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Only Murders in the Building season 3 review: just as charming as you remember

Mabel, Oliver, and Charles stand in an elevator together in Only Murders in the Building Season 3.
Only Murders in the Building: Season 3
“In its third year, Hulu's Only Murders in the Building remains as charming and theatrical as ever.”
Pros
  • Meryl Streep's humorous, romantic supporting performance
  • Martin Short's career-best lead turn
  • A more expansive look at New York City
Cons
  • A lifeless, directionless subplot for Steve Martin's Charles
  • Another uninteresting love interest for Selena Gomez's Mabel
  • A mystery that keeps its three leads apart too often and for too long

In its third season, Only Murders in the Building swaps out the elevators and hidden tunnels of its kooky central New York City apartment building for the expansive auditoriums and perilous backstages of Broadway. Following through on the promise of its season 2 cliffhanger, the Hulu murder mystery’s latest episodes are more expansive and theatrical than returning viewers will likely expect. For some, the season’s decreased focus on the Arconia and its inhabitants may come as a disappointment, but Only Murders in the Building‘s new, Broadway-driven storyline makes sense for a show that has always been as much a love letter to the City That Never Sleeps as it has been a send-up of true-crime podcasts.

It doesn’t hurt that Only Murders in the Building season 3 features some of the show’s best supporting characters to date. The series wisely says goodbye to wet blanket bummers like Alice Banks (Cara Delevingne) without so much as a second thought, all while giving previously underserved characters like Howard Morris (Michael Cyril Creighton) the chance to positively chew up the scenery. Along the way, several new potential victims and suspects are introduced, including an ambitious influencer (Ashley Park), an egotistical movie star (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem‘s Paul Rudd), and, most notably, a lifelong actress (Meryl Streep) who finally gets the moment in the spotlight she’s long deserved.

None of the season’s newcomers make as much of a mark as Streep’s Loretta Durkin, whose Broadway dreams are finally made into a reality by Oliver Putnam (Martin Short). Streep is customarily fantastic here, and she fits right in opposite players like Short. It’s strange to say, given how spectacular he’s always been as Oliver, but Short gives what might be the best performance of his career in Only Murders in the Building season 3. Having seen just the season’s first eight episodes, I already feel confident in calling Oliver and Loretta’s unlikely romance a series highlight, one that is, in true Only Murders fashion, inevitably complicated by the suspicious death that hangs over their Broadway show.

Steve Martin and Selena Gomez dance together in Only Murders in the Building Season 3.
Patrick Harbron / Hulu

The murder in question involves, as Only Murders in the Building‘s season 2 finale revealed, Rudd’s childish, occasionally charming Ben Glenroy, a movie star best known for his work in a superhero franchise known as “CoBro.” The parallels between his character’s career and Rudd’s own time spent in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, thankfully, aren’t alluded to as heavily as you’d think. Rudd is, for the most part, an effective bit of stunt casting. He’s someone capable of exuding both movie star charm and childish energy, which makes him perfect to play Glenroy, even if the character himself isn’t given much dimension beyond two key scenes he shares with Short’s Oliver and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez).

Ben is, like the rest of Only Murders’ previous victims, only fleshed out in a series of flashbacks sprinkled throughout the season’s episodes. Even with its primarily new setting, the show sticks fairly close to its established format, and it isn’t long after Rudd’s exasperating primadonna has been dispatched with that Mabel, Oliver, and Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin) begin exploring the possibility of a third season of their hit true-crime podcast. Unlike previous seasons, though, Mabel, Charles, and Oliver never really come together at any point throughout the first eight episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 3.

Instead, Oliver spends much of the season focused more on recapturing his former Broadway success than tracking down his leading man’s killer. Charles, meanwhile, is repeatedly driven off track by his relationship with Joy (Andrea Martin) and his own ego. After anchoring much of Only Murders in the Building‘s first season, Martin is more or less left to spin his wheels for much of the series’ newest episodes. His and Joy’s on-again, off-again romance falls flat because the latter is written and performed too broadly to ever feel like a real person, which just makes the waywardness their relationship creates within Martin’s Charles all the more uninteresting.

Joy, Charles, and Oliver stand next to each other in Only Murders in the Building Season 3.
Patrick Harbron / Hulu

As Mabel, Gomez is given the chance to be the most active of the series’ three leads this time around. As a result, there’s extra energy and drive to many of her scenes this season, and Gomez turns in some of her best comedic and dramatic work yet whenever Mabel’s asked to let her frustrations over Charles and Oliver’s disinterest in maintaining their podcast boil over. That said, Only Murders also remains unwilling to let Gomez go one season without being saddled with another lackluster love interest. This time around, that honor is given to Tobert (Jesse Williams), a documentary filmmaker whose male condescension and toxicity render him an utter bore.

There are, of course, bright spots in both Mabel and Charles’ storylines. The former’s heightened ambition and increasing familiarity with her two older, male cohorts allow her to be more openly caring and cutting this season. A running joke involving Charles’ stage fright and inability to perform a “patter song” assigned to him by Oliver also lead to some of the season’s funniest one-liners, reaction shots, and visual gags. At points, Martin even leans all the way into the 1970s stand-up stage persona that made him a forever famous face in American culture. Only Murders in the Building season 3 is, in other words, often at its best not only when it lets its three leads cook together, but also gives each the chance to truly cut loose.

Meryl Streep and Martin Short sit at a piano together in Only Murders in the Building Season 3.
Patrick Harbron / Hulu

The real stars of Only Murders in the Building season 3 are, however, Streep and Short. Their chemistry together breathes a romanticism into the series that hasn’t been felt since the latter half of its first season. The interpersonal drama that stems from their romance is often compelling and surprising as well, making it much easier to forgive the show’s occasionally uneven focus. The season is, in many ways, a familiar riff on Only Murders’ previous two mysteries. Beyond its Broadway setting and colorful new cast of supporting players, there’s not much that separates it from the seasons that have come before it.

But even if it doesn’t bring many new ingredients to the show’s established formula, Only Murders in the Building season 3 proves that the series is capable of greatness even when it’s operating solely within its own comfort zone. Much like all the old theaters and buildings its characters call home, the novelty may be gone, but the charm remains.

New episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 3 premiere Tuesdays on Hulu. Digital Trends was given early access to the season’s first eight episodes.

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Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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