Murder mysteries have been a popular genre in the mainstream for a long time. From the first Sherlock Holmes book, “A Study in Scarlet,” to the hit film “Knives Out,” the archetype of the story remains consistent: someone is murdered, an investigation ensues with hints pointing toward the true culprit and then a final gathering with all the suspects convenes and a murderer is declared. There may be a couple unexpected elements in the story, but mostly they follow this outline. Netflix’s new show, “Murderville” is no exception. However, it has its own twist: improvisation.
The show drops the audience in an old-style police station, with homicide detective and main character Terry Seattle, played by Will Arnett (“Bojack Horseman”). Seattle opens with a grizzled-detective monologue, alluding to classic openings for the genre. However, in the third shot, the audience sees he is driving a pickup-style Camaro, and from then on it’s obvious this is not your normal murder mystery. Seattle’s internal soliloquy is then interrupted by the police chief (Haneefah Wood, “Nurse Jackie”) to briefly discuss the aftermath of her and Seattle’s divorce. Arnett is absolutely fantastic in his role. He is quick-witted with his one-liners and joke setups, especially during his satires of internal dialogues and classic police banter. He is able to play out any scene to get some laughs, but the main draw of the show is the wide variety of celebrity guest stars.
There are a total of six celebrity guest stars, one for each episode released, including Conan O’Brien, Marshawn Lynch, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone and Ken Jeong. This isn’t a completely new idea — iconic series like “Scooby-Doo” also featured a number of guest stars ‘playing themselves,’ but the most interesting part about this show is that the guest stars have to completely improvise every line. The audience gets a wide range of experiences from each guest star. O’Brien, famous for his comedic talk show, was a great opening for the show. It was obvious that he had experience on television and knew how to follow an improvised scene, but surprisingly it was legendary retired Seattle Seahawks running back Lynch who stole the show. He was absolutely hysterical, throwing out quip after quip and keeping pace with the scene. Knowing that it was improvisation made it even more humorous because it seemed like he was just being himself. Additionally, Arnett’s over-the-top acting next to the cool and calm Lynch made each scene a joy to watch.
Sometimes, the hilarity and absurdity of the show gets to the actors, and the audience is able to see them break character. The first time it happened, as Terry Seattle covered his mouth to hide his laughter in a serious scene, I thought it was an editing mistake. However, as the show went on, it became a regular occurrence, with some characters laughing out loud and having to restart their sentences. This is similar to blooper reels on sitcoms, which can often be funnier than the actual show.
If you are looking for a grimy, hard detective show like “Sherlock,” this is not the show for you. While there are definitely aspects of classic murder mysteries, like searching to find clues left by the murderer, it’s much more light-hearted, due in part to the show’s improvisational nature. It is important to note that the entire show is not improvised; there are set backgrounds and scenes, and some jokes were a little too perfect. Also, some episodes were funnier than others, with the guest stars ranging from mildly humorous to making me laugh out loud. Still, “Murderville” is a genuinely hilarious show overall, and you should go watch it right now.
Daily Arts Writer Maxwell Lee can be reached at email@example.com.