It’s showtime — literally and figuratively — for season three of Only Murders in the Building. The Emmy-winning series returns to Hulu on Aug. 8 with a whodunit to savor. To be sure, the third season will be remembered as one the show’s best, thanks to a plot that primarily revolves around the death of an actor starring in a theatrical show that Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) is producing.
Toss in several standout performances that swing from campy to tragic by the likes of recurring guest stars Meryl Streep, Paul Rudd, Jesse Williams, and Matthew Broderick, and — we say this lovingly — you don’t want people to stop dying around Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver, and Mabel (Selena Gomez), the best yet most unlikely amateur crime solvers to hit the screen.
Co-creators and writers Steve Martin and John Hoffman hit all the right notes in season three, and the biggest surprise is how well the show handles Meryl Streep. When news first dropped that the Oscar-winner was coming on board this time around, it may have been natural to assume Streep would be given the most screen time and, perhaps, chew up the scenery at every turn. (She’s Meryl Streep, after all.)
But that’s not the case here; just like her guest starring role in Web Therapy, Streep seems to just really love the show and want to be a part of it in some way. This works in the show’s favor, proving more than ever that this is an ensemble show where every character is vital to the plot and a goal you can invest in: solving a murder.
Let There Be Murder
Our intrepid podcasting crime solvers are all at crossroads in season three. Oliver wants desperately to produce a hit show but faces challenges on numerous fronts. Charles battles with self-esteem and a new relationship with Joy (Andrea Martin) that just doesn’t feel quite right. Then there’s Mabel, who may be ready to leave behind her family apartment in the infamous Arconia, which she’s been watching during a major remodel. What's to become of their besties status, the series posits. Fortunately, there haven’t been any murders in the building for since we last saw the trio. About that…
The creators employ several fun twists with time, timing, and place from the beginning of season three. True, there haven’t been any murders in Oliver, Charles, and Mabel's building when we initially tune in, but there is one during a significant performance of Oliver’s new show, Death Rattle. After one of the actors drops dead on stage, Oliver, Charles, and Mabel consider solving the crime but even that plot point comes with a major twist that’s bound to surprise audiences. Things get messier beyond that when — ta da! — the trio later discover a body in the building elevator. Enter cranky neighbor Uma Hella, played by the wickedly fun Jackie Hoffman, who stands by and quips: “You’ve got to be f***ing kidding me!”
Indeed. The events set in motion the main thrust of season three as Oliver, Charles, and Mabel consider the suspects, most of them cast members in Oliver’s suddenly flailing show. Some of these suspects are too close to our gang, while others may be far more dangerous than initially thought. All of it is great fun, and crafting an entire season around a theatrical show offers plenty of opportunity for delicious flights of fancy. And yet, even with all that, somehow this feels like the most grounded and well-executed season of Only Murders in the Building.
Meryl Streep, Paul Rudd, and Everybody Else
What great fun it is to experience Meryl Streep and Paul Rudd this season. Streep is Loretta, a struggling actress who begs Oliver to give her a chance. She’s braved failure-to-launch syndrome, forever hoping her acting career would just take off. Oliver is mesmerized by Loretta’s acting chops and at one point, muses, “Where have you been?”
Meanwhile, Paul Rudd returns to the show as big star Ben Glenroy, who appeared briefly in the second season finale. Lorretta and Ben could not be more different. Loretta has struggled to maintain her artistic integrity. Ben, on the other hand, was delighted to hit it big playing an obnoxious movie franchise superhero, and he's been milking that fame ever since. Ben is not the nicest of fellas, either, which filters into the overall season three plot.
Then there's Jesse Williams, who arrives as Tobert, a documentarian chronicling Oliver’s show. That soon turns into an opportunity for him and Mabel to share a common bond and a potential romance. If only Mabel would let her guard down. Regardless, as the episodes of season three play out, Mabel and Tobert’s connection deepens, and the series offers a believable take on all that.
As for the murder suspects, Oliver, Charles, and Mabel rip through them with vigor. The show offers many big twists this season. After one of those major twists unwinds early on, it’s a hoot to learn more about one character, famed TikTok-er Kimber (Ashley Park of Emily in Paris).
Matthew Broderick arrives late in the game, playing an exaggerated version of his theatrical self, and the outing becomes one of the show’s best episodes this season. Then there’s Streep. She commands the screen whenever she appears, but Martin and Hoffman do not seem to be invested on having the celebrated actress present all the time. That’s great, because it offers a nice sense of mystery about Loretta, and as we learn more about her, you find yourself wanting to know more.
Watch for how well the show recovers nicely from a slight mid-season wobble that tends to go off in one too many directions. The writers reel things in by the final episodes, and effectively capture what’s at stake personally for Oliver, Charles, and Mabel, who are each experiencing major life transitions. Also a nice touch: Jane Lynch returns — she played Sazz, Charles's witty stunt double, and Tina Fey and Selena Gomez share some great screen time.
Bottom line: Only Murders in the Building kills it in season three. It's hard to see how the show will top itself after this. But let's keep the blood flowing. Death becomes this series.
Season three of Only Murders in the Building premieres on Aug. 8 on Hulu.