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Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Television

‘Only Murders in the Building’ episodes 1-3 review: Enticing mystery, great cast

Three strangers use their knowledge from true crime podcasts to catch a killer.

Hulu’s latest series, Only Murders in the Building, is a fresh new take on the classic mystery. It taps into the growing popularity of true crime podcasts as the series’ leads simultaneously record one while they attempt to catch a killer.

Oliver (Martin Short), Charles (Steve Martin), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) are three strangers that live in the same building. One evening following a routine fire drill, they find themselves at the same restaurant and bond over their shared love for the true crime podcast, All Is Not Okay in Oklahoma. When they return home, they learn a murder has occurred in their building and decide to put their amateur sleuthing skills to the test and investigate.

First and foremost, the cast of Only Murders in the Building is excellent and it begins at the top. Short, Martin, and Gomez are perfectly cast in their roles. For the two older show biz veterans, their characters are familiar roles they’ve played in the past. Oliver is a flamboyant producer with a silver tongue while Charles is an out of work actor and old curmudgeon with a fatherly vibe. It’s no surprise the pair have great chemistry having worked together in the past (I love the Three Amigos) but they seamlessly bring Gomez into the mix as an equal partner despite being the odd person of the group.

There is a great dynamic between them as they are all enthusiastic to solve the case but there’s a conflict and distrust amongst them since they are strangers at the start. Plus, they have their own arrogance and believe they know best and are reluctant to listen.

Only Murders in the Building develops their leads well giving them depth and complexity. As we go along the ride of the investigation, we receive peeks into the main trio’s backstories and their problems. They have their own personal tragedies and it seems good timing that they found each other. They have their flaws but when they come together, they complement each other.  Though their histories are compelling, Mabel’s stands out when we learn about her secrets and connection to the victim.

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Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

In addition, the other tenants and staff of the complex are a colorful collection of characters. There’s a wide variety of personalities, maybe some can be stereotypical Manhattanites, but they are so entertaining. They all contribute to the world building of this apartment community but also serve as suitable suspects with their own motives. Some of the guest stars are unexpected but fun.

The overarching narrative is nicely paced. The series always feels like its progressing the mystery with enough reveals each episode to satisfyingly retain interest. It never feels bogged down even when it takes detours to explore its characters and it plants interesting seeds for the future as we anticipate growth from Oliver, Charles, and Mabel. There’s even a bit of whimsy, particularly with Oliver, which is a pleasant surprise but is very fitting considering his theatrical background.

So far, the comedy of Only Murders in the Building is sharp and amusing. With such an age difference between the trio, there is the generational humor; Charles’ approach to texting comes to mind. However, some of the jokes can be a little darker such as in the introduction of the first episode and there’s some great self-deprecating jabs at Martin.

The whole true crime podcast motif adds another level of charm to the show and it helps build structure to the story and the characters’ approach. They bumble through the investigation but together, they exhibit enough competence that they could actually solve it. The podcast also provides an intriguing angle on the story within a story format.  

The first three episodes leverages today’s growing popularity of true crime podcasts to introduce an enticing murder mystery. It has a talented cast playing flawed but fascinating characters and contains plenty of clever and silly humor.

New episodes of Only Murders in the Building are released Tuesdays on Hulu.

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