Last night, while I was preparing dinner my wife asked me if I wanted to watch the season three finale of Only Murders in the Building, Hulu’s breakout comedy mystery starring Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Steve Martin who is also the show’s co-creator. It’s a series that’s brought both of us quite a bit of joy and laughter over the years, and one that we were eagerly awaiting to return. Yet, my response to my wife’s question was a reluctant, “ugh, fine.”
The response came out of a place of not only an overall sense of discontent with how the third season had transpired, but also because of how it continued many of the issues that had started in season two; exacerbating them to make for a final product that simply ended up being messy and laborious to watch. Though the final two episodes did tie up most of the plot threads well-enough, doing so while bringing the focus back to our trio of investigators, it still wasn’t enough to overlook the first eight episodes. Eight episodes that floundered with a barrage of ideas, all of which were haphazardly written and never gave respect to the characters that the show had built. Because, at its heart, Only Murders in the Building lives and dies by its characters, and it’s this very element that I felt season three lost sight of; though some it started in season two.
People of The Arconia
There was something unique about the tone of the first season of Only Murders in the Building. Yes, on the surface this was a show that took inspiration from classic Agatha Christie’s “whodunnits,” while introducing a modern comedic layer by the way of making our unexpected trio a bunch of accidental crime podcasters. But the vessel in which the entire plot takes place is a legacy apartment building made of all the classic Italian Renaissance trimmings named, The Arconia. This Upper West-Side gem is where all the crime-solving shenanigans takes place for our quirky trio and, in a way, the building plays as an active member of the cast, which adds to the “modern noire” feel of the show.
I say that not to sound highfalutin, but genuinely. The Arconia felt like a real place (it is a real apartment building on 86th St, albeit with a different name), and it was brought to life even more so by its residents. From former board president, Bunny Folger, to Lester the doorman, to the crabby woman from 3F by the name of Uma; these were all quirky, lively individuals that made the crime-solving by our trio all the more engaging as a viewer. Their stories, even if not all that fleshed out, made the world of the show that much more immersive.
I would’ve loved to see the following seasons, particularly the third, go deeper into the history of The Arconia. To get a deeper understanding of some of its residents. Maybe these dives would uncover long-held grudges that some residents may have against one another, leading to more “murders in the building” that our trio would inevitably have to solve. But that is not what we got. Instead, we got a show that, due to its success no doubt, attracted big names like Paul Rudd, Meryl Streep, and Amy Schumer, within a story that not only shifted the focus away from The Arconia and its residents, but from our beloved trio in Martin Short’s Oliver Putnam, Selena Gomez’ Mabel Mora, and Steve Martin’s Charles-Haden Savage.
The Trio, Separated
For as much as I missed the interactions between the residents of The Arconia within the apartment building, that longing is nothing compared to the one I had for not seeing our main stars perform alongside one another for so much of the third season. For some reason, the show-runners thought it a good idea to split our trio up for extended periods of time during this entire season. As Mabel goes solo in her hunt for the killer alongside Jesse Williams who plays a camera operator named Tobert, Putnam struggles to put together a broadway musical after his lead actor (Paul Rudd) is killed, all the while Charles is off having a crisis of his own.
While Martin Short is able to carry his scenes with his iconic pomp and electricity, Gomez looked tired and indifferent during every scene she was in that didn’t have her cohorts alongside her. Granted her character’s story was also quite undercooked, to the point where I can’t even tell you if she even had an “arc” of any kind. Still, when you fail to have any chemistry with Jesse Williams, a.k.a the most gorgeous man alive, you know there’s a problem. Martin, on the other hand, just looked out of place in more ways than one during all of his scenes. I’ve said this in public, but I’ll write it here for the record — I don’t think Steve Martin is a good actor.
Comedy or dramedy, I have never watched a single performance by the comedy legend and considered it even remotely good. He can have his moments, his solo musical performance of “Which of the Pickwick Triplets Did It?” in Short’s fictional play in the show, for example, was an impressive highlight. Yet, I feel that is only the case because it leans into the absurd, which is where I believe Martin thrives; just look at The Pink Panther. However, when his performance bothers me far less, and is even enhanced, is when he’s alongside Short and Gomez.
Putnam, Mora, and Savage are the heart of Only Murders in the Building. Their odd connection with one another, being from entirely different generations and backgrounds, is what makes both the comedy and the heartfelt moments work. Whereas in season one I saw myself howling with laughter in one scene to tearing up the next, I found myself bored with no connection to any of the characters in season three; irrespective of Meryl Streep’s genuinely layered and surprisingly subdued performance as Loretta Durkin. I would love to see season four go back to the roots of what made this show great. To focus on the characters that live inside The Arconia, and to keep our trio intact as they solve the mysteries of not only the murders, but the people around them.