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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Only Murders in the Building

The latest example of lighthearted murder mystery comes from comedy legend Steve Martin, who stars alongside Martin Short and Selena Gomez in Hulu’s excellent "Only Murders in the Building".

The series follows a trio of hapless true-crime obsessives who live in the fictional, elegant Upper West Side building The Arconia and bond over their shared love of the same podcast (hosted hilariously by Tina Fey).

Martin plays Charles Haden-Savage, a washed-up actor who starred in a cop show back in the ’70s and now finds himself struggling to repress his loneliness after a recent breakup.

Short steals just about every scene he’s in as Oliver Putnam, a has-been Broadway director now in massive debt after a failed stage adaptation of Splash, and Selena Gomez keeps them in check as Mabel Mora, the show’s resident young person, who claims she’s staying at her aunt’s apartment to renovate it.

When tragedy strikes in their building and their neighbor Tim Kono is found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound, the three of them decide that there’s something more sinister afoot and take it upon themselves to investigate the incident as a murder, recording their own true-crime podcast about it along the way.

The show is, above all, a spot-on genre parody, and even if you’re not particularly interested in finding out who killed Tim Kono, the comedy alone should be a selling point.

Martin and Short are both extremely self-aware about the fact that they’re rich white men of a certain age playing against a millennial woman, and they lean into their cluelessness here for laughs.

There are details about Mabel that make it obvious she was written by a 76-year-old man — like, say, the fact that her name is Mabel and she and her friends owned every Hardy Boys novel as kids — but they’re addressed and explained away, and for the most part, she’s the calm, collected foil to Charles and Oliver.

In one scene, she looks on horrified while Oliver tries to explain how to compliment a woman’s appearance in the year 2021 without being creepy.

But even aside from the self-aware humour about the generation gap, a cameo from Sting or silly interludes like Martin Short singing “dips for dinner, dips for dinner, I’m a nut for dips” to himself while shoving entire containers of hummus into his pockets at Tim Kono’s memorial, the mystery at the centre of "Only Murders in the Building" is surprisingly compelling.

As we learn more about Mabel, we find out Tim was a childhood friend of hers, that he may or may not have been involved in some shady dealings involving stolen jewels, and that she and Tim both witnessed another murder — of their friend Zoe, who was thrown off a roof — 10 years ago.

The show’s extremely well-paced, revealing just enough new information with each episode to keep us hooked but not enough for us to have a confident guess as to who Tim’s killer is just yet.

According to co-creator Josh Hoffman, the beautifully animated opening credits - which change slightly with every episode - also provide some hidden clues for keen-eyed viewers to pick up on.

No matter who the culprit winds up being, "Only Murders in the Building" is an addictive and entertaining ride that toes the line between satirizing murder mysteries and presenting us with an extremely well-executed murder plot of its own.

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