‘Only Murders in the Building’: An Ingeniously Comedic Take on True Crime Podcasting

By Maeva Andriamanamihaja, age 16, Battlefield High School, Haymarket, Va.

Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Almost no one could have dreamed up a world where Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez would be working together. But, place the unlikely trio in the thick of a New York-set murder mystery, and their palpably wholesome chemistry will unfold as the laughs roll in. The Hulu original comedy series follows three neighbors podcasting their own investigation of the death of a resident in their apartment. Rooted in its twisty plot and playful humor, “Only Murders in the Building” strikes comic relief gold.

At first glance, the murder mystery comedy feels “Knives Out”-ish with its premise and sleek visuals. We quickly learn, though, that the series is in a lane of its own, revamping the tried and true whodunit for the age of the podcast. Keeping me at the edge of my seat until the very end, the trio leads viewers through a miscellaneous group of murder suspects, one of whom is Police frontman Sting?

For consumers of true crime content like myself, the amateur sleuths’ adventures deliver the same nail-biting twists, but with a humorous dose of the less climatic. Capturing the ill-timed sponsor breaks and pesky voice-over retakes, viewers get the behind-the-scenes reel of a murder mystery podcast. We are even granted access to co-hosts Oliver and Charles’s recording sessions from a cramped closet where the “acoustics are better.” Completely merging comedy and the murder mystery is an endeavor most writers wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole, but the series manages to find its voice without losing sensibility.

“Only Murders in the Building” also makes a point of zeroing in on the muddled ethics of true crime entertainment. We are forced to examine the exploitation of it all when we see Oliver focused on producing riveting content instead of finding the killer. “I’m looking for motive; I’m looking for means; but most of all, I’m looking for moxie,” he says in an overview of the suspects, epitomizing the issue of sensationalism in the genre. The series pushes viewers to consider their place in true crime media’s moral gray area.

While its star-studded leading cast may have been the show’s greatest attraction, we get an intimate look at other characters’ perspectives too. “The Boy From 6B,” an entirely nonverbal episode — save for the final line — centers on a deaf resident, Theo Dimas. Well-executed and narratively effective, viewers are put in his point of view for 30 minutes in this standout installment of the series.

Hulu’s most watched original comedy “Only Murders in the Building” establishes itself not just as an innovator of the murder mystery, but of the modern television show, distinguishing its title on the list of must-see TV.