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