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Only Murders in the Building is the only murder show I want to be friends with

I love hanging out with the unlikeliest trio on TV

Selena Gomez wears a rhinestone jacket and bowler hat she tips in a dream dance number from Only Murders in the Building Season 3 Photo: Patrick Harbron/Hulu

Murder has been comfort TV fodder for almost as long as there has been television. Standards like Murder She Wrote and Columbo and modern homages like Poker Face offer predictable rhythms and familiar characters — and the promise that the perp will always get caught in the end. All of those shows star detectives, oddballs, and misfits who I love to watch for hours on end, but none of those characters feel like my friends. The stars of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building, though? I want them to get along with each other (and me, if they were so inclined) maybe even more than I want to see them solve a murder.

The primary hook for Only Murders in the Building has always been the oddly matched trio at its core: semi-retired TV actor Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), washed-up theater director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and millennial misfit Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez). Generation-gap comedy aside, watching Only Murders means you get to see one of the longest-running comedic pairings in the business doing what they do best every week, with the je ne sais quoi that Gomez brings along with her deadpan wit. Add to that the quirky residents and old New York charm of the Arconia, an apartment building that’s a world unto itself, and Only Murders immediately feels intimate and warm — quite like a good podcast.

For the uninitiated, a podcast is what fuels Only Murders in the Building’s action. Each season Charles, Oliver, and Mabel stumble across a murder in or around the Arconia, and podcast their way through their attempts to do some amateur sleuthing, usually getting far too close to the murderer in the process (and annoying the hell out of the cops). In the third season, which kicks off this week with two episodes, that murder happens on the stage of Oliver’s big Broadway return, when mega star Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd) dies during his opening monologue — a death shown at the end of the second season.

Mabel stands in the corner of an elevator looking bored as Oliver and Charles gesticulate at each other in a scene from Only Murders in the Building season 3. Photo: Patrick Harbron/Hulu

In the two-episode premiere, Only Murders doesn’t miss a beat, dancing its way through red herrings, surprise twists, and mortal peril at a surprising pace, all while the jokes come fast. (Some examples: a 21 Jump Street parody called Girl Cop; a play about a murder where the suspect is a baby; a gag about how outlandish it is that someone would want to subscribe to Paramount Plus.) Despite dying before the season even started, Only Murders in the Building finds inventive ways to inject Paul Rudd’s goofy manchild energy into the show, and on the living side of things, Meryl Streep joins the cast as an actress who, ironically, has never gotten her big break.

I always smile when watching Only Murders in the Building, not just because of the tremendously likable weirdos in its cast or the jokes it tucks in every possible corner, but because it’s just so wistful. There’s a touch of melancholy to the show and how it makes use of its older cast of characters, who have learned to cover up personal failings and insecurities with layers of eccentricity, refusing to let the world pass them by — sometimes at the expense of those close to them.

As Oliver and Charles, Short and Martin are egotistical and frequently tone-deaf, but they’re also full of regret. The murders they podcast about with Mabel — herself a woman adrift as a Latin American from a working class background in this building full of wealthy, white, older tenants — become avenues for exorcizing that regret, and learning to fill in holes that they’ve just become accustomed to living with.

In this, Only Murders in the Building is about remembering, a murder mystery about how everyone and everything — a victim, a community, a building, a city — has a story, and stories don’t often end when we think they do. There is comfort to be taken there when you’re worried that things might have passed you by. That’s something to smile about, even.

The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 3 are now streaming on Hulu.

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