A true-crime podcast, a millennial and two boomers comically solving a murder, and a beautiful apartment building in New York City’s Upper West Side – that’s the entire premise of Only Murders in the Building.
Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) is a former TV detective in a show titled Brazzos, who has since become lonely and irrelevant. Gomez stars as Mabel Mora, a mysterious 28-year-old who claims to renovate the penthouse, and Short stars as the eccentric, creative but broke Broadway director Oliver Putnam. The three neighbours have nothing in common until the suicide of another resident Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), sends the building into a frenzy. They discover that they are fans of the same true-crime podcast All is Not Ok in Oklahoma hosted by Cinda Channing (Tina Fey) and also begin to suspect that Kono was actually murdered.
Soon, the trio team up and vow to solve the murder. From snooping through trash, stealing mail, and breaking into apartments, they become amateur detectives who wreak havoc on their building. And you cannot help but root for them. The likeability and antics of the protagonists are the show’s driving force. It is Short’s portrayal of Putnam that really stands out. His idea to create a podcast, sell tie-dye podcast merchandise and incessantly badger his sponsor/neighbour Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane) to fund the podcast are delectable to watch.
But the other tenants are no less eccentric: there is a therapist who leaves his business cards during a wake, a cat-crazy man who stores his dead cat in the freezer, and a cleaning lady who gives information if you buy a shipment of ‘gut milk’. Of course, there is Sting, who may or may not have murdered Tim Kono.
Only Murders in the Building is a comedy that banks on the generational gap to make its viewers laugh. For instance, 60-year-old Charles and Oliver break their heads trying to think of ways to text Mabel. “Calls bother them for some reason,” remarks Oliver when Charles wonders if he should text or call her. The quips are predictable but enjoyable.
The series is also a comedy of errors. The trio is messy and they leave evidence while snooping and keep missing each other in elevators. Gomez’s chemistry with Short and Martin deserves a mention. Her sombre and no-nonsense attitude complements the technologically-inept, but loving older duo.
The best and worst thing about the show is its simplicity. The plot and the characters do not take themselves too seriously, making it a light-hearted watch. In serious shows like Mare of Easttown, the sub-plots and characters are as grim as the murder itself. However, Only Murders in the Building is only filled with fun moments. Even when dangerous things happen, the tone does not change. This can sometimes get frustrating as it seems like we are watching a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys adaptation for children rather than an adult whodunnit.
The plot may not be new but the series stands out for its one-of-a-kind setting and atmosphere; it truly carries the show. The Arconia is a building like no other. In a set-up that reminds one of Hitchcock’s Rear Window, the apartments look like they are straight out of a Pinterest board. No wonder the inhabitants do not consider leaving even though their neighbours are dropping dead.
Perhaps, the most striking factor about the show is the costumes. When Mabel struts down the road in a yellow faux fur jacket, golden hoops, and red Beats headphones and Oliver dons purple scarves around his tight sweaters, it is easy to forget that the show is a murder mystery and not a high fashion show.
Ironically, Only Murders in the Building is groundbreaking in everything except the murder bit. There is a twist in every episode and the audiences may not be able to guess what is coming next but the conclusions and reveals are never fully satisfying.
Only Murders in the Building is an innocent murder mystery if there ever was such a thing. Even if you are not too intrigued by the central mystery, it is difficult to not be carried away by the other elements and we, for one, are quite okay with that.
If you enjoy watching amateur detectives solving crimes, here are six other shows and movies that you might like once you finish streaming Only Murders in the Building:
Enola Holmes (2020)
Starring Millie Bobby Brown as the titular character, Enola Holmes follows the story of famed detective Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister. The young teenager travels to London to find her missing mother and gets entangled in a mystery surrounding a young lord known as Tewkesbury. While she attempts to solve the mystery, she also has to steer clear of her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) who are on the lookout for her.
Enola Holmes is streaming on Netflix.
Veronica Mars (2004-2007)
Set in the fictional town of Neptune, this series follows high-school student Veronica Mars who also moonlights as a private investigator, alongside her father, the town’s former disgraced sheriff. This amateur detective attempts to solve the murder of her best friend Lilly Kane (Amanda Seyfried) while trying to balance her school and social life. The success of Veronica Mars spawned a movie and a limited series on Hulu in 2019.
Father Brown (2013- Present)
Based on author GK Chesterton’s short stories of the same name, this BBC series is about a Catholic priest who solves crimes and mysteries in his local village. Set in the 1950s, Father Brown (Mark Williams) is a World War I veteran who uses his understanding of human nature to crack cases much to the chagrin of the local police. Having heard hundreds of confessions, the priest has a unique perspective on human beings that sets the show apart from other amateur detective series.
Agatha Christie’s Marple (2004-2013)
Agatha Christie has written many detective stories, but Miss Marple is unique. Her kind and frail demeanour cause most to underestimate her intellect. In this particular adaptation by ITV, starring Geraldine McEwan, Marple’s investigations deviate from the source material and the killers are sometimes changed, making it an interesting watch even for those who have already read the books. The show is also famous for its guest appearances; actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Joan Collins, and Carey Mulligan have appeared on the show.
Agatha Christie’s Marple is streaming on SonyLIV.
Don’t F*** with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (2019)
Don’t F*** with Cats is a true-crime documentary series about a group of amateur internet sleuths who used Facebook to track down a killer, Luka Magnotta. After seeing him upload videos of torturing and killing cats, a group of people got together and attempted to track Magnotta down. Their searches eventually led to the revelation that Magnotta killed and dismembered a university student Jun Lin in 2012.
This documentary can be streamed on Netflix.
Scooby Doo, Where Are You? (1969)
While this animated series has been adapted multiple times, the original series definitely stands out. Talking dog Scooby-Doo and his friends Fred, Daphne, Velma, and Shaggy solve supernatural crimes by driving around in their van. Despite being mere kids, the group always manages to uncover the most bizarre crimes leading them to deduce the villain is almost always a human and not a supernatural being.