Loretta Durkin is no stranger to frustration. As a child, she decided that she would devote her life to acting, but the spotlight never shone on her. She has been waiting to be discovered all her life. The best joke of the third season of Only Murders in the Building is how they have Meryl Streep herself playing an actress who, no matter how hard she tries, has not been able to succeed in her job. Her character is another lonely loser who joins the trio of protagonists of this series that has just premiered its new season on Hulu (with two episodes, which will be followed by a new one every week). Loretta, in her maturity, has reached that point. The director of a Broadway play listens to her and sees it clearly: where had she been all this time?
The second season of Only Murders in the Building ended with a murder… outside the building. Right on the day of the premiere of the play with which Oliver (an outstanding Martin Short) returns to Broadway, the star dies as soon as he sets foot on the stage, paving the way for the next part of the story. The first episodes of the new installment alternate between the present and the past to show the development of the play, where the new characters come from and how the ones we already know got to where they are now. The viewer witnesses the incorporation of the two main guest stars: Meryl Streep, who plays one of the actresses in Oliver’s play, and Paul Rudd (the murdered one), who portrays a movie star who had his glory days in the 1990s and now wants to succeed on the stage. His arrogance makes him the perfect victim: anyone around him could have wanted him dead.
The series, starring Martin Short, Steve Martin and Selena Gomez, makes a strong comeback, albeit tracing a slow, progressive decline since its terrific first season. It continues to offer quality entertainment, with good dialogues and scenes of physical humor in a first-rate production. By now, everyone knows what to expect. The viewers are committed and supportive, which allows the creators to sometimes slow down or present a case full of false leads that force the amateur investigators to go in circles until the key that untangles everything appears. Plot holes are also easily forgivable — a Hollywood star is murdered, and the police hardly intervene in the investigation? — because, deep down, it does not really matter; it is but a mere Macguffin that allows the viewer to spend some time in the halls of the Arconia with the leads and the supporting cast, that bunch of lovable weirdos.
Beyond the mystery, which unfolds at a slower pace than on previous occasions, this season focuses on the personal and emotional development of the three protagonists. It gets a little more dramatic, more serious. Charles (Steve Martin), that actor who clings to the television character that made him famous, is now in a romantic relationship that has him pretty stressed out. Oliver (Short) will have to rework his play after the death of the protagonist in an attempt to salvage what was supposed to be his great return to the stage. And Mabel (Gomez) will be more alone than ever in the investigation, while she ponders what she wants to do with her life, what kind of person she is and what she wants to be. The fact that each one is focused on their own business means that the trio has fewer sequences together, but when they do, their chemistry still works perfectly.
From the beginning, Only Murders in the Building was able to poke fun at itself and not take itself too seriously, an unmistakable trait of intelligence (both in series and in people). The meta-references and nods to the viewer are still present in the new episodes, even if they are less relevant than in the second season. Another of the driving forces of the previous seasons, the passion of the protagonists for true-crime podcasts and the amateur production that brought them together and which served to parody the contemporary obsession with these kinds of contents, is also less present now. After all, the series is already well-established, and we know the characters well enough, so we do not need any more reasons to remain invested. Plus, who needs extra elements when they have Meryl Streep in the cast?
If the series is already at a high standard on its own, Streep raises it even higher, offering some hilarious moments as well as some emotionally-laden scenes. Now, would this season be equally interesting were she not in it? The question remains in the air. On the other hand, don’t miss the sidesplitting musical scenes that Oliver incorporates into his play when, in his attempt to leave the initial incident behind, he decides to transform it into a musical with such an absurd plot that it is impossible to explain with a straight face.
The formula might be wearing thin due to some repetition, but the pleasure one derives from going back to the places, the characters and the forms of Only Murders in the Building still makes it worthwhile. Hopefully there will be more deaths and more investigations at the Arconia, as unlikely as they are.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition