‘Only Murders in the Building’ only deserves awards for its delightfully killer first season

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers about the Season 1 finale of “Only Murders in the Building.” Read at your own risk.]

“Does anyone else feel like there’s still a couple of loose ends?” Mabel (Selena Gomez) asks Charles (Steve Martin) and Oliver (Martin Short) in the Season 1 finale of “Only Murders in the Building” as they toasted on the rooftop after solving the murder of Tim Kono (Julian Cihi). In the world of the show, yes, there are loose ends as the trio was implicated in a different murder seconds later. And there are loose ends IRL as well because it would really be a true crime if “Only Murders in the Building” did not get any awards love.

Created by Martin and John Hoffman, “Only Murders” parodies true crime podcasts and their obsessive listeners while also being a joyful love letter to them. Mabel, Charles and Oliver are three tenants in the Arconia, a fancy New York City apartment building, and fans of the “Serial”-esque podcast “All Is Not OK in Oklahoma,” hosted by the Sarah Koenig-esque Cinda Canning (Tina Fey), who join forces as amateur sleuths and podcasters after they suspect that another tenant, Tim Kono, did not die by suicide. The murder-mystery comedy and the podcast-within-a-show take their name from the trio’s vow to only solve murders in their building because they don’t have the wherewithal or energy to expand their scope (relatable, honestly).

Silly yet melancholy, hilarious and suspenseful, “Only Murders” is a charming, addictive delight that could’ve coasted on merely sending up the true crime podcast world (“Every great episode 2 always makes you care deeply for the victim,” Oliver notes), but instead elevates it by mixing it in a sometimes preposterous comedy cocktail. Sting, playing a dog-hating, Arconia-residing version of himself, was a one-time suspect. The sharp, fun and self-aware writing yields zingers, one-liners and running gags aplenty and payoffs episodes later. And the show is not afraid to go all in some arcane jokes and references, like in the fifth episode in which Charles and Oliver riff on the names of Long Island towns before later concluding that “it’s a law of nature: nothing good ever happens on Long Island.” It’s an extremely specific bit, but it works for both New Yorkers/Long Islanders (*raises hand*) and non-natives because of the confidence in the writing and Martin’s and Short’s performances.

“Only Murders” also doesn’t shy away from playing with the format. No one would bat at an eye if it only focused on the core trio, but the series devotes a handful of episodes to POVs from supporting characters — including one featuring stans of the podcast whom Oliver invites upstairs to help with the case — that build out the world while advancing the plot. The pièce de résistance is the seventh episode, “The Boy from 6B,” told from the perspective of Theo (James Caverly), the deaf son of deli titan Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane), the sponsor of their podcast. Mostly non-verbal, the episode features ASL, a stellar turn by Caverly — a deaf actor — and tremendous sound design of heavily muted noises and a heightened score that puts you in the shoes of a man who cannot hear the world around him. It’s such an intense installment that when Charles utters the episode’s one line at the end, it’s almost startling.

SEE ‘Only Murders in the Building’ reviews: Steve Martin’s Hulu series is a ‘sly’ parody of true crime

But the series would not work at all if not for the trio at the center. Martin and Short are longtime pals and collaborators, and the addition of Gomez makes for an odd trinity few would’ve assembled — yet they have perfect chemistry as three lonely people brought together by circumstance and mutual true crime fandom. Charles was the star of a long-running ’90s procedural, “Brazzos,” which he can’t stop referencing (shout-out to Jane Lynch as Charle’s stunt double Sazz Pataki in the penultimate ninth episode). Oliver is a theatrical out-of-work theater director who is behind on payments and lives off of dips. Mabel is enigmatic artist who shares a past with Tim.

Oliver is the most ridiculous one of the three — and some of Short’s line readings (“I’ll have you know that I am in my very early mid-60s”) deserve Emmys alone — but his zaniness is balanced out by the warmth Martin brings to Charles, who embarks on a romance with Amy Ryan‘s Jan, and Gomez’s dry, deadpan delivery (Martin totally slays his own riotous physical comedy bit in the finale that would make Leonardo DiCaprio proud). Gomez, who has seldom acted since “The Wizards of Waverly Place,” absolutely holds her own opposite two comedy legends while the show leans into the generational gap without ever being mean. “Calls bother them for some reason,” observes Oliver when he and Charles debate whether to call or text Mabel, who smiles sweetly as she replies to Charles, saved in her phone as “charles (old),” that he doesn’t have to sign his texts.

By the end of the first season, you just want to keep hanging out with them and watch them fumble through podcasting and solving murders some more, which is good since Hulu renewed it last month, and the show not only sets up a second season with their arrests in the death of Arconia board member Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell) in the finale but the opening moments of the premiere teased it (speaking of confident writing). “Only Murders” is Hulu’s most-watched original comedy on premiere day and the most-watched comedy on premiere day across all SVOD titles ever on the platform, according to the streamer, which, of course, offered no actual numbers with these touts.

Hulu’s comedies have been hit and miss with awards groups so far despite acclaim. Most recently, “PEN15” earned three Emmy bids, including Best Comedy Series, Hulu’s first nomination in the category. The just-ended “Shrill” got its first and only Emmy nomination for star Aidy Bryant. Ramy Youssef won a Golden Globe and earned an Emmy nomination last year for his performance on “Ramy,” but the show itself did not crack the series lineup at either group. Last season, “The Great” received two Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, but none for star Elle Fanning.

Maybe “Only Murders” will be the show where everything comes together for Hulu. With the Globes resurrected, sans broadcast, it’s the type of buzzy hit new show that’s historically right up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s alley. And “The Great’s” breakthrough for its first season at the SAG Awards — a group that’s notoriously late to the party — is encouraging for “Only Murders” to make a splash there. It’s currently predicted to nab bids in comedy ensemble and actor for Martin and Short, while Gomez is in sixth place in actress.

If all that and other recognition for “Only Murders” happen this winter, it could send next year’s Emmys into a whole new direction.

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