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Neighbors Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) become podcasters in Only the murders in the building.

Craig Blankenhorn / HULU

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Craig Blankenhorn / HULU

In “Only Murders In The Building”, podcasting True-Crime Is Murder: NPR

Neighbors Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) become podcasters in Only the murders in the building.

Craig Blankenhorn / HULU

At Hulu Only the murders in the building, two seasoned comedians bring to the table the clearly defined characters that they have firmly anchored in the minds of the public: Steve Martin often plays men who are impressed, even pompous, and a little tense, while Martin Short plays the show -business smarty the fakes arrived at 11.

At first, the actors fit in easily, if not predictably, into their respective roles: Martin is Charles, a failed actor living on royalties from his old crime series, and Short is Oliver, a theater director who doesn’t. has not been struck in decades.

The pair are infatuated with a true crime podcast, and when a mysterious death occurs in their Upper West Side apartment building, they decide to start their own true crime podcast.

Given that premise, you’d be forgiven for expecting something bigger and more manic – and perhaps, podcasting-wise, more than a little disconnected – that the series ends up delivering. Admittedly, the first few minutes of the first episode seem to meet those expectations – there’s Martin walking down a UWS street in a pig hat as we hear his voice read a deep, crushed narration. There’s Short, in a flashy purple jacket, recounting his own exaggerated thoughts on life in New York City.

It probably won’t be until the middle of the first episode that these two monologues – and a third, delivered by fellow neighbor, Selena Gomez’s Mabel – are offered as parodies of a sort of ominous storytelling often found in podcasts on real crimes.

This is just one of many clues that the series is smarter, more joke-oriented, than you might think.

There’s the name of that podcast they love, for example: All is not OK in Oklahoma. It’s a good thing. There is the fact that Martin and Short modulate their usual performances to play on the humanity of their characters. The Charles de Martin is very tense and can be arrogant, but above all he is a sad and lonely man who has difficulty connecting with others. Oliver is exactly the kind of show-biz fake smirk Short made a career out of laughing at, but he’s composed a long way here. Short is a legend, and sure can be hilarious when he grows up, but like Oliver, he find jokes, instead of pouncing on them.

Another thing the show pulls off is Mabel de Gomez, who often functions as a cool, sardonic leaf, undermining any Martin and Short’s “ignorant uncle” vibe. The grounded energy that her character brings, not to mention the secrets she keeps, helps propel the series.

Sure, Only the murders in the building makes the process of designing, creating and launching a podcast hilariously simple – Oliver’s recording technique of waving a mic in the general direction of his subject, for example, would give him a harsh conversation with any real producer, and to say the least of the idea that a man from Oliver’s past could so quickly get to grips with the ins and outs of EQ, compression and balancing. more audio tracks, the better.

But these are shortcuts and workarounds created for the sake of the story, and they can be forgiven, because the story works. As their amateur murder investigation deepens, the twists pile up, the herrings turn redder and redder, and everyone, even the murder victim, gets a backstory that ties in. perfectly (but not too much carefully) in the main plot. Of the eight (out of ten) episodes screened for critics, most feature a moment or two of dreamlike surreality, and instead of muddying the waters, such passages skillfully overlay emotions that the characters are not yet ready to express in dialogue.

At the end, Only the murders in the building isn’t that the wacky farce suggested by its stars and plot, and that’s a good thing. It’s more low-key, more real, and he shrewdly knows who his characters are and what they want. It’s also very funny, which isn’t particularly surprising – but it features a satisfyingly grounded and nuanced performance from Martin and Short, which it is.

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