This is truly a family show that feels both real and aspirational.
Everyone loves a good murder.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at the myriad of CBS crime procedurals or Netflix’s murder documentaries or the roughly three gazillion true-crime podcasts out there. In the entertainment world, killing is making a killing.
But Charlie, Oliver and Mabel are producing a different sort of true-crime podcast. For one, the clues are still fresh. Why, the blood hasn’t dried at the crime scene floor yet. Two, our intrepid podcasters don’t know anything about investigating murders, or investigative journalism or podcasting. We should be pretty proud that they even knew how to turn on the equipment.
Oh, and three … one of the three podcasters just might be a little suspicious herself.
The podcast, titled Murders in the Building, features an odd trio to begin with. Looking at them, they don’t seem to share much but a love of true crime and apartments in the same building—Manhattan’s ultra-fashionable Arconia.
Charles is an actor, best-known as a ’90s TV cop named Brazzos. But in real life, he tends to get nosebleeds when he talks to strangers, making him a less-than-ideal podcast interrogator. Oliver is a gregarious Broadway director—or still would be if anyone would finance his next big idea. So he’s producing this podcast instead, hoping it’ll re-launch his career. And Mabel … well, she’s about a half-century younger than her podcast cohorts, and we’re not quite sure what she does for a living. She doesn’t even really live in the Arconia at all: Her rich aunt just asked her to move in and remodel her apartment—a job that seems to be taking an awfully long time to complete.
They bonded over a true-crime podcast, obsessing over Everything’s Not OK in Oklahoma. So when Arconia resident Tim Kono wound up dead in his apartment, how could they not launch their own investigation, broken up into easily digestible episodes?
No matter that police think Mr. Kono committed suicide, or that he was just about beloved around the Arconia as a New York street rat. He was surely murdered, they believe, and they’re going to find out who and how and why—recording every breathless step of the investigation along the way.
They’re just like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew—if the Hardy Boys were in their 70s, Nancy Drew used a lot of f-words and they never stopped listening to themselves talk.
The Hulu show Only Murders in the Building, starring longtime comedy amigos Steve Martin and Martin Short paired with Millennial darling Selena Gomez, is a self-aware whodunit that manages to be both flip and grim, grafting Martin’s sneakily high-brow comedy onto a guilty-pleasure CW mystery.
Yes, it’s a strange combination, but it sometimes works. Gomez has always had a talent for dry, deadpan humor, which offers a nice contrast to Short’s gloriously over-the-top character and Martin’s physical comedy. The three work well together, and the show’s central mystery offers some zany twists and turns. Moreover, the characters themselves have plenty to hide. And as Martin’s Charles reminds us, sometimes it’s far easier to ferret out someone else’s secrets than deal with our own.
But none of that justifies the crimes committed against the discerning viewer: The language, the gore, the occasional sexual allusions.
Worse yet, these violations feel both premedited and completely without motive. Does the show need the f-words? Hardly. Do we need to see someone’s head partly blown away? Not at all.
And yet, the evidence is there. The show is guilty of lack of restraint in the second degree—a senseless crime if ever there was one. With more thought, it could’ve escaped, rot free.
Charlie, Oliver and Mabel all leave the Arconia during a fire alarm and discover at a nearby restaurant that they all love the same true-crime podcast (All Is Not OK in Oklahoma). When they return, they learn that someone died in the building—apparently by his own hand—and the three of them sneak in to check out the crime scene. Convinced the man was murdered, they launch into their own investigation—and their own podcast. But Charlie and Oliver don’t realize that Mabel has an unexpected tie to the victim.
We see the apparent suicide victim lying on the floor. Though he’s still identifiable, part of one side of his head is missing (and what’s underneath is obviously covered in gore). Mabel admits to having a recurring nightmare (dramatized here) in which a stranger is standing over her bed, staring at her: She hits him in the crotch, whips out a knitting needle and stabs him to death with it. (We don’t see the needle hit its mark ever, but it’s clear that Mabel is an enthusiastic stabber.) In a flash forward elsewhere, someone leans over a dead body. Both are covered in blood. We see a couple of people fall off platforms in dream-like sequences, bouncing harmlessly back.
Mabel showers, and we see her bare back and a quick glimpse at the side of her breast. On “All is Not OK in Oklahoma,” a dog apparently retrieves the panties of the victim.
Mabel and Charlie break into someone’s apartment to retrieve a package belonging to the victim—then open the box and keep what they find inside. They, along with Oliver, sneak into the building the night of the murder, despite police orders not to do so.
Oliver begs his son for money—using gifts for the grandkids as an excuse to come over and ask. When his son tells him no and that he needs to move out of his expensive apartment and lavish lifestyle, Oliver refuses. “It’s all I have, it’s all I am.” His son, thinking about family, says, “Obviously, it makes me very sad to hear you say that.” All three of them lie or mislead during the episode—some more than others. Characters say the f-word six times and the s-word thrice. We also hear “h—,” and about nine misuses of God’s name (once with the word “d–n”).
Even though Mabel knows quite a bit about Tim Kono, she pretends otherwise and the three begin trying to figure out what made the victim tick. They go to an apartment memorial service and discover that most folks in the building hated the guy. “Nobody liked him, but can we all be grateful he’s gone?” the officiant says. Oliver convinces an apartment supervisor to hand over all the complaints residents filed about the guy (in exchange for buying several cases of a product she’s selling called “gut milk”), and they learn that Tim’s apartment is scheduled to be cleaned out the next day. They break in and tramp through the apartment looking for clues.
In the apartment, Oliver finds what he believes are sex toys. “Nothing shameful about deviant sexual pursuits” as he dives into the box. He and the Arconia’s president, Bunny, exchange a few bitter sexual allusions.
In flashback, we see part of Mabel’s history with the Arconia, including hanging out with three friends as young adults—breaking into other people’s apartments. Mabel’s friend, Zoe, would sometimes apparently swipe jewelry, and in one apartment she finds a fully stocked medicine cabinet and announces they’ll be camping out there for the night. She makes a very crude reference to masturbation. Mabel and Zoe wear slightly revealing eveningwear during the night (Zoe’s boyfriend Oscar expresses his appreciation of Mabel’s outfit). Later, Zoe accuses Oscar of cheating on her—shortly before her body’s discovered on the street below.
In the present, Oliver and Charlie track blood throughout the dead man’s apartment. They also discover a cat’s footprints in the blood—a telling clue, given that a beloved Arconia cat (Evelyn) died the same night Tim Kono did. Mabel finds jewelry stashed in Tim’s apartment. Meanwhile, she seems unwilling to give back Tim’s engagement ring that she and Charlie recovered (and stole) last episode. Mabel seems to talk with Tim’s disfigured spirit (his gunshot wound to the head still quite visible).
People drink during a party. After Charlie gets caught in an odd lie, the podcasters promise to be truthful with one another. (After the pact is made, Mabel leaves and Oliver confesses, “I don’t trust her at all.”) Characters say the f-word 11 times and the s-word seven times. We also hear “a–,” “d–n” and “d–k.” God’s name is misused a half-dozen times (twice with the word “d–n”).
The episode opens with a flashback to Oliver in 2005, looking for investors for his Broadway extravaganza Splash: The Musical—an effort that we learn was a monumental disaster. In the present, Mabel and Charlie interview the owner of Evelyn (the dead cat) to see if he might’ve had something to do with the murder and find something deeply chilling—and chilled—in the guy’s freezer.
The frozen object? Evelyn herself, which the owner believes Tim Kono poisoned. The frozen cat corpse tumbles to the kitchen floor and one of her legs breaks off; Charlie pockets the thing and pulls it out later to show someone. “It’s warm now, and that smell is new,” he says. Charlie also gets a bloody nose during the interview, which causes Evelyn’s owner to faint dead away. Mabel suggests that seems to put him in the clear for being present during a very bloody murder, but Charlie believes the man is bluffing. Oliver recounts for Charlie why Splash: The Musical was such a disaster (or, at least, one of the reasons). While he had a pool constructed underneath the stage, which was supposed to retract, the hydraulics went haywire during the first preview show. Twelve divers dove straight into the floor (though Oliver stresses that no one actually died).
During a sequence where Oliver imagines he’s auditioning would-be suspects for the main part of killer, a counselor slaps his wrist effeminately and coyly says “I’m a bad therapist.” Evelyn’s effeminate owner is in the lineup, too, wearing a Flashdance-like sweatshirt. (Female auditioners wear form-fitting leotards and the like.)
In a flashback, Oliver entertains dinner guests at a table loaded with wine glasses. Later, he brings down a bottle of wine and two glasses, hoping to woo a neighbor to invest in the podcast. He tries to flatter the would-be investor, telling him that he never seems to age. “I need the name of your witch,” he jokes. He also makes a 1980s cocaine reference.
Characters say the f-word nine times and the s-word three times. We also hear “a–,” “b–ch” and “h—.” God’s name is misused four times, and Jesus’ name is abused twice.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.
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