Skip to main content

Murderville review: Will Arnett, stars put humor in homicide

Series that rely heavily on celebrity guests can be risky — and even more so when the show leans on their improvisational talents. Fortunately, with the right host, a clever premise, and just the right amount of structure to keep things moving along, all of those risky elements can create something wonderful, which is the case with Netflix’s latest original series, Murderville.

Based on the BBC series Murder in Successville, Murderville casts Will Arnett as homicide detective Terry Seattle, who must solve a new (and often ridiculous) murder in each episode with the help of a celebrity guest. The catch? The celebrity guests don’t get a script, and must accompany Arnett’s character from one scene to the next, ad-libbing as they interview the three chief suspects. The final scene has the episode’s guest announce which of the suspects they believe is the murderer, with their verdict either confirmed or disproven by Terry’s boss (Haneefah Wood) in the end.

The first season of Murderville pairs Arnett’s not-quite-hardboiled detective with an eclectic mix of partners, including talk show host Conan O’Brien, actors Kumail Nanjiani (Eternals) and Ken Jeong (Community), actresses Annie Murphy (Schitt’s Creek) and Sharon Stone (Basic Instinct), and former NFL player Marshawn Lynch. Given the wide range of on-screen experience and improvisational skills among the show’s guests, the path each episode takes in getting to that final “whodunit?” moment varies, allowing for some truly entertaining — and yes, unscripted — moments.

Lilan Bowden, from left, Will Arnett, and Marshawn Lynch investigate a murder in Murderville.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Genre mashing

Over the course of the series’ first six episodes, Murderville manages to be part celebrity improv session, part “escape room”-esque adventure for Arnett and his partners, shifting its weight between the more scripted, structured narrative of its central mystery and its guests’ freeform investigation of the murder. Their investigation inevitably requires them to engage in some sort of ridiculous challenge that tests their ability to not only ad-lib, but to avoid breaking character as Arnett’s bumbling detective pushes them into one weird predicament after another.

In one of the series’ recurring gags, the guests are asked to wear an earpiece and go “undercover,” repeating everything Terry tells them and following his directions in order to gather necessary evidence. Other gags have the guests playing “human mirror” to an unwitting suspect or attempting to pass themselves off as doctors, criminals, or various other professionals while reacting on the fly to Terry’s prompts.

Of course, if the challenges were real, they’d all fail (this isn’t Whose Line Is It Anyway?, after all)  — but watching how spectacularly they all fail is a big part of the show’s humor.

Will Arnett and Annie Murphy investigate a murder in Murderville.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Staying on the tracks

Although every episode of Murderville unfolds within some narrative guardrails and follows a relatively simple, similar structure, Arnett’s charisma and his improvisational abilities — as well as those of the actors playing each episode’s suspects — never fail to keep things interesting, even when a celebrity guest seems disinclined to take the bait or fully buy into a particular activity. When a guest focuses too intently on the investigation and the laughs start to dwindle, for example, Arnett turns up the distraction and keeps the humor flowing. On the flip side, when a celebrity guest gets too caught up in a joke and threatens to derail a scene, Arnett (or one of the show’s supporting cast members) offers a subtle nudge in the right direction, keeping the basic plot of the show moving forward.

Murderville (2022)

1 Season
Comedy, Crime
Will Arnett, Haneefah Wood, Lilan Bowden
Watch on Netflix

Thanks to the variety of the show’s guests and the type of investigations they engage in, each episode of Murderville serves up a stand-alone story (and set of jokes), but the series also weaves in some recurring elements that give it a sense of continuity (and reward) for binge-watchers, too.

Terry’s efforts to solve the murder of his partner — portrayed via photo, without any on-screen appearance, by Jennifer Aniston — is a plot point revisited in each episode, for example, and each investigation also seems to find some way to work in a mention of legendary entertainer Tommy Tune in one way or another.

Will Arnett and Kumail Nanjiani investigate a murder in Murderville.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

So crazy it works

With its silly premise and reliance on celebrity guests willing to make fools of themselves, Murderville really shouldn’t feel as sustainable as it does. But the way the series coaxes each guest out of their comfort zone and puts its faith in Arnett’s tireless charisma really makes it feel like the series could be the start of something special that doesn’t wear out its welcome too quickly. Six-episode seasons feel like just the right size for the show, and make it digestible in a both a single binge-watching session or over the course of a week or two, whatever your preference dictates.

Fun, funny, and full of surprises for both its audience and celebrity guests, Murderville goes all-in on its premise and execution, and that gamble pays off with a show that lives up to its hilarious potential.

All six episodes of Murderville premiere February 3 on Netflix.

Movie images and data from:
Rick Marshall
A veteran journalist with more than two decades of experience covering local and national news, arts and entertainment, and…
If you like Monk on Netflix, watch these three great TV shows right now
Tony Shalhoub in Mr. Monk's Last Case: A Monk Movie.

After more than a decade away from screens, Adrian Monk returned for one last adventure in Mr. Monk's Last Case. The movie was a perfect opportunity to remember why so many of us fell in love with Tony Shalhoub's obsessive-compulsive detective in the first place, and also a great excuse to watch Monk (currently streaming on Netflix) if you haven't already.

If you've already seen that USA comedy, though, you might be looking for other shows that will give you roughly the same feeling. Here are three great TV shows you can check out if you love Monk and want something that feels a lot like it.
Pysch (2006-2014)

Read more
23 of the best Netflix hacks, tips, and tricks
The Netflix home screen.

Netflix is one of the most popular streaming platforms for all things movies and TV shows. Home to an immense library of titles, the Netflix archive is constantly changing and evolving, and so are the many ways you can use your Netflix account. 

For instance, did you know you can access region-locked Netflix shows and flicks by using a VPN? Or that you can disable that pesky Autoplay feature? There are tons of Netflix hacks, tips, and tricks out there, so we’ve gone ahead and rounded up all of our favorites! 
Expand your streaming with a VPN

Read more
How to get Netflix for free
Netflix login screen

Netflix does not offer free trials. That’s unfortunate news for those of us looking to test the waters with one of the world’s top streaming platforms. Fortunately, there are a couple of backdoor methods you can use to get Netflix for free.

Will Netflix ever bring back free trials? It’s hard to say, but riding the coattails of another family member’s subscription, or cashing in on an ISP promo are a few ways to stream Netflix movies and shows without forking over any dough. Let's take a crack at it, shall we?
How much does Netflix cost?

Read more