© 2021 NPR Illinois
Stand with the Facts
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hulu Has a New Hit On Its Hands With 'Only Murders In The Building'

Only Murders In The Building
HULU
/
Only Murders In The Building -- From the minds of Steve Martin, Dan Fogelman and John Hoffman comes a comedic murder-mystery series for the ages. “Only Murders In The Building” follows three strangers (Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez) who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspects murder and employs their precise knowledge of true crime to investigate the truth. As they record a podcast of their own to document the case, the three unravel the complex secrets of the building which stretch back years. Perhaps even more explosive are the lies they tell one another. Soon, 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. Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez), shown. (Courtesy of Hulu)

Podcasts truly have been the most growing entertainment medium of the past decade. What started as a niche form of entertainment has become a dominant form of entertainment for much of the world. And while there are about as many categories of podcast as you can think of, true crime really has taken on an even sub-life of it’s own in the podcasting world.

I suppose it’s a human nature thing. People have always been fascinated with the macabre parts of our history. Why do we as humans kill? What are the stories behind these people that have been killed and what choices led them to this moment? But in the context of podcasts, who are these people that obsess over these cases and pour their entire beings into producing shows about them?

That is what the new comedy Only Murders In The Building is attempting to both send-up and honor. Hulu’s new murder-mystery comedy is not only sure to be a genuine hit with the public, it’ll probably garner some award nominations as well. Yes, it is that good at what it does. It’s not the best show of the season, but it is undeniably the most sure of what it is, and that goes a long way.

True Crime
Craig Blankenhorn/ HULU
Only Murders In The Building -- "True Crime" - Episode 101 -- Upper West Side neighbors Charles, Oliver & Mabel bond over a shared love of true crime. When a fellow resident dies in their building, the trio determine to solve the mystery and record an accompanying podcast. Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

The show centers on three people living in the high-end Arconia apartment building in New York City. Charles Haden Savage (Steve Martin) is a former big-time TV star, known for his starring role as a Kojak-style detective named Brazzos. He is a mostly recluse with the thought of genuine human emotion terrifying him. Oliver Crumm (Martin Short) is a stage director who has long since past his prime and mostly lives off of guile, bravado and the appearance of still hustling for success. And then there’s Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) a stoic interior design artist living in her aunt's apartment while renovating it.

These people couldn’t be more different. What connects them? What else?… their favorite podcast. We’re given three genuinely great introductions to these characters that highlights their differences starkly. Oliver is larger than life, Charles is withdrawn as an art and Mabel is the fiercest kind of sarcastically independent Gen-Zer. But they all make time to listen to the Not OK in Oklahoma podcast.

Who Is Tim Kono?
Craig Blankenhorn/ HULU
Only Murders In The Building -- "Who Is Tim Kono?" - Episode 102 -- The group begins researching the victim. Meanwhile, Mabel’s secretive past starts to be unraveled. Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

While they’re all settling down to listen to the latest episode, the fire alarm is tripped forcing everyone outside. Charles gets the last booth at a local restaurant and Oliver notices his giant clue map for the show. What was once reserved animosity instantly turns to collective fanboying as they both exclaim, “What the hell is in Beau’s mouth?” pertaining to the most recent clue found by a dog on the podcast. Mabel has the exact same reaction and instantly, this trio becomes unlikely friends through their fandom.

It is at this point that I must state how accurately this portrays the idea of fandom in general. I have many friends and relatives that don’t quite get the culture of super fandom and often ask me why I so voraciously devour things like the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Aside from the actual enjoyment of the medium and the art, there is the insanely added bonus of the fan communities that can come with it. With podcasts these still happen pretty organically, and this scene is an excellent example of how just one common interest can break down the barriers we put up around ourselves.

True Crime
Craig Blankenhorn/ HULU
Only Murders In The Building -- "True Crime" - Episode 101 -- Upper West Side neighbors Charles, Oliver & Mabel bond over a shared love of true crime. When a fellow resident dies in their building, the trio determine to solve the mystery and record an accompanying podcast. Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

But just like their favorite podcast, all is not okay at the Arconia. As the trio returns to the building they learn that a resident, Tim Kono, is dead. The police and head detective (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) see this as an easy suicide with a gunshot wound to the head, but our intrepid true crime fans suspect differently. Thus the trio sets out to do their own podcast to solve what they suspect is actually the murder of Tim Kono.

That pretty easy set-up puts in motion a hilarious and genuinely intriguing mystery. All of these people want to do this podcast for different reasons. We learn that Oliver, despite appearances is nearly broke and desperately needs a new artistic venture to succeed. Charles reluctantly understands that this might be his chance to re-enter the world. And Mabel, as we learn, has a personal connection to the case itself. The series expertly juggles all of these stories and slowly but satisfyingly peels away the layers of these characters to reveal the greater truth beneath.

You should expect a series with Steve Martin and Martin Short at the helm would be funny, but it’s funny in not so much the situations but in the fantastic delivery these comedy masters are simply the best at. These lines in others’ hands would be funny, but they wouldn’t pack the memorability that these two put forth.

True Crime
Craig Blankenhorn/ HULU
Only Murders In The Building -- "True Crime" - Episode 101 -- Upper West Side neighbors Charles, Oliver & Mabel bond over a shared love of true crime. When a fellow resident dies in their building, the trio determine to solve the mystery and record an accompanying podcast. Mabel (Selena Gomez), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

And that’s not to say that Gomez gets lost in the comedy masters’ wake. For someone that started in the Disney kid school of acting (read OVERACTING EVERYTHING), Gomez has proven very resilient in breaking away from the tweener image most Disney kids carry as they try to branch out. In this series she’s able to play a caricature of the sarcastic, sullen and fine with being alone Gen-Zer while also giving a heart to the role that would be easy to over-do. But she keeps the cards close to the chest for quite a while making us curious and oddly protective of the larger role she has to play in this mystery.

But bar-none the shining achievement of the show is a feat that is extremely hard; it all at once exists as a parody of and a prime example of its subject. I’m sure to people on the outside podcasters and the culture that they have sprung forth can seem strange and downright weird. But what this show does is accept that inherent ridiculousness and gives an almost loving tribute to this group at the same time. Watching the show you can’t help but be charmed by all of it and I wouldn’t be surprised if many start their own podcasts because of this show.

The mystery itself is also genuinely intriguing. The writers keep it fresh with slow reveals but also keep us guessing with some great cameos including the incomparable Nathan Lane and legendary musician Sting. All of it seems like a hodgepodge recipe but damn if it doesn’t taste amazing. This show is sure to be a hit this fall and I for one can’t wait for more.

Jeremy is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of the Front Row Network. He also hosts Network show "Are You Afraid of the Podcast?" with his wife Sara Baltusevich.
Related Stories