Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every week, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Screwball: Only Murders in the Building
Color us hooked on this madcap, comic mystery from the mind of queer writer John Hoffman (hereto best known as the Mad Hatter on the 90s Disney show Adventures in Wonderland) and the genius of Steve Martin. Combine the gifts of Hoffman and Martin with those of another comic genius–Martin Short–as well as the ironic screen presence of Selena Gomez, and the resultant show manages to keep us guessing and laughing.
Only Murders in the Building satirizes America’s obsession with true crime podcasts. The show follows three characters occupying a lux apartment building in New York City. In short form, they are: Charles, an out-of-work actor, formerly the star of an 80s cop show; Oliver, a theatre producer who had his career ruined by a disastrous musical version of Splash; and Mabel, a mysterious 20-something living in her aunt’s apartment. The three strangers bond over their shared love of a true-crime podcast, only to discover one of the building’s other residents, Tim Kono, murdered in an elevator lobby. The three decide to solve Kono’s murder then and there as well as launch their own podcast tracing their progress. Hilarity–and danger–ensues, as the three find themselves at the center of an organized crime ring, a string of pet murders, and a building full of eccentric lunatics.
Watching Short & Martin spar for who can steal the most scenes would give us enough reason to watch a show like this. Thankfully, thanks to the careful work of showrunner Hoffman, Only Murders also features an intriguing mystery–one with multiple twists, and a solution we genuinely didn’t see coming. Gomez, for her part, shows a new level of maturity and dedication in her performance, leaning into her character’s sarcastic and deadpan personality, and playing the “straight man” opposite the loony antics of her two co-stars. The show also takes some big risks in telling each episode from a different character’s point of view. In one case, that means seeing through the eyes of a deaf character, in an episode that features almost no dialogue at all. In the hands of lesser talents, such an approach could come off bombastic and exploitative. Here, it feels thrilling.
In terms of queerness, in addition to the very funny contributions by Hoffman, actors Nathan Lane and Jaboukie Young-White also turn up in fun supporting roles, one as a financier with questionable income sources, the other a rabid fan of the new podcast. That latter character hits on the real genius of Only Murders: the show satirizes the cynicism that goes into making true-crime entertainment, and the perverse fascination with which audiences obsess over every little detail…often forgetting that somebody died so they could have a mystery to enjoy.
Fortunately, Only Murders in the Building reminds us that it doesn’t take a real-life crime to create a compelling mystery. With the finale set to air this week–in which Martin, at 76, pulls off some wild physical comedy–we think it time to jump on the bandwagon. Watch and enjoy, without the guilt.
Streams on Hulu. Finale streams October 19.