It's amazing how quickly a murder mystery can hook you. Only Murders In the Building Season 1 Episode 1 sets up its characters and premise with breezy charm and dark humor.
Episode 1 is mostly set up, introducing the characters with all their quirks and foibles.
The main trio is all creative in some way -- Charles (Steve Martin) is an actor, Oliver (Martin Short) is a director, and Mabel (popstar sensation Selena Gomez) is an artist.
Steve Martin and Martin Short play off each other with their signature chemistry.
Selena Gomez makes a charmingly deadpan foil to the two old men. Together, they are an unlikely trio. Obsessed with true crime, they start making their own podcast after a neighbor dies under mysterious circumstances.
Steve Martin plays the dour, pensive curmudgeon with quiet eccentricities -- lining up bell peppers in a pattern, making omelets he never eats, monologuing about his father, playing the concertina.
The end of Episode 1 gives us a hint at his past -- who is Lucy? Why is she gone, and why did she leave?
Martin Short is so lively and energetic as Oliver I would happily watch a spinoff chronicling his failed theatre exploits.
Oliver's messes are all his own making, but damn if he's not always trying to hustle his way out of them. He has a gift for being simultaneously annoying and endearing, and he gets most of the best lines.
You are scoring a murder mystery, not DJing a hobbit's wedding.Oliver
As for Mabel, we learn much of her backstory on Only Murders In the Building Season 1 Episode 2, but she remains reserved and restrained around Charles and Oliver. Gomez must have had a helluva time keeping a straight face around Short and Martin.
I mean, a murderer probably lives in the building, but I guess old white guys are only afraid of colon cancer and societal change.Mabel
Mabel's interest in Tim Kono's death is obviously very personal, but how much? Were they just good friends, or was there more? Was there some sort of love-square amongst the "Hardy Boys" gang?
Oscar clearly found Mabel attractive, but it's heavily implied that he was with Zoe. Could this be what they were arguing about at the party?
Mabel is concerned that whoever came after Tim (and possibly Zoe) might be after her.
What did the "Hardy Boys" do that was so horrible? Is jewelry theft enough motive for murder? Is there a connection between the jewelry and Tim's mysterious packages? The diamond ring seems to suggest this.
The supporting cast in this show is delightful. Is there really any more perfect casting than Nathan Lane as a failed Broadway producer?
Oliver, I loved our shows. It's setting money on fire I don't care for.Teddy
Did you catch the Episode 1 cameos from both Tina Fey and Maulik Pancholy? They made my little 30 Rock-loving heart sing!
Speaking of singing -- surprise, it's STING! Oh, Sting, what a tease, could you be the murderer? Why do you hate dogs?
There's something so fun about celebrities playing alternate versions of themselves, poking fun at their public personalities. Of course, sting has to be a red herring, but following that line should be a fun little diversion all the same.
In terms of actual suspects, Howard, Evelyn's cat dad, seems to be off the table thanks to his vasovagal syncope.
It still feels like there's more to come from him, though -- Evelyn's death is yet another "murder in the building" that needs to be solved.
A cat never really leaves you, because they transmit parasites.Charles
Oliver discounts Bunny in his "audition sequence" (a dizzy, ridiculous highlight of Only Murders In The Building Season 1 Episode 3), but Bunny had a known conflict with Tim that we the audience witnessed, along with the trio, in that first fateful elevator ride.
Even the elevator wanted that story to end.Charles
A theme that seems to keep cropping up is the relationship between fathers and sons.
Charles has a strained relationship with his cruel father -- at least that's what he tells Mabel -- and he is determined not to be anything like him.
Oliver and his son Will are still on speaking terms, despite the fact that Oliver keeps asking to borrow money -- even after losing Will's college fund investing in the doomed production of Splash! The Musical.
We even meet Teddy's son, Theo, and get a quick sense of their bond. A few shots (in both Episode 2 and Episode 3) linger on Theo, which stood out since he is, at this point, a very minor character. Is this a hint that he's more than meets the eye?
The most mystery-shrouded father-son relationship is between Mr. Torres, superintendent of the Arconia, and his son Oscar.
We only see Oscar in Mabel's flashback, and Mr. Torres first appears at the end of Episode 3. We know that Oscar stole his father's keys for the Hardy Boys' misadventures.
This means Mr. Torres HAS THE KEYS TO EVERY APARTMENT IN THE ARCONIA.
We know from Episode 2 that Tim had information about Zoe that might have saved Oscar from doing time, but he chose not to share it. Mr. Torres is intent on protecting Oscar from Mabel. Could Tim's murder be a father's revenge?
Tim Kono is, of course, the biggest mystery. Was his death suicide or murder? Why did everyone hate him so much? Why did he have all that jewelry hidden? Does Tim's death have anything to do with Zoe's?
Following that train of thought, who else was at the New Year's party? It was at the Arconia ten years ago, so the possibilities are endless. Everyone in the building is a suspect.
By the time Episode 3 wraps up, clues and suspects are dropping like podcasts. There's still no resolution, just more questions!
Who is the tie-dyed hoodie guy? How did Evelyn die? Who poisoned Winnie, the bulldog? What part will Jan (Amy Ryan) play in all this -- love interest or key witness? Only time will tell.
Though the show mostly plays it straight in terms of realism, there are some beautiful, whimsical moments in each episode.
Theatrical devices -- the gentle bending of physical reality, conversations with the dead, fantasy audition sequences -- set this show apart from typical murder mysteries.
Only Murders In The Building combines the madcap style of British comedy (a known influence of Steve Martin's) with grisly American forensic dramas.
There's a self-awareness here about the nature of entertainment and the consumption of the true-crime genre in particular.
What is about true crime that appeals to such a wide range of people? It's a genre that reminds us that, ultimately, none of us are safe. We're all going to die at some point.
This show is definitely a comedy, but it's still about death and the different ways in which people react to it.
Sometimes it takes someone else's murder to bounce you back to life. Sometimes you need to create art to process the horrors life throws at you.
Sometimes it's easier to figure out someone else's secret than it is to deal with your own.Charles
Only Murders In the Building has a lot going for it at this stage -- quirky characters, clever dialogue, a fantastic cast, and an intriguing premise.
Ultimately, it's a show about human connection -- how we gravitate to those who love the same things we do, even if the folks themselves are not exactly our cup of tea.
Where all these dangling plot strands, hints, secrets, and flashbacks are leading to is anybody's guess, but it promises to be a fun ride.
Who do you think is behind the Arconia deaths?
Share your theories in the comments!
Mary Littlejohn Mary Littlejohn is a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She loves television, cinema, and theatre (especially musicals!), particularly when it champions inclusivity, diversity, and social justice. Follow her on Twitter.