Friday, May 24, 2024

Review: Only In-Jokes in the Building as Steve Martin & Crew Let Meryl Streep Steal Season 3 of “Only Murders in the Building”


I can’t be objective: I love “Only Murders in the Building.” I’ve looked forward to Season 3 and so far I’m not disappointed. (I have a lot of episodes on the press site, but I’m trying to watch the show in real time.)

Hulu dropped the first two episodes of Season 3 last night, and, of course, they are a lot of fun. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez are back sniffing for clues in the murder of Paul Rudd’s Broadway actor, a flash forward that was offered at the end of Season 2.

Now Short’s Oliver Putnam has the chance to direct a Broadway play, a fake chestnut called “Death Rattle” (like “Death Trap”). Rudd is the star, Ben, whose real career is making Bruce Willis-type TV shows and movies. Martin’s Charles is cast in the play. and as we all know Charles had one big hit TV series long ago, which has kept him alive.

Episode 1 goes back to tell the story of Ben’s murder,e which doesn’t seem to fit the show’s premise– only murders in the building. So Ben dies twice, once on stage, and once in Amy Schumer’s apartment he’s subletting in the Arconia. Rudd continues to appear even though he’s dead, as Gomez’s Mabel imagines conversations with him.

The big twist this season: the addition of Meryl Streep, The Greatest Actress in the World, as a terrible actress who Oliver casts in the play. Only she’s not so bad. Streep has an audition speech that is pure Oscar, she’s mesmerizing. She’s also game to send herself up. At the first table read of “Death Rattle,” Streep — who is known for playing Polish, French, German, British, Italian, Australian, etc — tries out different inappropriate accents for her character. It’s hilarious. She also gets to sing, and dammit, you know she’s good!

There’s another little Easter egg in Episode 1, and believe it not, I have a slight connection to it. Charles — er, Martin — is very relieved when he thinks “Death Rattle” will close early. He says, a couple of times, he doesn’t think he’s up to the task of getting through 8 performances a week.

This sounded familiar to yours treuly. Back in 1989, I edited a monthly magazine called Fame. We were going to feature Steve Martin on the cover. I sent the legendary biographer Patricia Bosworth to interview him for the profile. They had lunch at fancy pants Sant Ambroeus on Madison Avenue. They had a great time and Patti turned in a terrific piece.

All was groovy until the fact checker checked Martin’s quotes with him. The gifted actor and comedian bristled when he heard that he’d complained about appearing at Lincoln Center Theatre the prior year in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” with Robin Williams. Mike Nichols directed the 25 performances, and reviews had not been kind. Now, in retrospect, Martin told Bosworth that Broadway’s 8 shows a week schedule was too brutal for him, or anyone. The gist of his comments were, “How can be expected to do that?” He thought it was barbaric!

Martin insisted he never said it, and wanted the quote stricken. We panicked at the idea of removing it. But Patti had the tapes, and the transcripts. He certainly did say it, and the quotes went into the story. Thirty two years later, Martin — who went on to write and appear in the terrific Broadway musical, “Bright Star” — obviously remembered this and used it as fodder for Charles. I nearly fell off my chair as he declared the Broadway schedule for “Death Rattle” too severe!

“Only Murders” will go on to figure out who killed Ben. Of course, I’m sure it’s Streep’s Loretta. But that would be a red herring, and too easy. Much more about Ben is going to come out. They’ve got the very adept Ashley Park in there, from “Emily in Paris” and “Mean Girls” on Broadway. She also seems like a good suspect. And there’s also Ben’s assistant, played by Jeremy Shamos. And so on.

So buckle up. I can’t wait for next Tuesday!

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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