Steve Martin and Martin Short are comedy royalty, comedy icons. Since costarring in one of my guilty pleasures, “Three Amigos!” (1986) — I can even sing along with “My Little Buttercup” — their acting paths have crossed several times, including the “Father of the Bride” movies, and, more recently, in their 2018 Netflix special, “Steve Martin and Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.” The actors/comedians/writers have exceptional rapport, so it was probably only natural for them to decide to join forces again for Hulu’s TV series, “Only Murders in the Building.”
In this mystery/comedy endeavor, Martin and Short are joined by singer/actress Selena Gomez. Martin plays Charles Haden-Savage, a silver-haired actor known mostly for his one role as a TV sleuth in the 1980s. Short plays Oliver Putnam, a mostly failing theater producer who is on the verge of being evicted. And Gomez plays Mabel Mora, a woman from the wrong side of the tracks who is squatting in their upscale New York apartment building, the fictional Anconia. All come together when a rather unlikable tenant, Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), is, you guessed it, murdered during a fire drill. While trying to figure out who committed the murder and why, the two celebrity “has beens” collaborate on a podcast based on their investigation. It’s a way to jump start their careers, and Putnam hopes it will raise much needed funds. Murder mystery podcasts are incredibly popular, after all.
The series premiered Aug. 31, and I’ll be honest, initially I was skeptical. I saw the press photo/poster and wondered what two septuagenarians were doing running around with an almost 30-year-old. If it was a love story, I would give it a hard pass. No one needs another project about old men and young love interests. No one. But I do like both Martin and Short, so I watched the trailer. It seemed promising. Hulu was smart in that they released the first three episodes for immediate screening — for the rest, you must wait for a new episode to drop on Tuesdays. I watched them one after another and got immediately hooked.
It’s a very entertaining series. The writing is sharp and funny, and Martin and Short are a joy to watch, playing so naturally off one another. Martin is the reserved straight guy — he’s always kind of over-it — and Short is the flamboyant effusive, always trying to get an ill-conceived project off the ground type. Their personalities couldn’t be more different and watching them react to one other is never dull. In fact, it’s so enjoyable watching them, that Gomez doesn’t really need to be here. She gets cast regularly, as an actress, and I don’t get her appeal. As a singer, she’s very good; as an actress, yeah, no. (No doubt, she was brought in to bring in “younger” viewers, thus, giving the show broader appeal.) If you are older than 40, you will enjoy the celebrity cameos, including, so far, Sting, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan and Tina Fey.
The 10-part series, created by Martin and John Hoffman, who has contributed five scripts for the Lily Tomlin/Jane Fonda comedy series, “Grace and Frankie,” is being called “limited,” but the episodes are short — about 35 minutes — and it’s consistently well done, so I wouldn’t be surprised if a season two was in the works. It’s clear that Martin and Short still have a fan base, even if it is an older one, because apparently, “Only Murders in the Building” was the streaming service’s most-watched comedy premiere of all time. I can see Martin and Short high fiving right now, saying “we still got it.”
And I would welcome another season. I’m always looking for a new series to grip my attention. I recently dipped my toe into a few recent ones — the Joseph Gordon-Levitt-created “Mr. Corman,” and the Taika Waititi-produced “Reservation Dogs” — and am finally getting around to watching the Jason Bateman-fronted series “Ozark.” What took me so long? No idea. Unfortunately, “Mr. Corman” just leaves me exhausted; too much relationship drama; the second is fine, but it’s not really my bag; and the third is great, but it’s populated by such an across-the-board bevy of morally bankrupt people that it can also leave me worn out. And episodes are nearly an hour, so not a fast watch.
“Only Murders in the Building” is light and fun … a mental “palate” cleanser, if you will. Episode five, “Twist,” airs Sept. 14. We are nearly half-way finished! Get into the mystery!