Krister Johnson interview: ‘Murderville’ showrunner
When Krister Johnson brought on NFL running back Marshawn Lynch as a guest star for the improvised murder mystery-comedy, “Murderville,” no one had any idea what to expect. He was very quiet when he met him at the fitting but on set things changed very quickly. “He bounces into his first scene and is asking to change his name to Baggobich and he’s cussing and excited. After his taping, Will Arnett came back to video village and we felt like we captured lightening in a bottle,” he tells Gold Derby during our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above). He did cause a bit of concern when he unexpectedly tackled Rob Huebel during a take and Johnson thought Lynch may have crushed his windpipe. “As soon as the take ended, I ran out to Rob and I was like, ‘Are you okay,’ and he was like, ‘I’m fine. He knew how throw me down.’”
“Murderville,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, is an improvised comedic murder-mystery starring Arnett as Terry Seattle, a homicide detective. Each episode brings Seattle a new partner to solve a case with. The catch is that the partner is a celebrity guest star and that star must improvise their way through several scenes and figure out who the culprit is at the end of the episode. In addition to Lynch, the show also featured Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone and Ken Jeong. Prior to this show, Johnson had been a writer for “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” “Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later” and “Children’s Hospital,” winning an Emmy for the last one in 2016 for Best Short Form Comedy or Drama Series.
While initially targeting the variety sketch categories for the 2022 Emmys, the show is now on the ballot for Best Comedy Series, Arnett as Best Comedy Actor and other possible comedy nominations.
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Johnson knows that what really makes the series fun to watch is seeing people struggle in the moment and the one that really stood out for him was O’Brien. “We kept setting up situations to try to get people to break or to feel uncomfortable and he was just unflappable.” He specifically referenced a scene where he was forced to make up a story about how he fell in love with magic. “He comes up with this thing about being bullied by Dianne Feinstein as a child and suddenly our actor is turning around from the camera because she has completely broken. Conan was just an assassin.”
The show is based on a UK series called, “Murder in Successville.” Johnson had never seen the show until Arnett showed it to him after acquiring the rights to develop it for American television. “I just thought it managed to crack this nut that a lot of comedians have, which is how do you bottle the magic of improvised comedy without the inherent danger of the scene’s going awry, trailing off and not really adding up.” He loved how it combined the tropes of a mystery in a narrative framework. “It’s got all the tropes, it’s got all the beats that one would expect, so you can enjoy that and we can poke fun at those conventions, but then there’s this completely unknown element thrown in.”