Steve Martin, whose career path crossed television before he was a writer and occasional presence on “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” – its first TV appearance was in 1966, playing the banjo on a Southern California children’s show called “Dusty’s Attic” – co-premiered in the mid-1970s ( starring John Hoffman) a beautifully funny, involving and one might even call a juvenile series, “Only Murders in the Building”. Co-starring with slightly younger Martin Short and much younger Selena Gomez, it will air Tuesday on Hulu.
The stars play stranger neighbors in a tall apartment building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side who meet to kill time at a nearby restaurant, where they find out they’re all fans of the same true crime podcast, “Tout n ‘Oklahoma is not OK,’ and bond intensely on that one issue. (In other respects, antipathy reigns.) When they return to the building, they learn that a body has been discovered; they’re going to snoop around, and soon after they got into a survey and podcast.
Martin plays Charles, a largely unemployed actor, apparently living off the loot and residue of the crime drama “Brazzos”, in which he starred in the 1990s and whose slogans in their investigations give him the opportunity to quote. (He points it out when he does.) Short’s Oliver is a director living in hopes of future success but whose desperation can be measured by the names he drops. (Past productions include “Tuesdays at Bernie’s,” a “double adaptation of“ Tuesdays with Morrie ”and“ Weekend at Bernie’s ”” and a disastrous musical version of the mermaid movie “Splash!”) Mabel, played by Gomez, a youngster The person who lives in his wealthy aunt’s apartment, allegedly to redevelop it, is in some ways the third stabilizing wheel, although sometimes threatens to be fragile.
Since everything after the first episode is considered a spoiler, although it will be made questionable by other spoilers, I will be vague. But the changing perspective brought by the new information is not only one of the pleasures of the series, it’s also a theme: “Only Murders” is a mystery about mysteries and how they attract and keep you. , echoing podcasts the characters love and want. to imitate. On a deeper level, it’s about being alone and finding connection. Charles, Oliver and Mabel all had happier lives, lost people. Charles keeps the others at a distance; Oliver’s intensity, and what he imagines to be his charm attack, makes it difficult for them to approach; Mabel is a woman of melancholy mystery. Murder improves their lot.
While not exactly what you would call a team, Martin and Short are friends with a professional history, dating back to at least the ‘Three Amigos’ of 1986! (another co-authored with Martin). There was “The Father of the Bride” and its suite. Martin appeared in three of six episodes of “Maya & Marty,” Short’s 2016 variety show starring Maya Rudolph, and in the first episode of Short’s improvised interview show “Primetime Glick”. Their theatrical double act “An Evening You’ll Forget For The Rest of Your Life” became a Netflix special in 2018.
When he is not engaged in aggressive nonsense (and sometimes when he does), Martin the writer is something romantic, even sentimental; “Roxanne” adapted “Cyrano de Bergerac”, “A Simple Twist of Fate” updated “Silas Marner”. “LA Story”, whose passages of magical realism are repeated here in a small way, speaks of love, of a place and of a person. There’s also a good dash of humor aside: as seen in a clip for “Brazzos”, the character’s signature gesture is to punctuate a statement while flossing; a podcast is sponsored by “the Rand Corporation, the Milton and Miriam Swan Corporation for the Arts and for Dissolving the Federal Reserve, and Trader Joe’s, with additional support from Royal Crown Cruises, the Royal Crown Prince of Dubai and listeners like you “. But most of the story exists in the world as we know it, and at times it will get surprisingly serious. (“Every true crime story is actually true of someone,” Charles muses.) Yet the different tones fit together.
Short is 71, Martin 76, and you look at them at first with a sort of concern, like any artist or creative artist in their eighth decade, with a keen eye on the shaking hand, the weak knee, the cloudy stem vocal range – but also for the person you may remember from previous days and work, still alive in there. Considering how violent they threw themselves, bodily, into their first comedy, a softer approach is to be expected, but the two still possess a comedic physicality that seems to intensify as the series progresses, the pace is accelerating and the stakes are becoming more dangerous. There might be one or two too many jokes or two about age – they can’t handle the technology, the kids talk wrong – not a few that Short’s Oliver makes about Martin’s Charles. But they’re funny, so more welcome than not, and if they state the obvious, it’s only to make it clear that the topics are way ahead of you on this point and that they’re doing well.
The pieces adapt so well to the players that one would assume that each has designed their own. Charles exploits Martin’s natural gentleness, his primitive and reserved side; Oliver, as intense as Ed Grimley, exploits Short’s madness. (Oliver: “Do you agree to be recorded? Say anything to be okay.” Neighbor: “No, please. The two men demand – she’s there for ballast more than for the energy, exactly what one might not expect from the junior partner.A maniacal pixie is not what the story calls for.
Even minor supporting roles are well conceived and performed; major ones include Tina Fey as the superstar podcaster the three admire, Nathan Lane as the King of Deli, and former supporter of Oliver and Sting’s theatrical businesses as Sting. Amy Ryan has an increasingly important role as a bassoonist who lives in the building and whose practice makes Charles happy. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a police detective who’s finally drawn into the adventure – and it’s an adventure. Whether the Hardy Boys books, in all their blue-thorned beauty, are a visual and thematic motif is of course not a random choice.
The problem with mysteries is that they require solutions, not just conclusions, and a poor finish can spoil what happened before. With 10 episodes to complete, there will naturally be plenty of twists and turns, and some of the end-of-season storylines seem designed to keep the balls in the air a little longer and the pool filled with red herrings. Given how much I love “Only Murders”, I hope for a blocked landing and that the killer doesn’t turn out to be the person we have no reason to suspect, like when a sunny guy seems to be in trouble. good side starts to chuckle and growl as soon as the finger points its way. Still, I wouldn’t expect something like Martin’s “The Man With Two Brains,” in which Merv Griffin turns out to be a serial killer. I can only say that with eight episodes sent for review, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel are no more concerned with the answer than I am.
“Only the murders in the building”
When: At any time
Evaluation: TV-MA (may not be suitable for children under 17)