This is a preview of our pop culture newsletter The Daily Beast’s Obsessed, written by editor Kevin Fallon. To receive the full newsletter in your inbox each week, sign up for it here.
One thing that was so great about the first two seasons of Only Murders in the Building was that the show just felt… nice.
The most buzzed-about shows on TV in recent years have largely centered around people behaving badly (Succession and The White Lotus, for example). Even the best comedies—“best,” naturally, means “Kevin’s personal favorites”—seemed particularly brutal, whether it’s because the antics of the main characters were narcissistic or cruel (The Other Two), or, in the case of What We Do in the Shadows, depraved.
I also don’t mean that Only Murders is nice in the same aggressive way that a show like Ted Lasso makes its entire mission, alienating many viewers in the process. This is a series about how people are killed and three neighbors exploit the sordid details of the case to create a podcast, the purpose of which is to bring them attention and a sense of personal worth. Oliver (Martin Short), Charles (Steve Martin), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) certainly are not the nicest characters on TV, but they’re a blast to watch. And that’s what I mean: It’s watching Only Murders in the Building that feels nice.
There’s something about the cadence and tone of the series, which takes the calming lilt of one of the true-crime podcasts it’s sending up and sprinkles on the bonkers wackiness of the Martins Short and Steve. You feel warm and cozy, but also transfixed by the performances and the mystery—the key difference between a show like this and one you might put on solely for comfort viewing or as background noise while you scroll through your phone.
The show also has certain themes that are unexpectedly profound, like how crippling loneliness can be, how difficult and scary it is to actively seek connection, and the pain that can creep in when your career and the contributions you make to the world aren’t valued as much as they used to be. Those elements contribute a somberness that complements the zaniness of quintessential Short and Martin comedy moments.
I guess what I’m saying is that this show is great.
Watching Season 3, whose fourth episode aired this week, I’ve been tickled to discover that the series figured out how to take a show that I already enjoyed and make it even more specifically appealing to me: Make it a musical, and bring on Meryl Streep.
I have a friend who once said something I’ll never forget. She had just seen a very intense play with her grandmother. If I remember correctly, it was about scientists working against the clock to make an important medical breakthrough. When I saw her after the play, I asked her how it was. “It was alright,” she said. “I just wish there were songs.”
It was validation of a belief I’ve held my entire life: Everything would be better as a musical. As it turns out, that’s true of Only Murders in the Building too.
While, generally speaking, I’m holding onto the last semblances of my sanity like a Looney Tunes character gripping a branch after falling off a cliff, I’m still rational enough to know that, in reality, many things would be ludicrously, laughably bad if turned into a musical. (Remember when Joey Tribbiani starred in a musical based on the life of Sigmund Freud on Friends?) In fact, the misguided negotiation that just adding some songs could rescue a bad play is one of the major plots of this season of Only Murders. After his leading man (Paul Rudd) dies and a critic tips him off that his play would have been eviscerated had it actually opened, Oliver decides to turn his latest work, Death Rattle, into a musical.
Oliver trying to rework his entire production while composing an original score is an amusing thread to weave through the season’s mystery, as the same actors who are now nervously learning new music for Death Rattle are also the prime suspects in the murder that show’s trio is investigating. Oliver, Charles, and Mabel piecing together clues lends Only Murders Season 3 the show’s familiar hijinks. But that each episode now features some of the biggest actors in Hollywood singing some songs on top of that? A treat for me! Well, ostensibly for everyone. But especially for me!
The saving grace, however, is that, despite everyone assuming that Oliver’s Death Rattle musical is going to be dead on arrival, the songs themselves are legitimately fantastic. This week’s episode had Charles rehearsing his character’s “patter song,” an exposition-heavy number that he speaks-sings rapidly, like a rap. What we heard of it before Charles blacked out, retreated in his mind to a white panic room, and came to while pantless on stage was really fun!
Then there’s what is already one of the TV highlights of the year for me: the gorgeous lullaby performed by Streep and co-star Ashley Park in Episode 3.
I love a Hollywood Mad Libs, and it doesn’t get much better than “Meryl Streep and the girl who was always singing for some reason on Emily in Paris make you weep while performing an original song by Sara Bareilles.” That the number is so stirring is one thing. But it also epitomizes just how great Streep is on this show.
Meryl Streep, doing some good acting: How original. But I’m struck by how surprising her character and performance has been. Originally, her Loretta seemed like she was going to be this doddering, struggling actress whose kookiness matched her desperation for a big break. But we learn that she’s actually kind of cool and sarcastic, with a hardened edge that is far more realistic for someone who has lived in New York City for decades. She’s more of a spark plug than I expected, which makes the swoon-worthy beauty of her performance of “Look for the Light” that much more mesmerizing.
Only Murders is making all the right choices this season. Tina Fey is back and now skewering Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop. Andrea Martin has a major role, which is the best choice any TV series can make. The incestuous mother-son producers played by Linda Emond and Wesley Taylor are a riot. And a major clue to the central mystery hinges on how remarkable Paul Rudd’s agelessly youthful looks are. If I’m going to think about that constantly, it’s only right that the TV series I watch obsess over it too.
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