How A CUA Student Helped Bring Back the Best of Murder Mysteries
Image courtesy of CrimeReads
By Margaret Adams
True crime podcasts have become a huge part of modern entertainment within the last few years—people have always been intrigued with the morbid and dark parts of humanity, and podcasts are the perfect medium to reach large audiences. In Hulu’s new dark comedy series, Only Murders in the Building, three residents of the Upper East Side’s Arconia building create an amateur true-crime podcast, investigating the murder of a fellow resident.
The show premiered on August 31, 2021, and just released its final episode of season one on October 19, 2021. According to Hulu, Only Murders in the Building had the most premiere watchers for any comedy series (original or acquired) on the streaming service.
One of the many draws of the show is the interesting cast; Steve Martin and Martin Short are a typical duo, as they have appeared many times together, specifically in comedy circles. The unexpected third of the main trio is the young Selena Gomez, an ex-Disney kid from Wizards of Waverly Place.
Martin plays Charles Haden Savage, a retired actor who has been living at the Upper East Side’s Arconia building for decades. While his prime is long behind, his most notable work on the old detective TV show Brazzo’s gets him a small amount of fame. He is a nostalgic loner with poor social skills and has trouble maintaining a relationship after the split with his last love, Lucy.
Short is Oliver Putnam, a broke Broadway producer whose career is long behind him; he has a very difficult relationship with his son. Putnam is constantly asking for money from his son and is never spending enough time with him. He is a great opposite to Martin’s character with his flamboyant and chatty personality, taking charge of each conversation.
Gomez plays Mabel Mora, a mysterious young resident who has a darker past that know one really knows about. She has stayed at the Arconia for the best parts of her life, and has had a fascination with solving mysteries for as long as she can remember. All three characters are connected through their love of true crime and their desire to keep their pasts alive in some form or another.
Mabel, Charles, and Oliver meet by chance at a restaurant near the Arconia to escape the building’s fire drill. They listen to and bond over the same investigative crime podcast they all happen to listen to, created by Tina Fey’s character, Cinda Canning. Once they return to the building, they find out that a fellow resident, Tim Kono, has died. Convinced Tim Kono’s death is a murder, they start a true-crime podcast called “Only Murders in the Building” to investigate Kono’s homicide.
The three main characters are a surprisingly good group, as their chemistry provides such balance on the screen. With Gomez’s representation of the younger, millennial generation, her performance really adds a layer of youthfulness to Martin and Short’s older auras.
The show also features performances from many notable actors including Jane Lynch, Amy Ryan (who you may know as Holly from The Office), Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Ali Stroker, and even Sting.
Not only was the show a short watch, with each episode being only about 20 minutes long, but the story was able to achieve the best parts of murder mystery classics. A huge reference throughout the show was Rear Window; neighbors investigating other neighbors for murder brings the same voyeuristic nature that Hitchcock did in 1954. The plot was filled to the brim with riveting plot twists at the end of every episode, and with dramatic, shocking, and incessantly funny, and memorable characters, this show checks all the boxes for a classic Whodunit.
In the show, Martin plays a traditional Irish instrument called the concertina; CUA’s own senior politics major Catriona Fee was heavily involved with teaching Steve Martin how to “fake play” the instrument for the show, as she has been playing the instrument for a number of years.
“In fall of last year, someone from production reached out to me about coaching Steve Martin basically how to fake playing the concertina,” Fee said. “I did a Zoom call with Steve Martin in November of 2020, and that was just to teach him how to hold it, how to basically look like he was playing. I also walked the production staff through finding an instrument for the show, and then in January of this year, I recorded just a few bits for the show.”
Every time Martin’s character plays the concertina in the show, the recording is actually Catriona playing.
“I play Irish music, and nothing that I played in the show was actually remotely close to Irish music, so it was kind of going off of my own capability and what they [production] were looking for,” Fee said. “They had me play snippets of random jingles; the things they had me record were so bizarre at the time, and then how they all made sense in the plot, watching the show, was very cool.”
“It’s crazy to think about how much effort goes into two to three minutes of a clip,” Fee said. “I definitely have a newfound respect for the movie and television industry.”
As Only Murders in the Building has been renewed for season two, we hope to see Mabel, Oliver, and Charles (playing his concertina) again as soon as next year.