“I liked the first season a little better than the second season.”
This sentiment is uttered by someone talking about the fictional podcast Only Murders in the Building, as opposed to talking about the Hulu comedy series about the three friends who make said podcast. But like a lot of jokes on the show, it applies to both — a meta acknowledgment that Hulu Season Two was widely considered a creative step down from Season One.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Only Murders had one of the great debut seasons in sitcom history. But that was nonetheless a miraculous balance of tones, so that the series was simultaneously parodying true crime podcasts and presenting an engaging mystery, and mocking the quirks of Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) even as it was taking their various emotional crises completely seriously. Season Two couldn’t quite pull off that tightrope act. The humor still worked, as did the more poignant material, but the murder investigation was such a dud that I was surprised when the “previously on” clips in the Season Three premiere reminded me it was the assistant of Tina Fey’s Cynda Canning. (And even then, it didn’t take; a later episode in the new season has a joke about how both previous killers were female, and I immediately struggled to identify who the other murderer was besides Charles’ girlfriend Jan.)
Season Three again only manages to hit two out of its three targets, but it’s a different combination this time. The murder investigation — centered around the death of Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), the movie bro star of Oliver’s new Broadway play Death Rattle — features lots of surprising twists and turns, and a great collection of potential suspects, headed by living legend Meryl Streep as Ben and Charles’ co-star Loretta. And the more dramatic storylines work well too, whether it’s Oliver desperately trying to salvage his last chance to escape director jail, Charles reckoning with the behavior that’s led him to live such a solitary life, or Mabel realizing that she’s become addicted to these investigations.
But the humor feels much softer, and/or more predictable than in seasons past, and feels like a waste of the comic genius of so many of the actors involved.
The Season Two finale teased this year’s plot, showing Ben collapsing on stage in the opening night performance of Death Rattle. Season Three finds various ways to give Rudd more than just that brief cameo. In particular, the story bounces back and forth in time a lot to show what happened over the course of rehearsing the play, to reveal reasons why various members of the cast and crew — even Charles! — might have had a motive to kill him. It’s an impressively knotty story, and if it gets predictable at times — if one episode ends with a cliffhanger implying a new chief suspect, that person will likely be cleared of suspicion by the end of the next one — it keeps finding interesting and fun ways to move through each beat.
At this point, meanwhile, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Short, Martin, and Gomez — none of them known for their dramatic acting chops prior to this show — are all good at showing the more vulnerable sides of their characters. Nor, for that matter, will it shock anyone that Meryl Streep is wonderful at everything she’s asked to do here as a never-was finally getting her big break after decades of striving. (She even gets another chance to bust out her beautiful singing voice.) The material about everyone’s psychological damage is very effective — even the mostly juvenile and narcissistic Ben gets a few moments of genuine, affecting pathos.
But through the season’s first eight episodes (out of 10), I rarely found myself laughing, and when I did, it was more from the sheer energy of the performers (Martin Short in particular) than from any of the humor they’re asked to play. Some of this is simply that we know the characters so well that it’s no longer surprising when Oliver insults Charles to his face, or when Mabel is dismayed at the guys’ attempt to talk about social media and the like. (Charles, for instance, pronounces “meme” to rhyme with “them.”) There’s one inspired running gag in the fourth episode about where Charles’ mind goes whenever he starts stumbling over the tongue-twisting lyrics to the patter song Oliver has given him, but the rest of the humor feels much softer than before. It feels like the Only Murders writers have developed such affection for its ensemble — both the main trio and supporting characters like Michael Cyril Creighton’s Howard, who works as Oliver’s assistant on the play — that they’ve started going easier on them than in seasons past.
At the same time, I share much of that affection, and was happy to race through the screeners when I got them. Only Murders may never again catch lightning in a bottle the way it did back in 2021, but it remains a better-crafted entertainment than anything we’ve glimpsed from Charles or Oliver’s careers in showbiz.
The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Building Season Three are now streaming on Hulu, with additional episodes releasing weekly.
From Rolling Stone US.
#Murders #Building #Season #Meryl #Streep #Laughs