Roush Review: Three Amigos Investigate Merry ‘Murders in the Building’

Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez in Only Murders in the Building
Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

Leave it to the experts—what fun would that be?

In Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, a fitfully amusing, not-quite-madcap farce, the humor lies in the clueless bumbling and serendipitous gotchas of three true-crime podcast buffs played by multigenerational marquee talents Steve Martin, Martin Short and a much younger amigo in Selena Gomez. They form a fractious friendship while taking center stage in their own murder mystery, investigating a suspicious death at their deluxe Manhattan apartment building.

Series co-creator Martin is the most endearing of the trio as Charles, a forlorn, has-been actor who once played a ridiculously rugged cop on TV and feels revived by the thrill of the hunt. (He even embarks on a tentative romance with a bassoon-playing neighbor, winsomely played by Amy Ryan.)

Fellow comedy superstar Short has the most fun. He’s Oliver, a flamboyant, self-dramatizing has-been of a theater director, who tries to stage-manage everyone—even possible suspects including Sting (playing a hostile version of himself) and scene-stealer Nathan Lane (as a wealthy potential podcast advertiser)—as if this were one of his flop plays.

As never-was moody millennial Mabel, who may know more than she’s letting on, Gomez deadpans effectively but often deadens the pace of an overlong misadventure that might have made a snappier movie.

But this is streaming, where bloat comes with the territory. And the episodes themselves are short—the first three drop on Tuesday, followed by weekly chapters—with enough twists of the plot to keep the viewer engaged. There’s also a fun meta quality to the podcast-within-a-comedy setup, so shortly after the second episode starts, Oliver helpfully explains, “Every great episode 2 makes you care deeply for the victim.”

And when Charles declares, “I think our list of suspects just got a little longer,” he notes with pride that this dialogue came directly from his old TV show.

These sleuths might not be pros, but when Oliver mocks Charles’ acting chops (and by extension, Martin’s), Murders is anything but amateur hour.

Only Murders in the Building, Series Premiere, Tuesday, August 31, Hulu