Only Murders in the Building (2021) – Review

Loaded with surprises and familiar guest appearances, this series centers around the adventures of a trio who obsess over a true crime and start their own podcast after the death of a fellow apartment building resident.

Starring the Popstar Selena Gomez, the iconic actor Steve Martin – winner of five GRAMMY awards as well as a Primetime Emmy and an Honorary Academy Award, and the amazing Martin Short, as three residents at the Arconia (an Upper West Side apartment complex). ‘Only Murders in the Building’ is a colorful and delightful series.

The very opening shot of the series is a dramatic entrance of the police rushing through the elevators and the hallways of the Upper West Side apartment building – Arconia.

And somewhere else in the building are Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) frantically making their way down the stairs crying “Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God, Oh My God” and “Help me, someone!” only to find Mabel exclaim “It’s not what you think!” as she leans over a dead body that lays on the floor before her while her sweater is drenched in someone else’s blood.

The series then does a flashback to two months earlier wherein we first see all the three leads do a monologue following which they share an elevator ride with Tim Kono – the fellow apartment building resident whose deceased body is found minutes after that ride in the first episode.

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Here, Oliver Putnam – a Broadway director whose career has now filled him with some regrets, attempts to make small talk with Charles-Haden Savage – a former TV actor who once starred as a detective on a crime show called Brazzos and now leads a quiet life, and Mabel Mora – a young artist concealing her trauma from the past behind her Beats headphones and marigold faux fur jacket. (Gomez’s costume designer deserves a raise ‘cause I’m in love with her cozy jackets!)

This somewhat awkward interaction in the elevator takes a turn when the residents of Arconia are kicked out of their apartments owing to a fire alarm that goes off right when Mabel, Oliver, and Charles (in their respective apartments) get to the thrilling part of the true-crime podcast called “All Is Not OK in Oklahoma”, hosted by Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) that they are all fans of.

The trio with a cross-generational gap bond over their shared love for true crime podcasts and soon start one of their own when they reject the initial conclusion by Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) that Tim’s cause of death was suicide.

Episode 5 titled ‘Twist’ is from the perspective of the Black queer policewoman, a supporting character in the series preparing to welcome a child with her wife. Williams is clearly not a big fan of amateur podcasters as she rolls her eyes and says, “what fuckin’ murder podcast are you all listening to?” to our favorite trio in the show when she catches them snooping around the crime scene. However, she has little choice but to work with them because she struggles to have her voice heard in the precinct.

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Although in the earlier episodes you may think that this series is about three amateur sleuths bonding over true crime podcasts and solving a murder, that’s not all it is about. Of course, it is true but it also has to do with cross-generational relationships in the rushed, packed, and busiest city on the globe – New York City wherein despite so many people living around you, stacked atop you in the high-rise buildings, you still feel lonely.

Melancholy and loneliness of the characters seem to be another aspect that is common in the series. Mabel, who is too young to be a tenant at the Arconia, is unable to let go of her past with the Hardy Boys.

The once famous Charles whose life in the limelight has now faded away and still hopes to run into fans on the streets. While Oliver, who refuses to leave the apartment complex whilst suffering from financial problems, name drops some celebrities he may or may not have worked with while still reeling from his flops that caused discomfort to make an entry into his life.

Co-created by Martin and John Hoffman, Only Murders in the Building’s trio carry baggage and secrets of their own and this sends the investigation into a whole new direction. The show offers a brilliant performance by Steve Martin and Selena’s dry delivery as Mabel seems great. Although Martin Short’s dramatic performance was spectacular and fun to watch, it does make one wish the series had given us more of Oliver too.

Set in and around the Arconia, a fictional Upper West Side apartment complex that even houses the ‘Every Breath You Take’ singer Sting in a penthouse apartment, who Mabel believes and replies is “the guy from U2” when Oliver asserts, “There’s a very strong chance the killer is musical superstar Sting.” ‘Only Murders in the Building’ offers delightful comedy. Yes. Musical superstar Sting not only makes an appearance in the series but is also on the list of suspects who may have killed Kono.

Image via IMDb

The show’s ambition to do an episode with minimal spoken dialogues is commendable. This episode is told from the point of view of Theo – the deaf son of Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane). Teddy is the deli chain owner and black-market jewelry kingpin who’s also funding the podcast – ‘Only Murders in the Building’ and the episode simulates the experience of hearing loss. However, this does not mean the episode is shot in total silence. We hear distorted muffled sounds.

Something that was unexpected is that ‘Only Murders in the Building’ offers a few pointed critiques of true crime as a genre and how it can be exploitative for the entertainment of others as Steve Martin’s character remarks, “Every true crime story is actually true for someone.”

The reveal of the murderer is something we do see coming but the series makes up for it with the amazing chemistry between the trio and the comedy arising out of the conversations between Mabel and the much older Charles and Oliver due to their age gap. Charles even learns not to sign all his texts with his name and Oliver how not to compliment women.

‘Only Murders in the Building’ also makes its viewers keep an eye on everything- the clues, the characters, etc., while Charles, Mabel, and Oliver investigate the murder of Tim Kono as the dead body from the first couple of minutes from Episode 1 dangles all over our heads.


Watch ‘Only Murders in the Building’ on Disney+ Hotstar: HERE

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