Creators: Steve Martin, John Hoffman
Writers: John Hoffman, Sas Goldberg, Ben Smith, Joshua Allen Griffith, Matteo Borghese, Rob Turbovsky, JJ Philbin, Tess Morris, Noah Levine, Madeleine George, Elaine Ko, Ben Philippe, Jake Schnesel
Directors: John Hoffman, Adam Shankman, Chris Koch
Cast: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, Meryl Streep, Paul Rudd
One of the many joys of Only Murders In The Building – and well into its third season, there are many – has always been its ability to turn its sharp comedic gaze right back at itself. Season 1 of the show, in which three New Yorkers start a true-crime podcast, simultaneously skewered and satirized true-crime obsessives while treating them with empathy, painting their fixations as a larger symptom of big-city loneliness. After a dispiriting season 2 (in which secret passageways and convenient bouts of amnesia diluted the show’s murder mystery potential), the third season makes a star comeback, beginning with a star ironically dropping dead during the opening night of his play. Adding the behind-the-scenes intrigue of a musical into the show’s meta mix gives Only Murders In The Building room to get funnier, richer and even more satisfying. It's found its groove once again.
The dead star is Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd, playing an utter jerk), the lead of Oliver Putnam’s (Martin Short) Broadway play Death Rattle. We’re told Ben shot to fame playing CoBro – a ‘bro’ who can transform into a giant cobra – a ludicrous role that allows Rudd to poke some fun at his Marvel-flavoured obligations.
Rudd isn’t the only actor to be cast against type this season. Integrating a play into the narrative allows Meryl Streep to dazzle us as the struggling actress Loretta Durkin. The contrast between Streep’s dizzying fame and Loretta’s thwarted ambition is employed for heartache rather than humour in the show. Loretta embodies a lifetime of missed opportunities and what ifs. Even as the play grows increasingly deranged under Oliver’s stressed modifications – a slew of musical numbers, a pair of infant triplets as murder suspects, the introduction of breeding crabmen (??) – it’s Loretta (and, by extension, Streep) who anchors the show with any real emotional core.
Only Murders In The Building season 3 serves up familiar comforts – a carousel of idiosyncratic characters, the friction of the generational gap between leads Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez, just enough twists to keep the mystery engaging – but balances the heightened drama with more grounded stakes. The lead trio takes chances on love, wonder why they’re so hesitant to let themselves be vulnerable and grapple with the fallout that ensues when they are. Behind the heightened kookiness of returning character Joy (Andrea Martin), the makeup artist Charles is in a relationship with, is a return to the show’s exploration of an all-consuming loneliness that would lead someone to begin talking to their fish. And behind their murder-investigating shenanigans of Charles, Oliver and Mabel is the sobering realisation that they probably wouldn’t hang out as much without crime giving the trio a common ground.
It's hard to see how long a show like Only Murders In The Building can keep going – its very title is a restriction, providing little leeway for the writers to pivot to newer pastures or to mysteries that stray too far from New York’s The Arconia. But it’s also been a near-consistent delight to see how this insular little world expands to accommodate new characters for whom this is just a passing rest stop, and how it retains familiar characters that still manage to surprise us, three seasons on.