Review: ‘Only Murders in the Building’ is both lighthearted fun and a great send-up of true crime podcasts

True Crime is, debatably, the largest and furthest reaching of all the podcast genres. They reach mass audiences and have been adapted into television series that have gone on to critical acclaim. So it’s only natural then that someone was going to send them up. Luckily for us, that person turned out to be Steve Martin.

Martin, alongside producer John Hoffman and joined in the cast by Martin Short and Selena Gomez, created a delightful lighthearted comedy series and a delightful send-up of the true crime podcast genre itself.

Martin plays Charles, an out of work actor who played a TV detective in the 80s, his neighbour Oliver (Short), a washed-up Broadway producer and director, and Mabel (Gomez), a young woman who recently moved into the building in which they all live. The trio finds each other one night after a fire alarm evacuates the building, and they all realize they are fans of the same true crime podcast (narrated by Tina Fey, whose voice and timbre are a spot-on recreation of your favourite podcast narrator). When they return home, they discover that a man has died, and although it’s ruled an open and shut case of suicide, they become convinced it is a murder and start their own true crime podcast.

If you’re a fan of Martin or Short, you should know what to expect here, with Martin taking n the more reserved and character and Short the more flamboyant. The real standout in the cast, though, turns out to be Gomez, whose deadpan delivery of sarcasm and bewilderment at the older gentlemen she has befriended result in some of the funniest lines in the entire series.

The chemistry between them –both in pairs and as a trio– is what will keep you coming back to the series. Each of them has their own backstory I won’t spoil here, but each of them is closed off to people and relationships at the start of the series, and their progression from neighbours to the outright community is genuinely heartwarming.

Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin) in Only Murders In The Building
(Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

These characters, combined with the series being structured like a great true crime podcast –with a compelling twist at the end of each episode that will make you want to keep watching– make the series something special. While it’s not the deepest of series, it also doesn’t have to be to give the audience everything it needs to love it, and a well-executed series full of people learning to love and trust again really does go a long way in 2021.

If there’s one other complaint to be made about the series, it might be that a better version might do a little more to make the titular building (and the residents therein) more of a character in the series, but the building is little more than a location, and most of the other residents are reduced to pretty thin characterizations. With only 8 half-hour episodes, though that’s actually quite understandable; there isn’t a ton of time to develop that many other characters. However, the ones that do get developed (played by Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, and Aaron Dominguez) more than make up for it. Ryan, in particular, though she has limited screen time, also delivers some of the series funniest moments through her courtship with Martin’s Charles.

Still, this is all nitpicking on my part. Only Murders in the Building is a charming and lighthearted series with three great central performances, an engaging mystery, and it manages to do that thing that all great send-ups do: it’s both a pitch-perfect parody and example of its genre.

Only Murders in the Building premieres with three episodes on Disney+ Star (and Hulu in the United States) tomorrow, August 31st, 2021, with new episodes following each week through October 5th.


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