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The Watcher House

I grew up in a quaint, suburban neighborhood in New Jersey, exit 135 for those familiar with the Garden State Parkway. Picture newly built homes with attached garages, families with big dogs, soccer games on Sundays and a picturesque downtown with all the essentials — the bagel shop, the local diner and the penny candy drugstore.  

My family has lived in the same house for my entire life. I grew up spending the summers barefoot in the park with the neighborhood kids and I went to high school with my classmates from kindergarten. All of the neighbors knew each other.

When I was younger, I would complain to my mom that our town was boring and that I wished something exciting would happen. Other than that Charles Addams used to live in my town and his house inspired the Addams Family House, there wasn’t anything noteworthy or exciting about Westfield, New Jersey. 

I think some of this desire for excitement probably came from watching too many episodes of “20–20” and true crime shows. It was crazy to think these mysteries happened in real life, in comparison to my town where the biggest scandal was a series of car robberies (because people left their car keys inside their cars).

So in 2014 when one of our neighbors bought a house and began to receive threatening letters from an unknown stalker, it was the biggest story in Westfield’s history. The incident began with murmurs within the neighborhood, then it hit the local news, then the national news and now it is being made into a Netflix series, “The Watcher,” that is scheduled for release this October.

“The Watcher” is about 657 Boulevard. Boulevard is this beautiful, historic street on the south side of town. It is a picture-perfect neighborhood and 657 was the quintessential “dream home”— six bedrooms, four bathrooms and a large backyard. 

Soon after the family bought the house, they began to receive threatening letters from a stranger who said they were watching the family and their children. The messages became increasingly troublesome and the stalker who called themself the Watcher threatened to harm the children if the family stayed in the house. 

The family moved out of the house on Boulevard, and everyone knew the situation because they were our classmates, our friends and our neighbors. The town was abuzz with questions about who the Watcher was. Was it a jealous buyer that didn’t get the house? Was it one of the neighbors from down the street? Could it be the family sending the letters to themselves? There were even rumors that the letters had been tested and a woman’s DNA was found on the envelope. 

Years passed but no one ever discovered the identity of the Watcher. The house sat unoccupied for many years before it was sold again. I used to go for walks around the block and when I passed the Watcher House I would hurry by with my head down. From the outside, the house looked like any other house, but if I looked at the windows with the white frilly curtains for too long I almost felt like the Watcher was watching me too. The nightmare that was the Watcher House became a local legend whispered in the dark by trick-or-treating children. 

Since the Watcher is the most exciting thing that’s happened in Westfield, I will now be referring to my hometown as the spooky Halloween fright that is the Watcher House instead of suburban New Jersey.

You can contact Caroline Collins at ccolli23@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Categories
Scene

‘Only Murders in the Building’: Killer Comeback

There’s a blackout across New York City. In the Arconia apartment complex, a murder investigation is occurring. And during all of this, the building’s residents come together for one moment and sing. This is “Only Murders in the Building.” There’s murder, there’s mystery, but what stands out most is the cast of characters and how they deal with the chaos they find themselves in. Though the episode had suspenseful moments and revelations for the investigation, the moment that stands out most is how the background characters interact and expand beyond just one-note personalities into complex characters with hopes and goals of their own. What’s even better is how these characters return throughout the season to help solve the mystery underlying the show. 

The show centers on Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez), all residents in the New York apartment complex, “The Arconia.” In the first season, Mabel’s childhood friend Tim Konos is found dead in his apartment, leading the three to unite over their shared interest in murder-mystery podcasts and start their own. The trio, despite all odds, make not only a great team unit, but great investigators, too. After a night of celebration over the arrest of Tim’s killer, the three get a mysterious text and find a dead body in Mabel’s apartment: their neighbor Bunny Folger, the owner of the building. The second season picks up on this thread, with the main trio investigating the killing, while defending their reputations from rival podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) and the crooked Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaport). These five aren’t the only characters the show takes time to know, however. In fact, every character, no matter how small, feels developed in such a way that they have a life outside of their purpose in the story. This is one of my favorite aspects of the show.

In the first season, the question “who killed Tim Konos?” carries much of the plot, but the second season places less emphasis on the actual murder and more on a wider theme of family. Family remains a clear theme that runs through the season, with all three central characters confronting their own fears and obstacles: Oliver worries about the results of a DNA test; Charles confronts the meaning of fatherhood as mysteries towards his own father arise coinciding with the arrival of his former partner’s daughter, someone who viewed him as a father figure himself; Mabel confronts her unhealthy coping mechanisms regarding death and negative emotions that rose from her own father’s death. Through all of these subplots, new revelations arise that lead the investigators to new evidence, no matter how unlikely they seem. The mystery is not impossible to solve, but it is not so clear that one could solve it from the season’s start: the show makes a point to have the audience learn and connect the pieces in the same ways the characters do. Twists are surprising, yet always rooted in information that was already known: the twist comes from solving the puzzle, not learning something unknown to the audience entirely. 

The show balances great character moments with an overarching mystery. Even when the show feels like it’s meandering or abandoning the mystery in favor of character moments that are unrelated to the wider picture, the show ties it all together with such skill it never feels forced or unfounded: every reveal is justified and has some foundation to stand on. The show is not only a great mystery, but also a masterful character-driven comedy, carried by the performances of Short, Martin and Gomez, along with the writing that provides them with great material. Whether you’re looking for a laugh or a chance to play Sherlock, you can’t go wrong with “Only Murders in the Building.”

Show: “Only Murders in the Building”

Starring: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, Tina Fey

Favorite Episodes: “The Tell,” “Hello Darkness,” “I Know Who Did It”

If you like: “The Afterparty,” “Knives Out”

Where to watch: Hulu

Shamrocks: 5 out of 5

Andy Ottone

Contact Andy at aottone@nd.edu