Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building" Is Smart, Savvy and Socially Aware

By #AndradeSays Archives
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Hulu's Only Murders in the Building is one of those surprisingly great shows that I honestly didn't see coming. Created by John Hoffman and comedy legend Steve Martin, and starring Martin, fellow legend Martin Short, and entertainer Selena Gomez, OMITB follows three neighbors who end up becoming an unlikely group of friends after a murder takes place in the Upper West Side apartment building that they all happen to live in, the Arconia. They start an eponymously named podcast and begin investigating the murder themselves in an attempt to catch the killer -- and maybe gain some notoriety along the way, if possible.

It may seem obvious now, but the idea of pairing Martin's low energy, laid-back goofiness with Short's chaotic, over-the-top nuttiness, and then combining that odd coupling with the youthful grounded cynicism of Gomez's character, was a stroke of genius. I also dig the fact that, while all three lead actors have a plethora of family friendly entertainment underneath their respective belts, the show itself is not above showing some blood and dropping the occasional f-bomb. Neither of which happens gratuitously, either -- it happens just enough so that viewers understand that these are supposedly real people who are dealing with stakes that are equally realistic (especially in our crime ravaged cities).

Besides the entertaining cross-dynamics of our trio of civilian detectives, what stands out most about this series is its overall style. The animated intro to the series, as well as the light yet inquisitive nature of the score make for what feels like a cozy experience. But it's not. And every apartment in the show is designed in a way that reflects both the nature/disposition of the occupant as well as the building as a whole. The building, and its many occupants, have a sordid history, and that history plays a heavy hand in how the plot is developed throughout the show's narrative. The second season delves even further into the Arconia's many secrets, and believe me, she's got plenty.

Funnily enough, Only Murders in the Building isn't the only mystery series in recent memory to adopt a whodunit-style for its story. Six months after the series premiere of OMITB in August of 2021 came AppleTV+'s The Afterparty, which had a somewhat similar format. (Read my review of it here.) There's a group of would-be strangers with checkered pasts who are brought together by the shared trauma of someone they all know being murdered, at which point they all remain together until that murder is solved. On the way there, each episode focuses on a specific suspect, and by the time it ends that suspect is seemingly eliminated until finally, the true killer is revealed at the end of the season.

Only Murders follows almost the same format -- the protagonists meet, someone they know dies, they stick together, each suspect is eliminated, then comes the resolution -- except for that fact that, in the long run, OMITB's format is more conducive to multiple seasons. In The Afterparty, which has also already been greenlit for another season, the person solving the crime is an actual detective, and the previous crime was location- and victim-specific as far the suspects/guests go, meaning there's no low-hanging reason why said detective would ever have to come in contact with anyone from that season one case when it comes to solving another murder.

However, Only Murders just has to keep having murders happen in or in relation to the Arconia, and as long as at least one of the leads still lives in the building, there will always be a reason for the three of them to have a horse in that metaphorical race. It's actually a pretty perfect set up, especially considering the fact that the fictional podcast that the show is named for also can't continue unless there are more -- say it with me now -- murders in the building.

Another thing that this series is particularly good at is transference of suspicion. My guess about who did what changes from episode to episode. I imagine that reaction is one that the people behind the show were trying to solicit, and whether they realize it or not, they've had great success. The murder victim in season two, Arconia Board President Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), was a relentless heel of a character during season one, and absolutely had it out for our leads. So, when she bites the bullet at the bottom of season one, it's painfully obvious that her murderer could be pretty much anyone (except for our leads, of course). Add to that the influx of guest stars this season -- a list that includes the likes of Amy Schumer, Carla Delevingne, Christine Ko and a handful of others -- and what you've got is a situation where it really could be anyone. The only thing I know for sure is that it probably won't be whoever we think it is.

This series, beyond being a stellar mystery show, also goes out of its way to be as progressive as possible, while still making it feel organic. The fictional building, which is a character in and of itself, is chock full of a multicultural group of tenants, including Teddy Dimas, played by Nathan Lane (who steals the show, by the way). Dimas, who not only has a deaf son for whom he learned sign language (something that a lot of non-deaf parents of deaf children apparently don't do that often), also spoke of the real-life Armenian genocide during season one. (This is one particular genocide that gets a lot less press than other genocides that the general public may be readily aware of, so it felt like a big moment.)

Queer characters and relationships also abound, including the revelation this season that Mabel (Gomez) is bisexual, as proven by her relationship with Delevingne's character, Alice.

Look, this series is a vessel for some serious talent, as well as being diverse as hell, and to top it all off, it covers a wide-range of topics, including parent-child relations, the age gap between Boomers and Millennials, the age gap between Millennials and Gen Z, America's apparent love of murder podcasts, and the multifaceted nature of human beings in general. It's light enough to stay as fun as it should be, while still being grounded enough for the stakes to feel like they matter. So, while the fictional property value of the Arconia continues to fall (you know, 'cause all the murders), the joy this show brings me continues to rise. I truly hope that this fictional Upper West Side apartment building continues to be unsafe long enough for us to get another couple of seasons.

Season 2 of Only Murders in the Building is now streaming on Hulu.

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