Two words tell you that this, once the eccentric also-ran on Disney+, a curio among Marvels, has become a prestige project: Meryl Streep. The most famous guest star in Only Murders In The Building’s third season doesn’t show up for just any old rubbish. Securing Streep is clearly a coup, but it’s a mark of the confidence this show has developed that it doesn’t treat her with any more reverence than anyone else. It invites her to muck in and join the ensemble. Only Murders now seems bigger and more expensive, but it remains as unpretentiously goofy as ever.
It must, of course, begin with a murder. Fans already know this season’s victim is played by Paul Rudd. He’s Ben Glenroy, a huge Hollywood star looking for some credibility by taking the lead in Oliver’s (Martin Short) first Broadway play in years. On opening night, somebody kills Ben, putting the whole company under suspicion. That includes Loretta (Streep), a veteran actress who’s never got her break; Kimber (Ashley Park), an ambitious B-lister; and Charles (Steve Martin), more used to solving murders than being suspected of them.
The theatrical setting gives some licence to make everything bolder, broader, more visible to the cheap seats.
The mystery element is a smidge weak this season. In part that’s because the show splits Oliver and Charles from Mabel (Selena Gomez), so she’s doing most of the investigating, with a new love interest played by Jesse Williams. The sparring between the usual three is missed. However, the reason they’re separated is because Oliver and Charles are too focused on their stage show. And here there are great comedic riches.
The theatrical setting gives some licence to make everything bolder, broader, more visible to the cheap seats. That suits this show so well. Short and Martin are old hams at heart. The dafter the situation, the harder they’ll sell it. The comedy tone spins from vaudeville to farce to musical and an immensely talented cast relish it all, in a way that always feels audience-focused, not indulgent. Streep seems to be having the time of her life, with scenes that require her dramatic brilliance (her opening scene is riveting), as well as many that let her be playful in a way that’s rarely asked of her.
We won’t spoil any of the raft of famous guest stars, but it’s easy to see why so many keep showing up. This show just seems solely focused on everyone having a great time, whether they’re performer or viewer.