"Only Murders in the Building" bridges Boomer and Millennial sensibilities for a comedy that slays

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Salon 31 August, 2021 - 07:00pm 6 views

Where is only murders in the building being filmed?

Principal photography began on December 3, 2020, in New York City. Filming ended in April 2021. wikipedia.orgOnly Murders in the Building

It's not as if life was terrible for the pop star before the pandemic. But when sheltering in place made TV more central to our lives, Gomez was among the first to harness the mood and her celebrity into an approachable cooking series, "Selena + Chef," that invited people into her kitchen.

That was merely an amuse bouche gleaning entertainment from her marginal cooking skills. Hulu's 10-episode murder mystery "Only Murders in the Building" capitalizes on her strength and dramatic versatility, placing her on equal billing with comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short – and better still, equal footing.

Martin and Short share a concord built over decades' worth of performances, including 2018's Emmy-nominated Netflix special "An Evening You Will Forget For The Rest Of Your Life." They've developed a reliable cadence over the years to the point that it's impossible not to see something of each man in the characters they play, including their "Only Murders" reluctant friends Oliver Putnam (Short) and Charles Hayden Savage (Martin).

Few newcomers could easily insinuate themselves into such a classic partnership, let alone match their combined energy signature. And yet where other actors might have come off as a smaller third wheel next to Martin's bursts of lunacy and Short's controlled absurdity, Gomez is the stabilizing force that makes this unlikely crime-solving trio work.

Gomez's Mabel is a mystery unto herself as well as a recent addition to the Arconia, a classic apartment building situated in New York's Upper West Side. Home to an assortment of characters ranging from an anonymous cat enthusiast to, improbably enough, Sting, the residence is the sort of aspirational piece of Manhattan real estate that has a waiting list to get in. It's a close community in the sense that people share walls and overhear each other's business, forming fierce opinions about their neighbors without truly knowing one another.

Charles and Oliver have lived there for decades. When he was in his prime, Charles enjoyed a marginal amount of fame as a Brazzos, the sort of1990s-era TV detective given to overly detailed monologues that went the way of David Caruso's popularity. Now he's a quiet grump who keeps to himself.

Oliver, a Broadway producer whose career is largely behind him, is the opposite – a chatty, peacocking diva who assures anyone who will listen his next hee-yooge smash is just around the corner. The closest thing he had to a hit was a disastrous adaptation of "Splash: The Musical," so a career revival probably isn't in the cards. When he runs into Charles in the elevator the two signal a mild loathing for each other. Mabel ignores both.

Then a fire alarm empties the building and brings them together over the campfire of their common obsession: a popular true crime podcast. That alone wouldn't be enough to cement a friendship from thin air, of course. Only a neighbor's strange death achieves that. The cops expediently rule it a suicide, but none of them buys that. So the three of them embark upon their own investigation, chronicling their findings in their own true crime audio series.

Martin co-created "Only Murders in the Building" with "Grace and Frankie" producer John Hoffman, a provenance that explains some of the stylistic curios incorporated into the story. The performer has a way of taking elements that would seem simply weird on their own and combining them with other set pieces to lend an emotional sparkle to what would otherwise be very ordinary moments.

For instance, Charles plays the concertina. In a world partly made by a man who directed, wrote and produced a documentary about the history of the theremin, this is entirely believable. Viewers unfamiliar with Martin's odd hobbies may share Oliver and Mabel's opinion that Charles' instrumental contribution is a little much. 

But when Charles becomes smitten with Jan (Amy Ryan), a bassoonist who lives in the building, his instrument makes sense. The concertina's otherworldly keening pairs magnificently with the bassoon's loamy baritone register. Constructing their inevitable courtship around such a duet feels like a very New York moment – absolutely romantic and melancholy all at once. Within the enclosed universe of a majestic building struggling against the years of dust baked into its patina, such interludes feel natural.

Besides, "Only Murders in the Building" works because it embraces such entrancing details, but even more so because its creators recognize what grants any piece of art the potential to become classic: it's in the marriage of old and new. People who love Martin and Short are already attuned to what the writers are giving us here, but Gomez, a performer steadily transitioning into the next stage of her acting career, may not be as much of a known quantity.

This cuts the other way too, of course. (One of the funnier details in the show is also its most telling, which is when we see Mabel has designated Martin's character in her phone as "Charles (old)".) Such is the nature of chasm between Boomers and Millennials; one generation doesn't quite comprehend the other's habit, but when they find common cause the results can be formidable. In the course of realizing this, the writers deftly capitalize on the comedy inherent to these misunderstandings. Mabel has to counsel Oliver and Charles that they don't need to sign their texts, which they resent having to send instead of just callingher up. In turn, she nearly makes their heads explode when she identifies Sting as a member of U2 who wrote "Sledgehammer."

Merging notes of an Agatha Christie-style mystery with a crisp parody of true crime's established formula helps to bridge that gap too. You may recognize this in the show's animated title credits, which simultaneously evoke a hip New Yorker magazine illustration and the classic Edward Gorey opening sequences that open "Masterpiece Mystery!" – the archetypical public television staple kids like Mabel may have watched with their grandparents.  

Any show can string together a decent whodunnit, but examining loneliness as a universal mystery is the more captivating concept enriching the three-part harmony wrought by Gomez, Martin and Short's combined performances. Mabel's sardonic, above-it-all rejoinders help her deflect inquiries about who she really is. Behind that protective curtain of sarcasm is a young woman feeling alone and exposed in the big city, fueling her true-crime obsession.

Charles, who wears his old TV role like shield, is similarly inclined to scripting his way around emotionally difficult corners. Oliver's theatrical cheer and strange addiction to hummus and other dips conceals money problems and a disconnect with his family.

Melting these barriers fills "Only Murders in the Building" with sweet core augmented by the writers' loving attention to the personal quirks defining the most tangential characters. This includes the show's array of cameos and famous guest cast: joining Sting (who is truly a comic delight) are the likes of Nathan Lane and Tina Fey, along with Da'Vine Joy Randolph as New York Police Department detective worn out by all the amateur sleuth "numb-nuts" making her job more difficult.

Some may find it interesting that Martin created a show in which initially his co-stars, and Gomez in particular, get to deliver some of the sharpest lines while he plays the straight man. This isn't altogether out of character to people who have seen the parts of Martin's filmography that play up his natural affability over his over-the-top physical humor – or, for that matter, read his books or plays. Besides, this balances out later as Charles' subplot expands to lend a necessary emotional weight to the overall arc.  

He has a singular way of framing the peculiar in terms that make sense to anybody, and without letting go of the qualities that make them special. This shows his and the other producers' understanding of what a story requires to attain a kind of timelessness: it's all in finding the right balance between the old-fashioned and perhaps underappreciated, and the fashionable and unexpected.

With that in mind, inviting Gomez and Mabel into his and Short's universe to play along with Charles and Oliver is a natural choice. While Martin's and Short's alter egos aren't too far off from what we know about their specific stage presence, Mabel and Gomez stretch that familiar alliance in unexpected ways.

Only eight installments of "Only Murders in the Building" were made available for review, saving what may be the story's most significant answers for the final two. That may be plenty of time to resolve this mystery, but I have a hunch plenty of folks are going to want more.

They'd do well to remember that the Arconia is a big place, and we've only met a few of the folks who live there. With any luck, along with another resident's fatal misfortune, Mabel, Oliver and Charles might catch another mystery to solve. And we'd happily return for another visit.

Melanie McFarland is Salon's TV critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

Read full article at Salon

Hulu's 'Only Murders in the Building' is a screamingly funny parody of true crime

NBC News 01 September, 2021 - 08:20pm

Like its inspirations, the series, starring Martin, longtime collaborator Martin Short and ex-Disney pop princess Selena Gomez, also begins as the story of an unlikely trio.

Like its inspirations, the series, starring Martin, longtime collaborator Martin Short and ex-Disney pop princess Selena Gomez, also begins as the story of an unlikely trio: lonely city dwellers in one of New York’s famed Upper West Side residential hotels. The three are brought together when a fellow apartment dweller, Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), is murdered in the building. The NYPD says it’s a suicide, but these murder aficionados know a suspicious death when they see one. Being fans of true crime podcasts, and this being the 2020s, the three do the only logical thing and launch their own audio investigation as they round up a building full of suspects.

Even though audio dramas have existed since the advent of radio, the podcasting craze was spurred by the popularity of iPods and then iPhones and the rebranding of the format to reflect the new devices on which we listen to them. While some of the most popular are (surprise, surprise) produced by longtime radio production houses like NPR, it seems like everyone and their neighbor has tried their hand at launching podcasts in the last few years, especially during the pandemic lockdowns. (Full disclosure: I am one of those who launched podcasts in the last two years. THINK is, too.) This DIY radio drama movement, with people recording homegrown stories in closets and bathtubs, was ripe for a satirical look at its creators, especially the leading true crime format, which, like all good detective stories, helps create the illusion of order out of chaos.

Martin and co-writer John Hoffman (“Grace and Frankie”) have created an at-times biting parody of the ridiculousness of creating content, from the incongruity of sponsorships to the cluelessness of those investigating the crime. Those who have tried their hands at creating their own podcasts (or even just listen to them) might wince in recognition at the pointed jokes about music, voiceovers and release schedules, but that’s only because it’s all so on point.

The series also takes pleasure in the episodic format. (Hulu’s release model is to drop the first three episodes as a batch before switching to weekly installments, and the pacing reflects that.) The installments run in the 30-minute range, and each half-hour brings new recurring theatrical motifs to fit the different podcast episodes the trio is supposedly recording. (The podcast episodes don’t exactly correspond one to one with each installment, but the erratic releases are part of the running gag.) Between the auditions, musical numbers and random monologues, “Only Murders in the Building” winds up as much a series for Broadway and theater enthusiasts as it is for true crime fans. And when the murder isn’t quite enough to keep the momentum going, the actors switch gears, leaning in hard to their New York City setting and gorgeously unaffordable real estate backdrops until the show re-finds its footing.

“Only Murders in the Building” winds up as much a series for Broadway and theater enthusiasts as it is for true crime fans.

Martin and Short have a long history as a comedy duo, dating to the 1980s. But this is their first scripted project together in years and only Martin’s second foray into television. Happily, their chemistry hasn’t changed one iota. Martin plays Charles, a down-on-his-luck actor who hasn’t had a hit since he starred in a police procedural in the 1990s. Short is a Broadway producer who went bankrupt when his musical flopped. The two make a perfect pair of aging would-be stars desperate for one more shot at fame.

But the series’ real revelation is Gomez, whose teen celebrity status probably precedes her in the minds of many. As Mabel, the semi-femme fatale who knows more about the murder than she’s letting on, Gomez has a much heavier lift than her male counterparts. Unlike them, she’s not in her wheelhouse, and she is playing very much against type. She’s also saddled with some of the least sparkling dialogue, which at times (hopefully deliberately) crosses into dime-store-novel tripe. And yet she carries the series, giving it a center of gravity around which both older actors can orbit.

The show’s secret weapon, as in any good comedy, is the pathos behind the jokes. From the cat-loving neighbor whose favorite feline has passed away to Nathan Lane cameos to 1980s-era rocker Sting, who plays himself, the series has a ball auditioning a long list of possible killers. But this is also a story about the loneliness of living in small boxes, of strangers who pass in the hall who never speak, and of the need for human connection that a shared interest can spark — even when that interest involves sitting alone in your rooms, listening to the same podcast on different devices.

“Only Murders in the Building” may be poking fun at those desperate for a viral hit in an overstuffed entertainment landscape. But it’s also clearly trying to do the same, making it a meta-commentary on its own ambitions. Perhaps the show will get lucky and become another point of human connection, with pandemic-weary viewers discussing who killed Tim Kono on social media. Either way, it’s a worthy entry in the bid to entertain us.

Ani Bundel is a cultural critic who has been writing regularly since 2010. Her work can also be found at Elite Daily and WETA's Telly Visions, where she also co-hosts "Telly Visions: The Podcast."

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