After two seasons of solving murders in the building they live in, the third season situates the trio in the theatre. Oliver (Martin Short) is back in the director’s chair once more, and Charles (Steve Martin) is starring in the play. Where’s Mabel (Selena Gomez)? Well, she’s on the outside of things a little. With the pair so busy working on Oliver’s production, podcasting has taken a bit of a back seat. Also, there haven’t been any murders to investigate, which all changes come opening night.
Lead actor Ben Glenroy, played with douchebaggery perfection by Paul Rudd, collapses on stage. But wait a minute, how can it be murders in the building if the murder doesn’t happen in the building? The show solves this by reviving him only to have him kick the bucket in the building. So it’s time for the gang to shrug off the podcasting dust and start investigating once again. Well, sort of. Mabel is the only one focused on the case. Oliver is too busy trying to save his show, while Charles is preoccupied with his girlfriend Joy, who has recently moved in.
The show moves to a different beat this season, since the trio spend more time apart than together. There are pros and cons to this decision. On the one hand, the show gets to further character arcs, and develop these characters’ relationships with other people. However, this also means that we get to see less of the gang together.
Mabel finds common ground with documentarian Torbert (Jesse Williams), Charles struggles to see where he stands in his relationship with Joy, and Oliver develops a fascination with his lead actress Loretta, played by the incomparable Meryl Streep. It speaks so much to the quality of the show that they can pull stars like Streep and Rudd, and then build set pieces that allow them to fit in so well.
Of all these new relationships, it is Short’s scenes with Streep that are the most fascinating to watch. There’s a certain playfulness between their characters, and with Loretta we get to see more of Oliver without the sass. The show knows this too, since they get quite a bit of screen time.
Given how much Charles’ character has been explored in previous seasons, it does seem like the show’s a bit stumped on what to do with him this season. It feels like a retread to have him once again be dealing with girlfriend drama. But Martin always keeps things entertaining, whether he’s dancing around bizarrely in a white room, or performing on stage. Considering the difficulty Charles has in keeping relationships – well, not the previous one since she’s a murderer – he does wonder if maybe he’s better off alone. Mabel is pretty much the enigma she’s always been for the past two seasons. She keeps things close to her chest, so much so that it’s difficult to know where exactly she stands on things and people. We do know that she enjoys working on the podcast with Charles and Oliver, and that they are the two people that she’s the closest to in the world.
So even though it feels like they’re all getting pulled in different directions, there’s a bond there that transcends the podcast. It’s nice to see a show do the work to really make these central relationships feel real and authentic.
Since the action is situated in the theatre this season, this gives the show the opportunity to add in some fun elements, like theatre traditions and superstitions. A major theme this season is about dreams and possibilities, as well as the flipside to the rosy hues of theatre. For every actor that gets his big break, there are others behind him who have to bear another rejection.
Loretta’s been working for so long but has never gotten her big break. I know this particular storyline is difficult to believe since it’s Meryl Streep, but she’s talented enough that you’ll be able to suspend your disbelief. Oliver himself has just made a comeback to the theatre after the fiasco of his previous show, while Charles only has one hit show on his belt after years of slogging it out as an actor. As for Mabel, she’s a late bloomer who doesn’t quite know what to do with her life, but has by chance discovered her love for investigating and making true crime podcasts. However, does she have what it takes to go it alone without her two besties by her side?
As with all projects we work on in life, there comes a time when things start to wind down and say goodbye. The show seems to be paving the way for that, and for the show’s benefit I do hope season 3 will be its curtain call. Better to go out on a high than lose steam with a fourth season.
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The more seasons a show gets under its belt, the harder it is to keep things as fresh and exciting as its first season. Only Murders in the Building makes a huge pivot this season, and while it pays off, it can't quite beat the stellar charms of season 1.
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