity in the seventh episode, which serves as a momentary respite from the screwball comedy vibe of the rest of the show. This episode goes into silent film mode after introducing a hearing-impaired character integral to the plot. The approach caught me off-guard at first, but you get the point when you see the subtitles. It's arguably the most emotionally charged episode where even the principal characters communicate through gestures or mouth movements. The only constant is the piano score. It's as though it wants to be respectful to the individual in question.
It also helps that OMITB is populated by a host of memorable supporting players, most notably the thick-skinned African-American female cop who is about to have a baby with her girlfriend. As the number of 'sleuths' in the central team increase, the case eventually becomes a community experience. In the midst of this, old wounds find a way to heal. Broken relationships are fixed. We also get a hilarious cameo from Tina Fey.
You know that saying, 'family is not always blood'? It's true of the characters in OMITB. And the cliffhanger ending — one of the best I have seen in film and television history — holds not just the promise of a second season but of bringing back all three characters, whether they like it or not. The final twist binds them together in a way you have not seen before. Here's hoping the stakes get raised in the next season.