Only Murders in The Building, created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman, classifies itself as a comic mystery. However, upon watching the ten episode-long first season of the show, one realises that it is so much more than the solving of a murder that took place at The Arconia and making a true crime podcast out of it.
The beginning of the show gives us small glimpses into the lives of Mabel Mora, Oliver Putnam and Charles Haden Savage, the three protagonists. They are essentially different types of people, not only divided by age but also by their approach to life and other things and yet one thing becomes very evident from the beginning; that they are all lonely. All three of them have been broken by their past and are still haunted by the ghosts that refuse to let them go.
The lift is the first place where they meet and after some awkward and unwanted interactions they part ways. However, they rediscover each other once again when later that day the fire alarm of the building goes off and they share a cabin together upon realising that they are all hooked on the same true crime podcast. This chance encounter forms a bond among these three oddballs and they decide to solve the very murder that happened that night at the Arconia.
As the story progresses we get more intimate glimpses into the lonely lives of the three main characters. Mable and Charles, despite their huge age difference, agree that being alone is often better than being with people. This is bound to bring back memories of Sherlock’s famous, “alone is all I have, alone protects me.” However, despite being sceptical of people and having severe trust issues, the trio eventually starts opening up to each other and it becomes evident that the string holding the three together is made of nothing but grief and loneliness.
It is the fundamental feeling of being alone that leads the three towards solving the mystery in the first place. Because as the show itself says, it is sometimes easier to solve the mystery of other people’s lives than deal with your own. This might remind one of the Bojack Horseman episode (S5, Ep 11) where Bojack, with his inability to deal with his own life, gets into a drug-fueled high and starts thinking himself living the life of Philbert, a fictional character he is portraying. Living someone else’s life and trying to solve the mysteries of their life give him a sense of purpose and he continues doing it until things spiral out of control. The same happens here with these three, as they get more and more entangled in the life of the deceased Tim Kono.
Things get more intense with the revelation of Mabel’s personal connection to Tim Kono, as that wraps the tragedy with a shroud that is too personal to base a true crime podcast on. Mabel almost leaves because of things getting a bit too much for her but eventually comes back, for there is no moving on until there’s closure and often the only path to closure is to dig deeper till there’s nothing left to dig.
The three thus keep digging to discover truths that shock them and make them realise that though vulnerability is probably the only way to deal with loneliness, it is also a sword that cuts both ways. The three have a heated argument in the same lift where they first met as Charles starts to feel that the investigation was going rather bonkers and was hampering his newly started romantic life. He says that he is actually close to real happiness instead of this make-believe one that they are living in and leaves.
Throughout the show, the characters become increasingly vulnerable with each other and through causing each other some cuts and burns that essentially come with opening up, they do reach the truth. Being held together by the thread of loneliness and grief, they reach the end of the line and somehow find individual meanings to their lives and get out of the clutches of their dead pasts.
Besides the three main characters, the other characters of the show – like Jan, Theo, Detective Williams or Tim Kono himself – embody the essence of loneliness in some way or the other and that predominant characteristic of theirs often influences their actions.
The show, despite being constructed as a neat murder mystery that never fails with its comic timing, captures the depth of loneliness and grief and its effects on the human psyche in a way that one generally does not expect out of a comic murder mystery and that is where lies its true brilliance.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.