Review: Season one of Only Murders In the Building

Posted on 12 November 2021
By Brian Comber
  • Share:

Obsessive, marksman level, media radar fails me and it’s easy to get caught completely off guard by something I feel is a little bit special. If you will, a diamond in the rough, a hidden little gem, something that actually deserves people’s attention.

With series after series of formulaic procedural drama, one off BBC ‘hits’ and the current theme of weekly streaming zeitgeist shows currently flooding an already crowded market it’s unbelievably nice to find myself surprised, entertained and ultimately captivated by a show that seemingly comes out of nowhere.

Only Murders In The Building is such a show. At heart a homage to the Woody Allen Manhatten movies, a slice of Allen without the associated guilt and problematic history. A beautiful love letter to New York with its brownstone tenements, central Park overlooks and its 1% cultural elite, inherited wealth packed into serviced apartments like ‘The Arcadia’.

From this we find our three protagonists. Neighbours, but strangers, brought together by their mutual love of a terrible, pulpy true crime podcast who quickly find themselves at the centre of their own murder mystery when a body is found in their building. Murder? Suicide?, they take it upon themselves to investigate while at the same time covering their actions in their own, equally terrible and pulpy recordings. A simple premise but exactly what it needs to be.

Our main characters are wonderfully fleshed out and rounded, a credit to the writing and each bring their own baggage to the table and their own reasons for needing this drama and excitement In their lives. Steve Martin’s character, Charles- Haden Savage is a retired and failed actor, with almost a single role to his name who is nothing more than lonely and bored after his career defining 80s cop show becomes a victim of time and progress. Martin Short’s Oliver Putnam, a failed stage and Film director, is broke, depending on hand outs from his son, pretty much blacklisted by his own industry, needing anything to get that next big directing job… or anything to pay the bills. Selena Gomez’s Mabel Mora is the dark horse. A character with a lot more invested in this tale than she let’s on to and a lot more to hide.

Together they traverse a stunningly well realised version of Manhatten, with beautiful cinematography that really let’s us the viewer inside the world of privileged living. These characters don’t have boring day jobs, they simply exist in a kind of bubble of old wealth. Surviving from work they did decades ago. To them, the murder and their growing friendship is the only thing that keeps them going, a breath of fresh air in a stagnant life.

Performances, as you would expect, are outstanding, with Martin and Short in full force reminding us why they were simply King’s back in the 80s. Their chemistry on screen seems to have never aged and add to this a sharp, well paced and funny script written by John Hoffman, in what seems to be his first full showrunner/written role. We get genuine moments of real sadness from the two Martins as we see them as older men, haunted by their past glory, relegated to the realm of the forgotten, unwanted and ultimately unnecessary. The family dynamic from Martin Short in particular can be a difficult watch. Selena Gomez is also really strong as the straight man between the three of them. She brings real maturity to her character and sells the mystery very well.

The ensemble cast is also very good, building what seems like a chorus of deeply unlikeable, greedy and materialistic, old money New Yorkers. More concerned with their own needs over the brutal murder of a neighbour. In one particularly sharp scene, during a residents meeting, upon finding out who had died they seem delighted because now they can have their fires back on at Christmas….. ‘never liked him, he had asthma so he complained about fires.. should be much better this Christmas’

It’s this kind of scarp, sardonic wit that flows through the show.

With 10 episodes each running at a perfect 30 minutes, this is a show where pacing and plot progression is key. At no point did I feel that the show dragged out story elements, character development managed to be well realised without being forced and a clear and lean script kept up the pace.

I really enjoyed this show. It looks great, at no point does it become boring or pondering and the shorter episode run times kept my interest. I pretty much binge watched the full first season (season 2 In production now ‘even more murders in the building?’) In one sitting despite having zero intention of doing so. I had 3 films lined up ready for review but instead spent the day caught up in these glorious little slices of 1980s murder mystery nostalgia. Also as a man raised on 80s films and TV any excuse to see two of the three Amigos in action is a joy…. just need Chevvy back now for season 2.

So if you are looking for a new binge watch and fancy a well written, well paced and great looking show with 3 very strong main characters give this a go. It feels both modern and yet beautifully nostalgic in all the right ways.

‘Only Murders In The Building’ is available now on Disney Plus UK