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Only Murders in the Building knows people don’t love true-crime for the gore or the mystery — but for the companionship

True-crime fans are gawkers, occasional maker-uppers, and are at times misguided. But they are also almost always tender-hearted, writes Clémence Michallon

<p>Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin in ‘Only Murders in the Building'</p>

Selena Gomez, Martin Short, and Steve Martin in ‘Only Murders in the Building'

The protagonists of Only Murders in the Building are dedicated New Yorkers. They are New Yorkers in a way that might seem fictional, until you move to New York and realise that such New Yorkers actually do exist. This particular trio exists on the Upper West Side of Manhattan – the artsy, whimsical neighbourhood inhabited by Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail.

True to their New York ways, Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) don’t talk to their neighbours. That is, until one of them gets murdered. From then on, they chat in lifts, whisper in corridors, and – of course – start a true-crime podcast together. Because Only Murders in the Building knows that people don’t get into true-crime for the gore and the mystery. Not really. Only Murders in the Building knows that people who love true-crime are in it for the people they will meet along the way. For the common language of an enigma to be solved. For the shared experience of a narrative, gruesome as it may be.

Only Murders in the Building begins with the death of Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), a young resident of the Arconia (an apocryphal, upscale building), where our trio also resides. They’re as New York as they come: Charles is a washed-up actor; Oliver is a Broadway director plagued by a crushing lack of foresight. As for Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), well, her life is full of secrets, but she dresses nicely, walks on the street with her headphones glued to her ears, and handles sarcasm like Gordon Ramsay handles kitchen knives. So, yes: New Yorker.

Their neighbour Tim, it quickly turns out, wasn’t exactly beloved by his fellow Arconians. Quite the opposite. And while his death is ruled a suicide by authorities, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel don’t buy that theory. They think someone killed him, and they become determined to find out who did it.

Without us revealing too much, Mabel – whose past is offered up in flashbacks throughout the series – is the only one with a good reason to question the police’s narrative. Charles and Oliver, on the other hand? We get the feeling that they want things to be more complicated than that. They want an investigation. They want a true-crime podcast. They want friends with whom to start a true-crime podcast.

Not that the curmudgeonly Charles would ever admit it. But one episode after the other, he opens up, not just to Mabel and Oliver, but to others in the building, too. After living in isolation for years, licking the emotional wounds of his past, he’s making himself vulnerable again. Watching Only Murders in the Building, I wasn’t worried the trio wouldn’t solve the mystery of Tim Kono’s death (sorry, Tim Kono). I was worried they would fall out, because their friendship is the show’s entire point.

Only Murders in the Building wouldn’t have stolen my heart without the absolutely brilliant work of the main cast. Martin and Short have been friends for more than three decades (since working together on the 1986 Three Amigos!). Their bond brings a glowing, warm energy to every scene they share. Gomez is their perfect third musketeer – the result of a dutifully honed connection. “They don’t know what to expect from a 29-year-old, and they don’t know much about me,” she told The New York Times. “We were getting to know each other.” Short recently told The New Yorker that “my gimmick is to make everyone love me”; the adage will apply both to his career in general and to Only Murders in the Building specifically.

Tonally, the show has shades of Knives Out, another recent cosy mystery treasure (a cosy mystery generally involves “an amateur sleuth, an unsuspecting victim, a quirky supporting cast, and trail of clues and red herrings”, according to author Amanda Flower). It’s the perfect vehicle for a funny, sweet dive into the genre.

The thing with true-crime is, people usually get into it because they have been through their own traumas and ordeals. True-crime fans – like Charles, Oliver, and Mabel – are gawkers, occasional maker-uppers, and are at times misguided. But they are also almost always tender-hearted. When Only Murders in the Building embraces that contradiction, beauty follows.

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