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Only Murders in the Building

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What it’s about:

When a tenant in their Manhattan apartment building is found dead, a trio of residents decide to take the investigation into their own hands. The only thing they really have in common is a shared love of true crime podcasts, so naturally they start making their own.

Names you might know:

At the center of the show is the unlikely trio of Steve Martin (who co-created the show with John Hoffman), Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. Other recurring cast members include Amy Ryan, Aaron Dominguez, and Julian Cihi. Also making appearances are Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, and music superstar Sting as himself.

Why it’s worth your time:

Only Murders in the Building is an old-fashioned murder mystery with a new-fangled twist. Capitalizing on the popularity of true crime and the many, many podcasts devoted to it, the show’s protagonists don’t just investigate a murder in their luxury Manhattan apartment building, they produce a podcast about it. It’s all very meta.

The unlikely team-up at the center of the show might be its best feature. Martin plays Charles Haden-Savage, a former actor best known for playing a detective named Brazzos in a 1980s TV series (also called Brazzos). Short’s character Oliver Putnam is a washed up theater producer deeply in debt who eats nothing but dips. Finally, there’s Gomez as Mabel Mora, an aspiring interior designer with a troubled past and few friends. At first it might seem like a stretch to believe these three would ever choose to be in a room together other than an elevator, but they work together and play off of each other so well that after a few episodes you start rooting for them as a group.

Their shared love for murder podcasts connects them, but that’s just a symptom of their deeper issues. All three of them are missing something in their lives. They are outsiders looking in, which also makes them good detectives. That search for meaning and connection is what draws them to true-crime stories, and it’s why they can’t resist the mystery of Tim Kono when it lands on their doorstep. The cops are quick to dismiss it as a suicide, but Charles, Oliver, and Mabel believe there’s more to it. They need to believe it. Lucky for them, they happen to be right.

The delights of this show don’t end there, though. It takes you on a journey through the public and private spaces of the Arconia, the elegant building where they all reside (based on and filmed at a real building called the Belnord located on Manhattan’s Upper West Side) . This is one of those stories where the setting becomes not just an integral part of the story but a character in itself. We get to know all the residents and their quirks, because everyone is a suspect. Even the building’s most famous resident, Sting (who gamely plays himself in one episode), isn’t above suspicion.

The show is full of other great guest appearances too, including Tina Fey as Cinda Canning, a prolific producer of true crime podcasts who puts our trio’s small operation on the map when she makes fun of them on Jimmy Fallon’s show. Also notable is the always great Nathan Lane, another building resident who takes an interest in the podcast and becomes its sponsor. As Charles’ love interest Jan, Amy Ryan’s role grows with each episode and she livens up every scene she’s in. Really, every single cast member, whether on screen for ten episodes or ten minutes, absolutely kills it (if you’ll pardon the pun).

The mystery itself is full of twists and turns that keep you guessing from episode to episode. Even if you do manage to predict who the real murderer is (I thought I knew, then second-guessed my choice, then turned out to be right), the ride from beginning to end is so much fun it doesn’t even matter. You know by the end of the first episode that you are in good hands, so it’s not hard to trust that the writers won’t let you down. And they do not.

The takeaway:

Only Murders in the Building is a gripping mystery with a touch of comedy, a strong sense of style, and charm to spare. There’s nothing else like it on TV right now.

Watch it with:

The multi-generational cast and their cultural miscommunications should give both older and younger adults something to relate to. Watch it with your parents or your older kids. Due to the graphic nature of the murder and other mature content, this isn’t one for the youngsters.

Worth noting:

The season ends on a whopper of a cliffhanger, but not to worry—a second season has already been announced.

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