Review: Only Murders in the Building is just the comical balm we need right now

Only Murders in the Building (M, 10 x 35-min episodes)

4 stars

There's quite a lot of busy-bodying going on now that we're all in lockdown. Perhaps there always was, but I'm finally at home to notice it.

Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short in Only Murders in the Building. Picture: Disney

Selena Gomez, Steve Martin and Martin Short in Only Murders in the Building. Picture: Disney

"Sheryl's bin's still out," I'll say on Friday afternoon, full of judgement, or "Sounds like that home schooling's not going too well!"

A friend of mine calls it e-eye-ing, after the long vowel sounds her Irish nosey neighbour used to begin her acid-tongued neighbourhood observations. As in 'E-eye, have you noticed Number 23's husband hasn't been home in three days?'

When the action outside of your front windows runs out of steam, I have to recommend the new series Only Murders in the Building on the streaming service Disney+.

I have been boring everyone I talk to over the past few weeks about it, and probably contributing to the next Disney quarterly profit statement in doing so.

There's been a death in New York's iconic apartment building The Arconia and as the police deal with the body, they also have to deal with the intrusions of three neighbouring tenants out for a bit of a sticky beak.

The trio are Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez), previously only nodding-in-the-elevator acquaintances who discover a common passion.

As the supervising police officer asks them when she sees the morbid gleam in their eyes, almost salivating over the body, ''What murder podcast are you all listening to?''

The officer isn't wrong - all three meet and bond over their obsession with the murder podcast All's Not OK in Oklahoma (Tina Fey pops up on episode 3 as that podcast's host, Cinda Canning).

When a death occurs in their very own building, the three decide to team up and produce their own investigative true crime podcast, and here we get to the series' initially very confusing title - when their investigations start heading off in a thousand directions, they agree they should narrow their focus strictly to murders in their own building.

Each of the fledgling podcasters is in it for their own reasons, of course. Oliver is a Broadway producer whose entire identity is based around his career.

But with no hit show in decades and no income, Oliver is facing bankruptcy and eviction from his beloved home for unpaid building fees. He really needs a hit and podcasts seem so current.

Charles is a former television star at a loose end and looking for a distraction from a broken heart, while Mabel has a past with the victim which steering the direction of their investigation may help her cover up.

The series is the brainchild of veteran funnyman Steve Martin, with Looking writer John Hoffman sharing the ''created by'' credit and both men working with an extremely talented pool of additional writers.

The genius around the writing table shows - the series is cunning in its apparently goofy simplicity over layered brilliance.

The lead characters play to the strengths of its winning and famous lead performers. I think Martin gives himself the lion's share of acerbic gags as Charles, his character peeling away layers as the episodes progress, hinting at his own mystery to come in later episodes (I'm only up to episode 6).

Martin Short's Oliver is a sad figure, difficult to feel sorry for and the kind of neighbour you'd feign answering a phone call to avoid sharing the elevator with, but written to capitalise on Short's gift for physical comedy.

I'm obsessed with Selena Gomez anyway, and for anyone already not familiar with the Disney child star turned Bieber girlfriend turned pop princess, she also had a fantastic cooking show in 2020 called Selena + Chef, and now here she is more than holding her own against two of Hollywood's most iconic comedy actors.

Part of the genius of the premise is the whodunnit nature of the trio's podcast allows a showcase of brilliant and familiar character actors in each episode, with potential killer neighbours played by the likes of Amy Ryan, Michael Cyril Creighton and Jackie Hoffman - names you won't recognise but faces you certainly will from favourite shows and films.

In episode 5, Sting plays himself as one of the (very expensive) building's tenants and, for a time at least, potential suspect.

Even the building itself is a character, and is full of personality.

The fictional Arconia is played by the Belnord, found on West 86th Street, with lush set decoration for the implausibly large apartments by Rich Murray adding extra layers, or questions, to their respective owners' character.

It's a challenging time out there in the real world and so this show about a handful of damaged souls coming together and tenuously learning to trust and support each other is a much needed balm.

And, if I didn't say it earlier, it is really funny.

This story A comical and much-needed balm first appeared on The Canberra Times.