Outside of the Marvel shows, Disney Plus has so far been a one-stop shop for all the intellectual properties and studio back catalogues it has bought up. The much heralded streaming service has hardly been the zeitgeist of must-see television, The Mandalorian notwithstanding. So it is a genuine delight for brand new non-franchise based show Only Murders In The Building to be gaining traction, thanks to a fine combination of performances, writing, mystery, and comedy.
Only Murders In The Building is co-created by and co-starring Steve Martin. Along with Martin Short and Selena Gomez, our main cast play a collection of true-crime podcast fans who, upon discovering that an actual murder has taken place in their upmarket NYC apartment building, decide to put together their own podcast whilst trying to track down the culprit. A pompous washed up TV detective (Charles-Haden Savage – Martin), a flamboyant but failed Broadway director (Oliver Putnam – Short) and a sullen apartment renovator (Mabel Mora – Gomez) make for a surprisingly effective team.
The show works best when all three cast members are together, alternating between collective excitement at their own investigations and bickering as their personalities clash. Martin and Short’s long-running friendship clearly provides great fodder here, although Gomez brings in the youthful cynicism to balance them out nicely.
Central investigation into the apparently universally disliked murder victim aside, Only Murders In The Building queues up sub-plots for each of our main cast. Martin gets a tentative romance, Short gets ducking from financial ruin, whilst Gomez may know more about the victim than she is letting on. These plots are all equally compelling, although Gomez takes a few episodes to warm up; she succumbs to such an excess of Gen Z sarcasm in the beginning that she virtually forgets to move her face.
Doling out little slices of information at a time – either through clues discovered or flashbacks highlighted – Only Murders In The Building mirrors the pacing of the true crime podcasts it affectionally sends up. Indeed, the show delights in placing a fictional hosting titan of the genre in their own building, hammed up with all due sincerity by an on form Tina Fey. The comedic stylings of the show are borne out by character archetypes and crafted dialogue, with no need to lean on feed line/punch line writing that would be a distracting clash from the other genres at work.
Whilst most true crime podcasts take you on a journey both narratively and geographically, Only Murders In The Building makes good use of its eponymous setting. We rarely leave the Arconia apartment building, and several plot points hinge on knowing and exploiting the insular politics of staffing and running such a complex. Cue gorgeously decorated apartments, wide-angled shots drinking in the set design. And maybe even the odd rich and famous celebrity cameo.
Disney (and Hulu in the U.S.) are really sticking to their ‘once a week’ release schedule as well, rather than dropping a whole series at once like the majority of Netflix and Amazon shows. Remember that itching feeling when you want to watch the next episode of a show and are prevented by more than just the need to go to bed? It’s annoying, but inarguably an effective way of sticking a life buoy onto a show out in the sea of ‘all at once’ released competitors. This is doubly so in a murder mystery show, yet triply annoying when the U.S. appear to be one episode ahead of those of us in the U.K. Unfair!
Only Murders In The Building is still being released at the time of writing so the eventual floor this mysterious elevator will ding its doors at is unknown. Sure, the show has a bit of a slow start that suffers from typical first episode jitters. Good character work needs you to get to know the characters first. But once you allow the soothing balm of a reassuring narrator to clasp your hand, your finger will inexorably extend to press play each week.
Words by Mike Record