Disclaimer: I am a huge Steve Martin fan and Martin Short fan and I probably quote Martin Short’s characters in my daily life more than almost any other performer. This review is definitely biased because of this. But all reviews are subjective in nature and really who isn’t a massive Martin and Martin fan?
This week Hulu released the highly anticipated Steve Martin and Martin Short project, Only Murders in the Building (Only Murders) starring Selena Gomez. A bohemian whodunit playing on the popularity of true crime podcasts, Only Murders follows three neighbors who all live in one building in New York City, the Arconia, and are brought together one night by a murder in their building.
Is the comeback of Steve Martin and Martin Short everything it should be? The Conservative Critic will ask: Is it entertaining? Does it have artistic/intellectual value? And Is it liberal propaganda?
Overall Rating: Must Watch
Co-created by Steve Martin himself, Only Murders is the show we’ve all been waiting for. Not only are viewers treated to the limitless charm of Steve Martin and the unmatched comedic timing of Martin Short but we get the triumphant return to serial TV from Selena Gomez who actually got her start as a teen actor on Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place.
The show has a somehow equally original and comfortable identity. It’s clothed in bohemian gothic: all velvets, tapestry and books; but iced with subtle humor and layered with intrigue.
On hearing of the death of one of their neighbors, the trio is brought together by their love of true crime and mystery solving. They decided to make a podcast about the murder they’ve taken to hobby investigating together. But the viewer quickly learns that these three new comrades have secrets of their own and their friendship might not be as innocent as it seems.
Intrigued? Of course you are.
The format is impeccable. The twists are frequent and juicy. The visuals are mesmerizing. Viewers are hooked by episode three. It is a must watch fall show.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: A whodunit hoot
Only Murders plays at the quintessential slow mystery pace: a nice slow drip interrupted by occasional splashes of plot upset. The viewer follows along with its three leads at a steady humorous trot as they trifle in podcast production and bumble around crime scenes until without warning they are hit with a new twist or surprise. The layered plot peels back easily and it is impossible not to pick at a corner and keep wanting to pull.
The other Arconia inhabitants are all plucky in their own way providing not only endless plot opportunities but also plenty of quirky comic relief. There are celebrities, cat lovers, and nosey neighbors all ready to take center stage as lead suspects like a particularly lively game of Clue.
The viewer is semi-omniscient, sometimes aware of secrets the characters are not aware of and other times left wholly in the dark with only a sense of something amiss. This format makes the story seem almost interactive and provides a delicate balance of intrigue and investment.
Set in a chilly New York fall, Only Murders feels cozy and indulgent and brings all the fun of any good whodunit, true crime or otherwise.
Does it have artistic/intellectual value?
Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez play co-leads all providing a different lens for the viewer to observe the story.
Martin as Charles-Haden Savage, a former TV detective and current lonely bachelor who isn’t telling the whole truth is charming as ever. Short as Oliver Putnam a former Broadway producer who has gone years without a show and is suffering financial distress is the bedrock comedic relief (but not without nuance) and he delivers as always. Gomez as Mabel Mora, a young woman with secrets redecorating her aunt’s apartment, is effortlessly cool and easy to root for.
The writing is exceptional and the setup is flawless. The cameos (Tina Fey and Sting for example) are perfectly timed. The set design is an integral part of the plot with each of the character’s apartments, including the deceased, artfully set to display the unique backgrounds and personalities of each character while mirroring their shared identity of life in the same apartment building. Elevators serving as tools for unexpected encounters.
The costuming, particularly of Selena Gomez, is a work of art. Capturing personality with color and texture, the entire series could be a spread in Vogue. See below for some examples:
The shots are filtered in dark greens with dampened light making even daytime seem like it’s dusk. The effect is a sort of vintage or polaroid that is extremely pleasing and suits the essence of the unfolding story.
The series is a well-written, well-acted, masterclass in storytelling and artistic vision. There is simply nothing bad to say about what the series has going. It’s a sensation.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Only in the most abstract
There is no obvious liberal propaganda present in the story or subtext. The only abstract liberalism present is the celebration of artists and bohemia which often descends into some social justice/classism tired spiral.
Overall, the agenda is non-existent and the series is neutral.
Only Murders in the Building is everything TV watchers, mystery fans and Steve Martin lovers have been waiting for. Its outstanding cast, beautiful artistry, and fantastic storytelling are unmatched in any tv series currently running or previously in a long time. It’s near-perfect if not actually perfect. A must-watch.