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Only Murders in the Building - Episodes 3x01-3x03 - Review

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It’s been a while, but Only Murders in the Building has returned for a new season, and if its first few episodes are an indication, this could shape up to be the show’s strongest yet. Read on for my review of the first three episodes of Only Murders’s Junior year.

The previous season ends on the ol’ flash-forward/cliffhanger one-two punch, as opening night of Oliver’s new play - which turns out to be a mystery thriller in which the main suspect is a baby, just by the way - is interrupted when its leading man, popular TV actor Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), apparently dies on stage. Except, when we pick back up in season 3 episode 1, we quickly learn that there is a heavy emphasis on apparently in that sentence. In fact, although the play was canceled as many people believed Ben had died, he was very much still alive, and the “death” was what Ben shrugged off as "food poisoning," exaggerated to create a moment of drama for a documentary Ben had commissioned about his stage debut. It’s too bad, but as Charles, Oliver and Mabel had agreed, it’s not like they could have made a podcast about his death anyway - it hadn’t happened in their building, and so it wouldn't have fit with the title.

However, a much better descriptor for Ben in this first episode is that he wasn’t dead yet - as the premiere closes with him falling through the roof of the Arconia elevator, this time actually having been very much murdered.

And with a new murder, comes new suspects! This season brings in a wealth of new possible killers. Could it have been a crazed Glenroy fan? Or perhaps the skeptical producers of the play Donna and Cliff? How about Kimber (Ashley Park), co-lead actress and potentially Ben’s jilted lover, or Ben’s charming and mysterious documentarian Tobert - that’s Robert with a T (Jesse Williams)? And - of course - you can’t rule out Oliver’s diamond-in-the-rough leading lady, Loretta (Meryl Streep), rounding out the list.

Perhaps it’s that even-starrier-than-usual cast list, but something does feel a bit different in this season so far. A lot of the hesitance the first two seasons seemed to have towards committing to big plotlines, especially early-on, has been replaced by a real sense of tenacity. Whether in big ways - like the death fakeout - or smaller ones - like Oliver reworking his play into a musical after Ben’s death gave him the opportunity to go back to the drawing board, the swings in this season feel like real swings, not tentative, two-toed steps into the water like what often happened in seasons 1 and 2. Like I said, I suspect when you can pull Meryl Streep for a starring role, the confidence in your writer’s room goes up a step or two.

As much as I genuinely love the show, I will admit that the biggest thing going for Only Murders, the thing that has consistently carried it through its weak bits, has been its clout. Steve Martin and Martin Short as leads alone is enough to convince the average Joe to power through a bad joke or two, but toss in Selena Gomez and a rotating cast of guest stars that could easily double as a list of Oscar presenters and you can get a lot of leeway from the general public. Fame talks; money talks, and in the case of this show, it’s always been well-spoken, but now it truly feels like the budget isn’t just speaking but saying something. It’s not that the first two seasons were flat-out bad, but this season seems to have a much more defined sense of purpose, a cleaner mystery and a more tactful use of humor that softens out any of its dud-iness.

One thing that does feel a bit needless is the season's brand new love interest for Mabel in the form of Tobert. The further we move away from Oscar, the less we really need Mabel to be boo’d up for real service of her character or the greater storyline. Alice, at least, acted as an outlet to broaden our general scope of Mabel’s personality, but as of yet Tobert is threatening to end up as nothing more to the story than a repetitive name joke and a boy-toy detective sidekick (and/or a not-so-surprising “surprise” culprit). Pairing him with Mabel, even if it is so that Charles and (especially) Oliver get their own, fully separate arcs, feels unnecessary, with a subtle undertone of “we have one lead cast member in their 30’s, let’s make sure they’ve always got a love interest - you know, for the fancam edits.”

The musical element of the season - which is already notable but seems to only be just gearing up - is also a bit too bold. But I will admit it feels like a bit of a foregone path to take - again, it comes back to the idea of with this cast, why would you not?. It feels like it is prime ground in the near future for a painfully long and unfunny bit, but perhaps it won’t be too bad…TBD!

Overall, Only Murders Season 3 exudes a confidence that it’s been sorely missing. Sure, it might be because it’s by now a star parade, an essential guaranteed Emmy nominee, but hey - that doesn’t make it any less entertaining.

What did you think of the premiere of Only Murders season 3? Any thoughts? Comments? Theories? Let me know in the comments!

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