Only Murders in the Building premiered its season finale last week, and I am convinced it is one of the funniest and most wholesome TV shows I have seen recently. It’s a modern spin on an old-fashioned Agatha Christie whodunit story. Despite it being about murders (multiple ones at that), the show has quickly become a comforting, multigenerational hit for a good reason.

The Hulu show uses the true-crime podcast craze as its vantage point, infusing a deeply engaging murder mystery with genre satire and dark comedy. And when you throw in the eccentric pairing of a failed but over-enthusiastic broadway director, a 90s-actor-turned-recluse who hallucinates Looney Tunes characters, a 20-something woman whose history is crucial to solving the crime, and a classic New York aesthetic, you get the sheer brilliance that is Only Murders in the Building.

It doesn’t waste any time. Within the first 15 minutes, it introduces us to Martin Short as Oliver Putnam, a Broadway director whose career is behind him. Steve Martin plays Charles-Haden Savage, a former actor famous for his role in a ‘90s detective show and Selena Gomez is Mabel Mora, a Hardy Boys enthusiast who moonlights as an interior designer. They’re neighbors living in the Arconia, a posh Manhattan building home to rich people and their (many) dirty secrets. It holds both the elegance and intrigue necessary to be a worthy backdrop for the show.

Our story begins as Oliver, Charles, and Mabel are torn away from their apartments when another resident, Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), is murdered. They find each other at a restaurant down the street, and conversation leads to the discovery that they’re all “true crime nuts,” as one character aptly describes them to be. After multiple clues make them wonder if the crime is a murder, the trio decides to take matters into their own hands and return to the Arconia, dedicated to getting a glimpse of the dead body. And so, a tightly-wrapped murder mystery begins.

OMITB is a refreshing take on the genre of murder mysteries and the whodunit trope. A good murder mystery should be an exercise in deduction and help you escape from reality. If it offers some drama surrounding the investigators and their lives, even better. The best thing about the trope is that the fans have an opportunity to get involved in solving the crime, like the investigators themselves!

When I was watching the series, I wasn’t just a girl sitting before my laptop screen. I was present with the characters, in the Arconia, in the podcast room, glaring at the visceral murder board, piecing the story together with the testimonies available at my disposal. The focus on the podcast craze gave the series shape and structure. Viewers followed sole narrators as they zeroed in on a particular question in every episode, much like a podcast. The blend of ensemble comedy is unmissable as Oliver, Charles, and Mabel discover anonymous notes, stolen jewellery and emerald rings, among other clues that send their investigation into a whole new direction. They’ll do anything for the podcast. They record and halt, practicing their voice repeatedly and throwing in theatrics while trying to be the best crime-solvers they can be.

Mabel, Charles and Oliver attend a meeting at the Arconia.
[Image description: Mabel, Charles and Oliver attend a meeting at the Arconia.] via Variety
In the past decade, true crime has become a force of pop culture on its own. It has also led to the birth of a slightly more exciting sub-genre: true crime parody. Just take American Vandal and Dead to Me, for example. Now true crime itself is a perfect target for parody, its tropes are easily recognizable, so you can take a jab at it in any way. You could prod the popular tropes, poke fun at the crime-solvers, maybe reinvent the already existing genre into something unique? OMITB fulfills its promise to deconstruct the murder mystery genre and lay it all down while managing to stay fresh and relevant. It’s a triumph. It progresses rather quickly, but also has room for the audience to breathe (or, in my case, gasp).

OMITB wonderfully analyzes our obsession with true crime stories and goes on to deliver a stellar one. It also satirizes the genre’s tropes and trappings; the big city, team members in danger, an elusive secret killer, the investigator becoming the lead suspect, and all. It documents the absolute ridiculousness that goes on when you’re creating content, from the insanity of sponsorships to the erratic release schedules. It presents sleuthing in the most straightforward way it can and has fun with it. It explores podcasters and podcast-lovers alike, eventually concluding that storytellers can be found anywhere, even in the most unexpected places.

The season closed the book on the murder presented initially, and the killer was caught and turned over to the authorities. The leading characters all have sweet moments of closure, but not before a satisfying confession from the killer, and a scene where Steve Martin proves he is the master of physical comedy. The ending moments promise that season 2 will return with its star power, several moving personal journeys, and more podcasts that dissect the new killer on the loose. Because this time, Oliver, Charles, and Mabel have a crucial case at hand, and it’s their own.

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  • Fatemeh Mirjalili

    Fatemeh Mirjalili is an entertainment writer based in Mumbai, India. Her work has appeared in publications such as TheThings, Film Companion and Times Knowledge among others. She loves writing about pop culture, watching Disney musicals and re-reading Pride & Prejudice for what may seem like the millionth time.