The promise of Selena Gomez was enough to convince me to watch “Only Murders in the Building” upon its release. Season one was an absolute hit, season two wasn’t as good and, unfortunately, season three has continued that downward trajectory.
One key reason why “Only Murders in the Building” worked so well originally was the chemistry and dynamics between the main three characters: Oliver Putnam (Martin Short, “SNL”), a struggling theater director with boundless youthful energy; Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin, “The Pink Panther”), an endearingly awkward and loving semi-retired actor and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez, “Wizards of Waverly Place”), a cool, mysterious, introverted young artist.
In season one, the three become unlikely friends due to a shared passion for true-crime podcasts. A murder in their apartment building, the Arconia, serves as the catalyst for the podcast they start together, which shares its name with the show’s title, “Only Murders in the Building.”
The age gap between the three main characters and their stark personality differences create a unique bond. Their dynamic is reminiscent of one of those random table groups you were assigned to in high school that worked well together even though none of you had ever or would ever cross paths outside the classroom. Something about how their seemingly clashing personalities balance each other out — instead of causing mass implosion — is comforting to watch, and the unlikeliness of the bond makes it all the more powerful.
These characters embody the idea that we can form connections with anyone, even those whom we could not be further apart from on paper. This character dynamic is rarely depicted at all, let alone well, on screen.
It is also where season three falls short. Instead of building the relationship between Oliver, Charles and Mabel, seasons two and three focus on introducing new big-name stars and highlighting their characters, detracting from what holds the show together in the first place. Season two introduced Amy Schumer (“Trainwreck”), Cara Delevingne (“Paper Towns”) and Tina Fey (“Mean Girls”), and, while they are talented actors, their characters’ were so temporary that it felt like a waste of time to build their relationships with the core three. Season three leans even more heavily on star power by introducing Meryl Streep (“Mamma Mia”) and Paul Rudd (“Clueless”). Rudd’s character is an arrogant, famous actor and the subject of the main three’s murder investigation this season, while Streep plays one of the prime suspects, a desperate actor still holding out hope to make it big. While, obviously, the constraints of the show’s plot require a murder victim and a major suspect, it seems as though showrunners were compelled to dive deep into these new characters, likely due to the big names playing them, which took away essential time from the continued development of the bond between Oliver, Charles and Mabel.
Because season three is so devoted to these new, temporary characters, viewers lack the fun moments spent recording podcasts, the sibling-like bickering and the emotionally-charged bonding that were the highlights of previous seasons. Recurring side characters that viewers had come to love were seen less and less, depriving them of the extended warm, cozy, dysfunctional family that they wanted to see. The lack of teamwork and good old-fashioned mystery-solving this season marks a serious step down from the show’s past seasons.
Still, from the show’s star-studded cast to the unique premise to the witty dialogue, “Only Murders in the Building” filled a gap in the television universe that had been left open for so long that many of us couldn’t even recognize it existed.
The mystery genre is difficult to get right because it can so quickly warp into horror, but “Only Murders in the Building” nails it. The dialogue and the circumstances in which the characters find themselves serve as comic relief while retaining a necessary level of suspense. The characters act true to themselves as they solve the murder and bring different strengths to the team. The mysteries are also complicated enough that they their solution is not obvious, allowing viewers to piece the murder together alongside the main trio. Season three features a murder that is engaging to piece together but doesn’t have the same new and exciting quality of the season one murder. Oliver, Charles and Mabel all seem a little less interested and a little less connected in their podcasting and mystery-solving, which contributes significantly to how satisfying the murder’s conclusion is.
At roughly its halfway point, season three of “Only Murders in the Building” is still an enjoyable watch, but it doesn’t keep you quite as invested as previous seasons. If the show is renewed for a fourth season, it will hopefully return to its roots and forgo shiny star power and focus more on Oliver, Charles and Mabel’s trio. Only time will tell.
Daily Arts Writer Jenna Jaehnig can be reached at email@example.com.