Thursday, December 2

‘Only murders in the building’: not a serial crime

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in 'Only Murders in the Building'.

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in ‘Only Murders in the Building’.

Only murders in the building ★★★

Creators: Steve Martin y John Hoffman

Address: Jamie Babbit, Gillian Robespierre, Don Scardino y Cherien Dabis

Distribution: Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, Amy Ryan

Country: USA

Duration: 30 min. (10 episodes)

Year: 2021

Gender: Mystery comedy

Premiere: August 31, 2021 (Disney +)

Almost four decades after ‘Domestic life’, Steve Martin has re-created a series to suit him, this time aided by John Hoffman, producer of ‘Grace and Frankie’. Well, to his measure and that of two very different interpreters with whom he shares the limelight: an old collaborator of his like Martin Short and the curiosity to see with them Selena Gomez.

All three embody various disparate neighbors of the same luxurious building from the Upper West Side New Yorker and lovers of ‘true crime’; specifically, a ‘Serial’ style podcast whose presenter is played by Tina Fey. When a fourth tenant of The Arconia mysteriously dies, they decide to solve the mystery (no, they don’t believe the suicide thing) and record your own podcast around the investigation.

This search for truth could give their lives purpose: Charles (Martin) is a starry television star, a kind of Colombo or Kojak of the nineties who did not survive artistically or existentially at the end of his series; Theater director Oliver (Short) has spent eons without mounting anything and living off dipping sauces, and artist Mabel (Gomez), busy renovating her aunt’s apartment, doesn’t seem to have too many friends. As they investigate the mystery of Tim Kono, their own appear, which are not few.

By location and plot, ‘Only Murders in the Building’ can easily recall Woody Allen’s ‘Mystery Murder in Manhattan’, in which Allen himself and Anjelica Huston played a New York couple as a duo of amateur detectives to solve the death from a neighbor. Like that, the series works for the comic part and also for the mysterious. The first is due, above all, to good acting chemistry. Collaborators from ‘Three Friends’ (Chevy Chase was third), Martin and Short once again enjoy taunting each other. “Does anyone like you?” Oliver asks Charles at one point. “Not in years,” admits Charles.

And this pair of septuagenarians get on well, or clash well, with twenty-something Selena Gomez. The potion is, if not magical, very effective: exuberance by Short, frown neurosis in the Martin style and a few drops of millennial disaffection contributed by Gomez. Jokes based on generational clash are predictable but effective. When Charles decides to phone Mabel, he thinks twice and asks Oliver, “Or should I text you?” To which his friend replies: “The calls worry them, for some reason.”

Beneath the Touchstone-style comedy and the well-woven succession of twists, surprises and ‘cliffhangers’ also flows a surprising subplot of emotionality. Short offers dramatic moments that we are not used to and that corroborate that clowns are the best actors. There is also unexpected and inspired fantasy hits, like the nod to a certain choreography by Yoann Bourgeois in the first chapter, the animation fragments of the second or, in the third, a round of suspects turned into a kind of audition of ‘A chorus line’.

Without being overwhelming, the series is, in short, juicier and richer than it might seem from its advances. The director Jamie Babbit (habitual of ‘Girls’) imposes a pattern of visual elegance that later continues with beauty Gillian Robespierre (‘Obvious child’). And for elegant, the credits designed by the Elastic company, something like a cover of ‘The New Yorker’ illustrated by Adrian Tomine in motion.

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