Hulu’s newest drama series, the mystery whodunnit Only Murders in the Building, has A-list talent, but commits the biggest genre cardinal sin: the central mystery is simply not that exciting. It brings together three crime podcast obsessed tenants who all live in the same apartment building—Oliver (Martin Short), content to direct as his day job, though his passion is his grandchildren; Charles (Steve Martin), an older actor having trouble nailing his auditions; Mabel (Selena Gomez) who was involved in her own little Hardy Boys mystery crew, and now might be key to solving their day-to-day irregularities. There has been a death on the 9th floor, and though all signs point to suicide, our trio is about to embark on a mission to prove that it was actually a murder.
They must follow every clue, however small, to lead them down the path behind Tim Kono’s death. It turns out to be the prime ingredient for making a true crime podcast. Since Oliver, Charles, and Mabel are all fluent in the podcasting world, who better to host it? A clever name for their podcast writes itself: Only Murders in the Building! Even when the narrative flounders in stagnancy, the sheer star power and larger-than-life characterizations make Only Murders in the Building worthy of a passable watch.
Make no mistake, each of the three leads get their time in the spotlight through the course of these first eight episodes. My favorite of the bunch is Martin Short’s Oliver—he is bumbling in an over-the-top kind of way. His bit with Splash! The Musical had me cringe-laughing. In fact, Short practically steals all of episode 3. This includes an epically funny bit where Oliver is ‘auditioning people’ in the building to see who seems the most alluring for the podcast.
Conversely, Steve Martin is not afraid to parody some heightened version of himself. He portrays actor Charles, who doesn’t tip because “it’s elitist. I leave autographs instead.” Charles acting status as washed-up, outdated, and no longer relevant is a running joke that wears out its welcome rather quickly. Selena Gomez as Mabel provides the majority of dramatic heft, as well as a younger perspective, considering our other two leads are seasoned with age. Her character shares the least initially, with each passing script proving insightful to Mabel’s impenetrable aura. Great actors pop up in smaller roles too, like Tina Fey as a podcaster “buried up to her chest in sewage and Jaboukie Young-White as a nerdy podcast fanboy.
Hulu made the first eight episodes available to critics, and I have to say, I wish those last two were there. Episode 8 was the best of the entire run so far. The one before that was the first episode of the show I actively hated. I am not exactly anticipating seeing this conclude; however, I am curious if that final one-two punch of Only Murders in the Building will be as fun as 8, which felt like a finale. The further the layers unraveled, the less interested I became in the mystery itself.
Only Murders in the Building unravels its first threads of intrigue, dropping its first three episodes exclusively on Hulu Tuesday, August 31st.