Illustration of characters from Only Murders in the Building

‘Only Murders in the Building’ Is Hulu’s Promising New Mystery-Comedy

This show follows an unlikely trio that uses their true-crime obsession to crack a real murder that happened in their apartment building.
August 11, 2021
10 mins read

Why listen to a true-crime podcast when you can watch one unfold right in front of you?

In the official trailer for Hulu’s original series “Only Murders in the Building,” a comedic trio of true-crime fans live out their obsession with the genre when a mysterious murder leaves them questioning the “’who,’ the ‘how,’ the ‘why’ and the ‘why not.’” 

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play three strangers — Charles, Oliver and Mabel, respectively — who bond over true crime. As inhabitants of the Arconia apartment building in the Upper West Side, the trio shares an elevator ride with a random resident who is murdered 12 minutes later. The three then put together their limited investigation skills and knowledge of true crime to solve the case.

Once they record a podcast to document their discoveries, Charles, Oliver and Mabel uncover ancient secrets within the building and hidden truths within their relationship. Premiering Aug. 31, the 10-episode series will test just how well the Arconia’s residents know their neighbors. According to Hulu’s synopsis, “The endangered trio comes to realize a killer might be living amongst them as they race to decipher the mounting clues before it’s too late.”

From the creative minds of Martin, John Robert Hoffman and Dan Fogelman, “Only Murders in the Building” combines a talented and humorous cast with a dark storyline to entertain audiences of all ages. If it avoids the classic murder mystery clichés, the series has a real chance of becoming a hit.

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Murder + Comedy = Recipe for Success 

While fictional on-screen characters solve a disturbing crime, viewers can enjoy cracking the murder case alongside them. But as both the pseudo investigators and viewers find clues and form assumptions about the killer’s identity, one member of the group hinders the progress of their investigation by doing something he obviously shouldn’t have.

Murder mysteries and their ability to catch viewers off guard have a profound reputation for keeping audiences on the edges of their seats. However, when amateur detectives bicker and exchange quick-witted remarks, the comedy enhances the story and creates an engaging plotline. 

IMDB’s Top 50 list titled Mystery, Comedy Movies includes some box-office hits, such as “Knives Out,” “A Simple Favor” and “Happy Death Day.” Although they remain sensitive to the triggering material at hand, film creators do well to lighten the mood with some rich humor. 

“Only Murders in the Building” leaves hunting the killer in the hands of inexperienced and often foolish investigators. In the official trailer, Charles reveals a display of candid images of the apartment residents as possible suspects. Mable questions why Charles took selfies to capture his neighbors in the background, to which he reasons, “So I don’t draw suspicion.” 

The disorganized investigation and the dry, sarcastic humor will have audiences laughing at and along with the lead trio. Comedy brings light to a potentially dark and troubling situation in the upcoming series, and there is no better choice for lead roles than Martin and Short. 

The Comedic Duo of Steve Martin and Martin Short 

In an installment of PBS’s series “That Moment When,” Martin and Short discuss how they met during the production of the 1986 Western comedy “¡Three Amigos!” and how they’ve remained friends ever since. “[On set], you are intensely involved in everyone’s gossip, and then you never see them again,” Short said. “But, sometimes, you say, ‘I don’t want to lose that person.’ Certainly, that was the case with Steve and myself.”

According to Martin, the duo had instant comedy rapport. Recently, Martin and Short have worked on numerous projects, including a two-man tour in 2019 titled, “Now You See Them, Soon You Won’t” and the Netflix special “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” The comedic geniuses have had 30+ years to develop the kind of personal and professional relationship needed to amuse audiences with their satire and improv. 

Viewers get a taste of the duo’s friendship and compatibility in the trailer for “Only Murders in the Building.” When Oliver attempts to interview a man who is crying, for example, he says, “I kind of need you to enunciate better.” To which Charles adds, “The crying is covering the dialogue.”

While Martin and Short have a successful history together, they’re also more than capable of exciting audiences independently. Martin has received a total of 21 awards related to his comedy, writing, producing and music. He won two consecutive Grammy Awards for best comedy album and a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding writing for a variety series. Short has also received a Primetime Emmy Award and a Tony Award for best actor in a musical. 

Martin and Short’s comedic past, long-term friendship and personal achievements alone make “Only Murders in the Building” worth a watch, but their third amiga will add a special touch to their dynamic. 

Selena Gomez’s First Series Since “Wizards of Waverly Place”

Since playing the iconic delinquent on Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” Gomez has largely prioritized music-making and promoting mental health awareness through her make-up line, Rare Beauty. The pop star’s comeback to acting has longtime fans excited to see Gomez bring her tough and stylish character to life.

Martin explained how he cast Gomez for Mabel in her April Vogue Cover. “You get a list of names, and then they say, ‘What about Selena Gomez?’ There was no question except, ‘Can we get her?’ We knew she would enhance the show in so many ways, the number one being talent.”

According to the article, Martin had never seen Gomez as Alex Russo on Disney Channel. However, after starting to work with her on “Only Murders in the Building,” Martin praised her for her acting skills. “Her performance is rich and adult. She’s learned to underplay when necessary. Marty and I are pretty manic, and she’s this solid, solid rock foundation. She’s nicely, intensely low-key.”

The “Only Murders in the Building” Instagram account provides a peek into Mabel’s character. Her beanie, headphones and fashionable fur coat contribute to her modern and chic style. She narrates, “New York can be a lot — all the eyes on you all the time,” as a man catcalls her as she walks down the street. The preview hints at the show’s intent to touch upon contemporary issues and Mabel’s essential part in combating one of them: harassment. 

Although Gomez’s roots are with Disney, this upcoming special is a step forward for her acting career and will open a door for more diverse roles in the future. Once viewers see Gomez on screen, they’ll realize that she can make magic in any role she plays.

Avoiding Clichés 

The casting decisions, the relationships between characters and the comedic masterminds behind the series each work to pave a promising road for the Hulu original. Their merit gives viewers high expectations for the true-crime comedy. Yet, if “Only Murders in the Building” follows the same clichés that most murder mysteries do, the series is likely to go downhill from the start. If the show does well to avoid three common and frustrating clichés, it is destined for a successful launch.

1. Suspense

Murder mysteries are exceptional at catching audiences off guard, but they don’t need to do it more than once. If viewers must repeatedly find out who the killer is, the show may become a boring and useless hunt for the truth. Let there be one killer and, hopefully, one good plot twist.

2. Good Cop-Bad Cop Interrogations

During their investigation, Charles, Oliver and Mabel will likely interrogate suspects for the murder in their building. But when it comes to asking the questions, there should be no evident “good” or “bad” cop. The good cop-bad cop routine is one of the most well-known mystery clichés, and to make these comedic characters fit that stereotype would be to depreciate the trio’s unique qualities.

3. Patience

For their lack of experience and amateur investigation skills, Charles, Oliver and Mabel might label a suspect the murderer without digging too deeply into his or her background, which fits nicely into the comedic genre. However, to appeal to the mystery genre, there should be no obvious suspect who ends up being innocent. It would be more entertaining to have the trio take their time in finding the killer than uselessly chasing one red herring after the next all over the building. 

From combining murder and comedy to casting an unlikely triad of perfect actors, “Only Murders in the Building” certainly has potential. The balance between humor and drama will let the audience ride a rollercoaster of emotions while they watch the true-crime series. 

The Hulu original is bound to take off, even if it’s starring a couple of “weirdos.”

Michelle Buckley, Chapman University

Writer Profile

Michelle Buckley

Chapman University
B.F.A. Creative Writing

Michelle Buckley is a rising sophomore at Chapman University and majors in creative writing. Driven by self-expression and motivation to build a community, Buckley hopes to make an impact with her passion for writing.

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