Lights! Camera! Murder? Nothing brings the dazzle, glitter and comedy to a murder mystery as well as Season 3 of “Only Murders in the Building,” where theatrics become reality. The new season is full of the familiar dramatics of the show’s previous installments but continues to build on the cast of dynamic characters that differentiate this series from a simple whodunnit.
The third season begins where the last left off — with Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), the star of disgraced theater director Oliver Putnam’s (Martin Short) play, falling dead on stage during opening night. However, Glenroy’s end is not so simple. “Only Murders in the Building” once more bends the story with a quick resurrection of Glenroy, who reveals his survival of an attempted poisoning. The key trio, Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) and Oliver Putnam, muse over the failed chance at reviving their true crime podcast only to find Glenroy’s dead body falling straight down into the elevator they were just standing in, this time dead for good.
Compared to its previous seasons, Season 3 of “Only Murders in the Building” boasts much stronger writing, particularly in the development of its characters and comedic moments.
Of the new characters, the most notable standout is Loretta (Meryl Streep), a struggling actress clinging to the hope of success even after decades of failure. Loretta is cast by Oliver in his play, after he sees magnetism in Loretta’s performance in the role of the Nanny. Loretta’s mesmerizing quality makes Streep the perfect choice for the role.
Streep brings a charismatic energy to Loretta, particularly in the season’s third episode, “Grab Your Hankies,” in which Streep gives a captivating performance as Loretta sings Oliver’s showstopper song in his new murder musical, “Death Razzle Dazzle.” Throughout the series, Loretta walks the line between suspicion and innocence, making her a consistently compelling character.
Another clear standout is Ben Glenroy, the murder victim himself. In true “Only Murders in the Building” fashion, Glenroy is completely deconstructed, much like the two victims in the previous seasons, revealing a pained nature compared to the outward one-dimensionally self-absorbed actor who was introduced in the finale of Season 2.
This excellent character work is showcased in one of the season’s strongest episodes, “Thirty,” which follows Glenroy during opening night. Even from the beginning, when Glenroy is revealed to have stayed up during the night to knit hankies for his fellow castmates, he becomes a layered character. Rudd expertly depicts the emotional climax of Glenroy’s breakdown, a performance that heavily contrasts the comedic aspects of the character that Rudd had shown earlier in the season.
In addition to the new cast, the original trio maintains their charm and banter, to the credit of the chemistry between Short, Martin and Gomez. Much of the comedy in the series is encompassed in the interactions between these characters. The comedic moments work well due to their chemistry — not a moment of banter or insult falls flat thanks to their performances.
However, this season allows the characters to become their own selves separate from the group dynamic.
Mabel struggles with independence as her aunt sells her home in the Arconia, the apartment building in which the show is set, leaving Mabel to face the mess her life has become. Oliver desperately tries to prove he still has his old spark as a director, slowly growing conflicted between finding the murderer or protecting his show and budding relationship with Loretta.
Charles is finally forced to face his fear of and inability to connect with others, learning how truly alone he is outside his friendship with Oliver and Mabel. Each member of the trio has their own storyline in Season 3, allowing for viewers to get a glimpse into the other layers that define these characters.
Despite its strong character work, Season 3 falls flat in its mystery. Following the formula from the previous seasons, the presented mystery unfolds in a manner that feels much too familiar to be noteworthy — a worrisome feature for a show whose main storyline is a murder mystery.
The clues presented to the audience lead to a logical ending, but there often is no intrigue in the clues themselves. The mystery’s straightforwardness becomes a detriment to the plot, especially compared to the surprising twists and turns of the previous two seasons. The cliffhanger in its last episode proves to be a much more interesting moment than much of the story related to Glenroy’s murderer.
Regardless, Season 3 of “Only Murders in the Building” still manages to shine due to its continuous dedication to its characters, building a strong heart underneath all the pizzazz it brings to its storytelling that will surely allow the show to continue strongly into its future seasons.