The following review is for the first eight episodes of Season 3 of Only Murders in the Building.
Only Murders in the Building is a show that has a formula. Fellow Arconia residents Mabel Moira (Selena Gomez), Oliver Hudson (Martin Short), and Charles Hayden-Savage (Steve Martin) band together whenever residents in their building are murdered to search for the killer and document it for their true crime podcast…and also seek justice, maybe. However, Season 3 switches it up while preserving the show’s core: the characters.
If this season proves anything, a murder mystery is only as strong as its central characters. This is especially true with the third season of Only Murders, as the murder itself is the least exciting part when compared to everything surrounding it. Thankfully, it doesn’t hold the show back; this outing’s success is easily attributable to Short, Gomez, and Martin, but also incredible musical numbers by songwriting duo Pasek & Paul as well as the brilliant Meryl Streep, who joins the cast as an actress named Loretta who never got to live out her Broadway dreams.
This season brings the trio of amateur detectives out of the Arconia and onto The Great White Way. Oliver’s new play, Death Rattle, is threatened when someone poisons his leading man, Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), on stage in the middle of opening night. To say it is Oliver’s worst nightmare would be an understatement. With a wide range of supporting cast members, stagehands, and friends to investigate, the team has their work cut out for them.
Death Rattle surprisingly takes up most of the show’s runtime, so if theatre isn’t for you, this season of Only Murders might not be either. But for those who love theatre, especially musicals, this season will present an itch you never knew you needed to scratch. Location isn’t the only thing that makes this season feel different though, as the dynamics between Mabel, Oliver, and Charles get a revamp. Oliver’s primary concern isn’t solving Ben’s murder but rather how he will get his play back on track, a motivation Martin Short plays to perfection. This is his last chance to restore his good name as a director after his previous show, Splash: The Musical, ended in disaster; a dozen actors dove onto the stage, but the trap door to the pool below failed to open.
Oliver concludes that the best way to save Death Rattle is by turning it into a musical. Meryl Streep, who has a mysterious past, is cast as the Nanny and performs a show-stopping ballad with Ashley Park (Emily in Paris) in Episode 3. The song seamlessly integrates the show’s central theme into its orchestration. With that, plus Streep and Park’s gorgeous vocals, it’ll be in your music library as soon as you hear it.
Along with Oliver, Mabel also has a compelling journey this season as she tries to figure out who she is now that Oliver and Charles are more focused on the musical than on finding Ben’s killer. This exploration allows for a dynamic not often seen on screen in that it’s a younger character yearning for the attention of her two senior friends. However, while necessary for Mabel’s story, it does mean she gets sidelined, and the season suffers because of it. It highlights how crucial all three characters are to the show’s success.
Charles, on the other hand, doesn’t shine so brightly this season. He spends most of his screen time worried about memorizing a patter song – the term for a very fast-paced musical theatre number. Season 3 also explores Charles’s new relationship with his old makeup artist from Brazzo’s, Joy (Andrea Martin), but it’s easily the worst aspect of the season. Steve Martin and Andrea Martin lack the chemistry he had with Amy Ryan in the first season and their interactions come across as grating rather than cute. Martin does get one moment to compete with his co-stars in Episode 8, when we finally hear his finished patter song, which is glorious.
Season 3 could have been more robust when compared to the previous two, which had a good balance of murder case and character development. The story tends to meander without progressing significantly until Episode 7, where it finally starts to pick up steam. When the characters investigate the possibility of a ghost as the killer, you begin to worry that this season’s mystery might not have as much to it. However, only time will tell, since Only Murders is known for its stellar twist endings that often make the entire season stronger in retrospect. Either way, between Meryl Streep’s sizable role, surprising guest stars, and toe-tapping show tunes, there is more than enough to enjoy.
The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Buildings Season 3 are now streaming on Disney+, with new episodes airing every Tuesday.