Only Murders in the Building’s premise was not built to last. A serialized comedy about a mismatched trio of true crime enthusiasts solving the murder of one of their neighbors, its first two seasons follow their heroes through cartoonishly improbable mysteries while satirizing the bizarrely popular industry of entertainment around real-life human deaths. Though the show’s incredulous tone allowed for a second season to recycle most of the same format, setting, and even suspects, it was just a matter of time before Only Murders in the Building ventured beyond the walls of its swanky Upper West Side apartment structure. Season 3 isn’t a complete gut renovation — we’re still following Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez in the aftermath of a humorous homicide — but they’ve done more than a little redecorating. While it’s definitely beginning to show some wear, Only Murders in the Building remains TV’s cutest murder mystery.
As teased in last season’s finale, this year’s mystery centers around movie star Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), who collapses on stage during opening night of Oliver Putnam’s (Martin Short) new play. Oliver’s career as a Broadway director has been disastrous, but his previous productions (such as Splash! The Musical) all had one redeeming quality: nobody died. With that streak broken, Oliver is once again in crisis, and he’s not alone, as his friend and former podcast co-host, Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), is also a member of his cast. While the two older gentlemen try to salvage their show, it falls to the third member of their true crime cohort, Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) to investigate Glenroy’s murder. Instead of the titular podcast, the Broadway show becomes the backbone of the season, and without a project to unite all three of our protagonists, their friendship becomes more strained than ever.
Joining the cast as a recurring Special Guest Star is Meryl Streep as Loretta Durkin, a struggling actor who Oliver finally “discovers” in her mid-70s. While Loretta is by no means a part that demands the talents of the most celebrated screen actor alive, Streep brings all of the charm, charisma, and quiet melancholy we’ve come to expect from her, and is the butt of a few metatextual jokes about her own career. Streep’s character is usually kept at arm’s length from the show’s zaniest comedy, which is ironic given that she’s usually paired with its goofiest lead. Instead of bringing out Kooky Meryl, we actually get a rare look at Dramatic Martin Short. Where the first and second seasons spent a bit of extra time examining the inner lives of Mabel and Charles, respectively, it’s now Oliver’s turn to be treated more like a real person. It’s not that Short stops being the show’s clown, only that the storytellers start choosing his spots more carefully and allowing more sides of his character to show through, including some very ugly ones.
Romance is blooming all over this season, as Oliver, Mabel, and Charles each get their own love interest. While Oliver grapples with his feelings for one of his actors, Charles starts getting serious with Joy (Andrea Martin), his longtime television makeup artist. She’s a fountain of quirky, chaotic energy, playing well off of Steve Martin’s quiet, civilized brand of insanity. Mabel catches the eye of a handsome documentarian (Jesse Williams) who’s also investigating Ben Glenroy’s death. Naturally, every love interest gets a turn at being a suspect, but so does every other new character, with one or two being exonerated in each episode. This is where the show’s season-long mystery format and winking self-awareness starts to work against it. By now, viewers are acquainted with the rhythm of the show, but so are the characters, who will dismiss certain leads based on the premise that “[they] did that last season.” The storytellers manage to stall the big reveal by nesting a bunch of smaller mysteries throughout the series, creating the illusion that the sleuths are drawing closer to the killer when, in fact, all they’re doing is eliminating suspects in order of least to most interesting. Unlike the show’s sillier suspects who’ve stuck around as recurring characters (like Michael Cyril Chreighton’s Howard, who is more prominent than ever), none of this season’s new characters feel like keepers — aside from Loretta, of course, but who’s laying odds on Meryl Streep returning for a second season?
However, the mystery taking a backseat to the Broadway gimmick and the drama between the lead characters is barely a problem. For starters, the theater world is far more vibrant and interesting than the petty politics between niche podcasts. The show’s customary celebrity cameos and Oliver’s habitual showbiz name-dropping finally have an appropriate context, and we’re even treated to a few original songs from Tony-winning songwriting duo Pasek & Paul (Dear Evan Hansen) and Sara Bareilles. Still, the question remains as to where to take the series from here. The step away from the stately Arconia feels irreversible, and (assuming that another season of this or any show is forthcoming, given the studios’ attitude towards the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes) it’s now necessary to keep pushing the series into new territory. Should the next season follow Charles to the set of the Brazzos reboot, for even more meta material around the world of streaming television? Hell, should someone in-universe adapt the Only Murders podcast for TV, leading to an inevitable on-set murder? Whatever they choose to do, there’s still a bit more fun to be had with this killer cozy comedy.