Monday, June 17, 2024

Review: Sting Puts the Swing in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the House” But Martin Short Dances Away With Hit Mystery Comedy


I finally got organized to watch Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” last night, and even bumped up my subscription to $11.99 to be free of commercials. It was worth it.

The big surprise is that in the four episodes currently available, numbers 3 and 4 concern Sting, yes, Sting, and he puts an expected zing and swing into the already splendid mystery comedy. More on him in a minute.

Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez are the stars of this very elegant, funny limited series. Martin wrote with John Hoffman, and it has a lot of Woody Allen vibes to it. For one, Woody’s wonderful “Manhattan Murder Mystery” is its precedent for New Yorkers trying to solve a crime in their building. For another, it was Woody who gave us Selena Gomez recently, so good in “A Rainy Day in New York.” Her movie persona from that film has moved over here.

The three, as well as Nathan Lane and god knows who else are living in the Arconia on the Upper West Side, although we all know this to be some combination of the Ansonia and the Apthorp. No matter. Both buildings should look so good on the inside.

A young man has died in the building, maybe it was murder, although it’s labeled suicide. These three, all fans of a murder podcast hosted by Tina Fey, commence their own investigation. Selena’s Mabel knows more than she’s letting on. The plot, explained a few times, is simple enough. The richness is in the detail– the characters, their apartments, the dialogue. For old time Woody fans, “Only Murders” is a throwback to the halcyon 80s of “Hannah and Her Sisters,” “Zelig,” and “Broadway Danny Rose.”

That Sting also lives in the building– a fictional Sting, no Trudie, up in the penthouse– is the cherry on the sundae. He quickly becomes the trio’s suspect, although they have no evidence. To ingratiate themselves with him they bring the rock star a cooked turkey as a neighborly gesture. The resulting scene is hilarious as Sting breaks down like a witness on Perry Mason’s stand. Also, the little song he cooks up on the spot is delightfully dreadful. “Songwriting is hard!” he complains. He deserves a guest Emmy award.

Martin and Gomez are great fun to watch, of course, and Nathan Lane, recurring, is his own gift. But “Only Murders” belongs to Martin Short, the way “Hacks” was all about Jean Smart. This is Martin Short’s piece de resistance, his capping achievement. He can thank Martin and Hoffman for giving him this moment. He can thank himself for not going over the top, for playing his Oliver, a failed theater director, down just at the spots where he’s ready to jump several sharks. His mannerisms, one liners, costumes, and hair — oh the hair (I’m pretty sure in one scene with a pony tail he was lampooning someone we all know).

There are more episodes coming, and I can’t wait to see who killed Tim Kono. I suspect it was the great Amy Ryan, who plays a sexy bassoonist neighbor flirting with Martin’s Charles, a former and faded TV actor. Ryan’s eyes are devilish and they dart all over the place when she’s in the presence of the main trio. She’s also damned sexy, I see trouble ahead with her. Plus, she goes the whole 10 episodes.

Hulu is on a roll. The McCartney documentary series was a smash, and they’ve got “Handmaid’s Tale” turning Margaret Atwood into an institution. Nicely done.


Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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