From comedy legends to crime solvers: “Only Murders in the Building” delivers unexpected twists

"I am so used to seeing Short and Martin saying silly things back and forth, laughing, always “on” and trying to make people smile. But there is very little smiling or levity in this series so far, which is where Gomez comes in." - Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon.

He’s played banjo, juggled oranges, written a hit song about King Tut, shaken hands with Kermit the Frog, and made balloon animals without blowing them up. Now, he’s winning over his audiences’ hearts by combining comedy and murder.

We’ve been seeing Steve Martin and his beloved buddy Martin Short working together on both, screen and stage since the premiere of “Three Amigos!” in 1986. To me, every single production of theirs oozes pure joy and hilarity. So, when I heard that Martin was creating a new Hulu original series starring himself, Short, and Selena Gomez, I was thrilled. Although, it wasn’t exactly what I expected.

“Only Murders in the Building” hit the streaming world on Aug. 31 with three episodes and will present new installments every Tuesday. It has been advertised as a comedy, but that is not the only genre it falls into.

Instead of the gritty comedy that I was expecting, it turned out to be a somber mystery with comedic elements. Granted, the jokes and gags are present enough, but I would categorize it more as a “dramedy.”

Martin’s character, Charles, is stuffy and brusque — which might look pleasantly familiar if you’re a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” fan. Co-star Short portrays Oliver, a goofy and strangely happy Broadway director with a poor reputation in the theater. Gomez is the resident young person, Mabel, who comes off as sullen and shrewd. They all live in the same apartment building but end up only officially meeting each other (and instantly bonding) over their favorite true-crime podcast. When they find out that there has been a sudden death in their building, they begin to investigate it together and decide to start a podcast of their own based on the shocking situation.

I am so used to seeing Short and Martin saying silly things back and forth, laughing, always “on” and trying to make people smile. But there is very little smiling or levity in this series so far, which is where Gomez comes in.

She beautifully depicts the sultry Mabel, who removes the initial impression of probable humor. She projects very quickly that the program is not meant to be constantly joyful. It’s admittedly off-putting at first, but it is intentional to show the viewers what they’re getting into.

That being said, Mabel does have several comedic lines, which Gomez delivers with a precise deadpan attitude, not unlike the subtlety of Martin in the more recent years of his career. Her story is the most interesting so far, as pieces of her traumatic background begin to snap together. In addition, she is rapidly developing an admittedly adorable father-daughter-like relationship with Charles, which I sincerely hope to see foster throughout the series.

Nearly the complete opposite of Mabel, Oliver tends to be light and smiley, despite his struggles. As one can expect from a Short performance, he is charmingly flamboyant and unabashedly witty. He has made me laugh the most (and probably the hardest) so far, bringing more comedy into the dramatic setting. Oliver revives a bit of the sunshine that Mabel takes out of the show and is one of those very huggable characters you’d love to be friends with in real life.

Charles falls somewhere in the middle, which fits Martin’s prolific acting career; he can turn from a “lovable goofball” to a “pompous jerk” like flicking a light switch. Charles is aloof at first and would probably like to pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist, but he easily warms Oliver and Mabel. He certainly fits the “pompous jerk” description but still manages to carry that “lovable” factor with him. Martin is naturally endearing with kind eyes and a sunny smile, which balances Charles’s gruffness. I assume we’ll get to see sharp character development from him, which I look forward to. I want to get to know Charles better, considering I presently know more about Oliver and Mabel as people.

“Only Murders in the Building” is far from what I expected, but I think it will turn out to be the show I didn’t know I wanted. It is still finding its footing, but that is perfectly forgivable when only three episodes have premiered. Even with the areas that need a bit of tweaking, I can happily say that, overall, the plot is intriguing, the writing is phenomenal (both in comedy and in mystery), the characters are darling (in the most wonderfully weird way), the acting is unique and interesting…even the wardrobe is remarkable! I look forward to seeing how the show progresses in the next few weeks with laughs and surprises from Martin, Short, and Gomez in this crime-based comedy.

I am left with one final question: When are Short and Martin getting their podcast together in real life?

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