In the comedic criminal justice system, the people are represented by two separate, yet equally important investigators: Senior Detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett), who investigates crime, and whichever celebrity guest star he’s enlisted to improvise their way through a murder procedural. Murderville is their stories.
Based on the British show Murder in Successville, the show knows exactly what it needs to be: part procedural, with the winking tone of a game show, and just a sprinkle of spoof as Seattle forces his partners to undergo a series of improv-games-cum-mystery. As the guests struggle along with his hijinks, they’re also being tasked with correctly guessing who the real murderer was (according to a script they’ve never seen).
Whether or not it’s done purely on the improvisational energy of the setup is beside the point. At just six half-hour episodes, the show certainly never overstays its welcome. Still, not every chapter hits the same comedic highs as the rest; to wit, we’ve ranked the episodes of the series based on how well the guest performs their duties — namely, being a strong, funny partner to the singular Det. Seattle.
There’s no spoilers below, so whether you’re looking for an episode to sample or you’ve watched it all and just want to see if you agree with a list, we’ve got you covered.
6. Annie Murphy
It brings me no pleasure to put Schitt’s Creek’s and Kevin Can F**k Himself’s Annie Murphy, who got top marks for her absolute commitment to the undercover portion of her episode, this low on the list. But unfortunately, Murphy spends much of the episode scrambling to play along with the bits. Between struggling to get a word in edgewise in her questioning of subject and the palpable glee at just being there, there’s not a lot of instigating on her part; it’s more just being caught up in Seattle’s frantic energy. At the very least, she looks like she’s having a lot of fun, and while it may make for a middling episode of Murderville, we always like to see Annie Murphy have a good time.
Best moment: Showing off her badge, and living for it.
5. Ken Jeong
Ken Jeong, who rose to fame in The Hangover and Community but is now weirdly famous thanks to The Masked Singer, gets maybe the hardest task of anybody: the season finale slot. It’s a tough gig made all the more demanding with the most personal mystery of all to the haggard Det. Seattle. And, well, Jeong is just absolutely giddy at what he is being asked to do. He is pretty much always laughing at the situation he’s in.
Jeong ekes out over Murphy here because his episode has a bit more mystery to it, and so his near-constant amusement at the clear ways his co-star is (intentionally) putting him through his paces manages to fall by the wayside a little bit. But there are certainly glimpses of when Jeong really turns on his abilities, and actually seems like he’s playing along rather than just happy to be there.
Best moment: Improvising the perfect slogan for his fake business.
4. Conan O’Brien
Conan O’Brien is the perfect introduction to the series: He’s a comedic stalwart, having come up in now-legendary improv groups and held down a long-running late night career to boot. Anyone who’s seen 30 Rock knows he’s not afraid of being on the receiving end of a punchline, so Murderville gets to use him as the test case for audiences. Det. Seattle seems comfortable getting in a quick jab of O’Brien as a “talker,” and even gets pushed to breaking when O’Brien is made to eat an incredibly spicy sloppy joe.
Still, the same reasons that O’Brien is such a good person to walk the audience through the gist of the show are by and large the same reasons he’s in the bottom half of this list. His awareness of the show’s whole thing often feels like it demonstrates the artifice of what we’re watching. He never quite melds into the show in the way some of the other guest stars do, even when he’s totally game to be at the whim of its shenanigans.
Best moment: Begrudgingly appreciating the skills of a magician he’s interrogating.
3. Kumail Nanjiani
Like O’Brien before him, Kumail Nanjiani is more inclined to highlight the absurdity of the whole affair than he is to just play it straight. But even as he bucks a little at the idea that he needs a ridiculous name (“Does it have to be that?” asks Cornelius Winterbottom, neé undercover-detective-in-training Nanjiani, of his undercover name), he still leans all the way in as he pretends his arms are rubber-banded to the ground for a funny walk.
While he spends much of the episode calling attention to the heightened situation, he definitely gets a few licks in on Det. Seattle, needling the man about his high school past while good-naturedly deflecting about his own (presumably real) high school history. All in all, it adds up to a pretty good episode of Murderville, and a not-too-shabby showcase for the guest role.
Best moment: Relishing the moment he asks Seattle if everyone knew about his most embarrassing high school experience.
2. Sharon Stone
The queen, the myth, the legend. Sharon Stone has no time for Seattle’s obnoxious pestering, and while she’ll play along with his little games — to great effect — she is zeroed in on the task at hand. The fact that she is still completely game to play along (“Difficult’s the word I usually get,” she deadpans to a suspect about her working style) just makes their dynamic work all the better.
Where some others turn gooey in the face of Det. Seattle’s brash lunacy, Stone lives up to the name and hardens herself, making for some incredible droll comedy moments as the two bounce off each other. Honestly, the only thing hurting her ranking here is the way Seattle conducts himself in the episode.
Best moment: Instantly switching into her undercover persona.
1. Marshawn Lynch
No one is more game than Marshawn Lynch when they come to Murderville. The former NFL running back may get high marks just because his seamless transition into comedy king is something of a surprise, but he earns his place on this list with every fired-off quip.
What’s great about Lynch’s performance is that he is totally down to clown around when it comes to the scenarios (who knew he’d make such a good mirror to Rob Huebel?), but also makes the whole thing feel like a buddy cop comedy. Whether he’s backing up Seattle’s doll DNA suggestions or defending the time-honored procedural cross-talk — “Then act like you can’t!” he yells at the witness who says he can hear everything they’re saying — Lynch puts the team on his back and just runs with it.
Best moment: A little aside in an establishing shot as they return to the station.
Murderville season 1 is now streaming on Netflix.