Only Murders in the Building is more enjoyable, even with its weakest mystery

Compared to previous seasons of Only Murders, this one seemed like the mystery and revelation were lacking. The huge revelation was quite clear early in the finale, given that the entire “mother covering for her son” bombshell had already played out in the previous two episodes. Put it down to some successful foreshadowing that made the remainder of the program seem like it was just dragging out the inevitable. Weak focal mystery compared to last season’s well-staged sting and the first season’s bait-and-switch.

While murder and buildings were key to the previous two seasons of Only Murders in the Building, this third season was much less on both. The program has already delved deeply into the secrets of Arconia, revealing not just the murder from the pilot episode but also other murders that have tormented the main protagonists. However, in season 3, there was only one murder to investigate (although Ben Glenroy did “die” twice), and most of the action occurred outside of the Arconia. The true crime elements were minimal, and the show’s titular podcast made just a brief appearance.

However, you must not err. Despite the fact that the show’s premise changed and the mystery was less satisfactory than in previous seasons, the most recent installment of Only Murders was easily the most entertaining.

This season focused mostly on the entertainment industry. Death Rattle: The Musical went all out for no apparent purpose, allowing the likes of Steve Martin, Martin Short, Meryl Streep, and the rest of the ensemble to show off their musical theater prowess. The transformation of Charles’ patter song from a crippling shame to a wonderful performance was not just the finest detective work moment of the season, but also a victorious and gratifying plot point in and of itself. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the music writers of La La Land, totally commit to the show’s theater kid enthusiasm by producing banger after banger in the form of memorable songs.

Only Murders has always had a penchant for metatextuality, with the main three often alluding to “last season” while discussing their podcast and in-universe followers weighing in with hypotheses. In season 3, this takes on new significance as the secondary murder mystery becomes integral to the development of the primary characters. Mabel is adrift and urgently trying to find her place, while Oliver and Charles are more concerned with saving their show and careers than uncovering a murder. This season’s conflict stems from the core trio’s divergent objectives, as opposed to last year’s when their inner anguish sprang mostly from hidden pasts. This indicates that they are engaging more often, even if most of this engagement consists of conflict.

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Everything tastes great, and all three characters receive substantial screen time. As for Martin, he doesn’t only have to deal with his loneliness this season (the Pickwick Triplets narrative was wonderful, by the way), and Gomez holds her own among the comic classics. After seeing Oliver’s inner director emerge, Short feels free to dive completely off the deep end.

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Paraphrase All three actors truly excel in this one. Even amid the greats of humor, Gomez holds her own, and Martin doesn’t only have to deal with his isolation this season (the Pickwick triplets plot was brilliant, again). Short is given permission to go completely over the deep end when he witnesses Oliver embracing his inner director.

Joy proudly displays her engagement ring as Mabel, Oliver, and Charles enter her apartment.

Joy proudly displays her engagement ring as Mabel, Oliver, and Charles enter her apartment.

The podcast’s premise, and the show’s by extension, is that Charles, Oliver, and Mabel will work together to solve a murder that occurs in their building (which, strangely, happens very often for a posh Upper West Side high-rise). The charming pattern may have been shattered if the season had begun with a murder that, at first seem, took place outside the premises. But it was perfect for the show: A chance to move these interesting people to a new location, where they may meet new people and solve new challenges.

Similarly to the reinvented Death Rattle Dazzle, season three of Only Murders was more musical theater and superbly executed character moments than twisty-turny-puzzle-box when it came to the murder mystery aspect of the show. To keep things interesting and, more crucially, entertaining, it was just what the program required, much like Death Rattle Dazzle.