This is more horror-adjacent, but I’ve wanted type about this series for some time. My apologies but my blog, my rules!
I know there are a number of folks out there that are disgruntled with season three of ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING.
Is the mystery not all that engaging? Yes.
Is the podcast — the fulcrum of the prior two seasons — severely backgrounded? Yes.
The third season of a show is always trepidatious. The first two seasons of ONLY MURDERS IN THE BUILDING (ONLY MURDERS going forward) are laser-focused on discussing, reflecting, broadcasting and ultimately solving a crime that others cannot.
ONLY MURDER’s third season backgrounds all of that to showcase the characters and their trials and strife and personal dissonance. In my opinion: Fuck the haters.
If you haven’t seen the show before — and trust me, you can jump into this season without having watching the first two, but the first two are fun and smart! — it features co-creator and absolute fucking legend Steve Martin as Charles-Haden Savage who for many TV seasons acted in a crime drama show as Detective Brazzos. Charles spends most of his days in a multi-unit NYC building cooking omelets and keeping to himself. Also residing in said building is one semi-retired Broadway writer/director Oliver Putnam, played by a surprisingly restrained Martin Short, who often interrupts Charles’ solitude. Also in the building is the solitary Mabel, charismatically portrayed by Selena Gomez.
The three of them initially bond over a murder that occurs in the building. They decide to will their thoughts into the world via a podcast, which becomes quite popular. Matters escalate.
As noted above: that’s mostly pushed aside in the third season. This season is all about character work. Charles gets entwined with fish-crazy Joy Martin, the effortlessly delightful Andrea Martin. Oliver gets entwined with talented-but-oft-overlooked actor Loretta Durkin. Somehow they managed to convince motherfucking Meryl Streep to play her, and it’s amazing. Mabel gets entwined with documentarian Tolbert, and actor Jesse Williams? Certainly showing off his blue eyes.
This season centers around Oliver finally getting back to Broadway. He directs a stodgy show named DEATH RATTLE. It is centered around a murder in a lighthouse where three babies are the suspects.
Yes, it is a schlock parody of Agatha Christie’s THE MOUSETRAP. (I love Christie, but even I have to admit that THE MOUSETRAP is one of her lesser works (even if it’s the longest running play ever). Tacky TV actor Ben Glenroy, gamely played by Paul Rudd is cast as the lead, and Charles is enlisted as a supporting actor. Ben gets poisoned, bleeding out on-stage in the opening performance. He survives. Then he’s pushed down an elevator shaft in Charles and Oliver and Mabel’s building.
Oliver re-imagines DEATH RATTLE as a musical. Matters escalate, again.
That sounds like a lot of plot and intrigue, but really it’s all about personal interaction and reaction and attempts at growing as people. Sure, narratively that’s not the most propulsive facet to lean on, but I love it.
There are two musical numbers that the season builds up to, solely to hold a mirror to not only Loretta but also Charles. All of the prior preamble? That’s not necessary to enjoy them. The first — Look for the Light — is penned by Sara Bareilles, GIRLS5EVA star and showrunner and the songwriter of the Broadway hit adaptation of WAITRESS. (Seriously, she has all of the accolades. Look her up. She is amazing.) Everyone involved here knocks it out of the park. I especially love the cello swells.
The second — Which of the Pickwick Triplets Did It — is penned by Broadway legends Benj Pasek, Justin Paul, Marc Shaiman, and Scott Wittman! (You can read about them workshopping the song!) It is an astounding piece of patter.
These two performances are so goddamn passionately perfect. There’s a lot going on in the undercurrent that I won’t detail because of spoilers, but to see Streep and Martin do what they love to do brings me endless joy. The fact that it narratively bolsters the show? Icing on the cake.