To claim that the location of a show is a character in itself is a cliché in itself. But appreciating how a fully realized city or environment can make or destroy a series is certainly not. While historical stories and eye-catching action pieces receive specific analysis for their accuracy and ambition during the awards season, far more “traditional” TV shows use sets, costumes, lighting, and more to add to the hospitality factor of their story. Television is an intimate medium, after all, and it is everyone’s responsibility to earn a repeat invite. For as much (rightful) attention as “Mare of Easttown” for the veracity evoked by its naturalistic setting in Pennsylvania, “Only Murders in the Building” deserves equal praise for its imaginative, inviting and overall flawless design. Without such critical touch, the comic murder mystery could easily have fallen apart.

After all, Hulus deals with its various genres in an unconventional way, limited to 10 episodes – created by John Hoffman and Steve Martin. With Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short as three neighbors brought together by their love of true crime podcasts, the series follows the trio as they begin their own radio play about a possible murder in their lavish Upper West Side apartment building. “Only Murders in the Building” tries a parody of the hugely popular non-fiction genre and at the same time builds its own gripping crime thriller. Its meta-references to the artists, archetypes, and typical gatherings of true crime show a serious appreciation for the podcasts’ ability to captivate audiences while still reserving the right to poke fun at many of those traits. p>
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But “Only Murders” is not all about real crime. Inside is a warm friendship story with clever back and forth between legendary comedy partner Martin & Martin. (Side note: Whoever thought of casting Steve Martin as a retired TV actor and Martin Short as the daring Broadway director deserves serious praise – the characters can be strangers to each other, which helps the show tease out information about their past, however The actor / director dynamic preserves the duo’s good-natured sharpshooting that they honed so finely they took it on tour. Brief notes for Martin and Martin poking at Short’s presumption provide some of the show’s liveliest jokes.) Gomez plays her practical slide (with secrets all of its own) and the main characters endear themselves to audiences in ways that only TV shows can reward. (I don’t know if “Only Murders in the Building” is going to get past its standalone debut season, but it could be, given how strong its essential elements are.) Much of that bond is the skillful balance owed of comedy, mystery, and natural evolution written on the page, but the fact that “Only Murders In The Building” is comfort TV in its most convenient form brings us back to its meticulously constructed world. Most of the action takes place in the title’s “building” called The Arconia, a rectangular building with a large courtyard in the middle. The self-sufficient space immediately invites you to a sense of community – like a college campus in miniature format – as well as early neighborly interactions such as the greeting of the doorman, the introduction of the building manager and joint conversations in the private elevator. Executive producers Dan Fogelman, Hoffman and Martin recognize the potential of their (mostly) secluded story, and location manager Collin Smith found the ideal Upper West Side landmarks (The Belnord for the outdoor and courtyard, Riverside Drive for select indoor spaces) vision.

The exquisite apartments of the main actor also contribute to the cozy atmosphere: Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) walks past an elegantly framed and precisely lit poster of his old cop-style “Brazzos” as he moves from a cleanly wallpapered room to the next goes. Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) turns on his remote controlled fireplace before dropping into a plush armchair amid a cacophony of theatrical memorabilia, highlighted by a small stage in his lavish living room. Mabel Mora (Gomez) meanwhile lives in an unfinished apartment of her aunt. There is a bed with simple sheets and a couch with no pillows, but the walls are unadorned because they have not yet been built. Courtesy of production designer Curt Beech and set designer Rich Murray, each room is different, telling us more than a little bit about the people who live there, and making for welcoming spaces that you’ll want to visit again and again.

Throw in seductive autumn costumes by Dana Covarrubias and “Only Murders in the Building” is beguiling beyond the murder mystery. Each facet is built to make you want to dig deeper, stay longer, and return sooner, much like the soundscapes of great podcasts, except that this one is specially honed for television. These formal details, as well as the charming cast and the captivating scripts, strike the right note for a genre mishmash in which enjoyment is paramount. You will find it hard to resist, and it is foolish to try.

“Only Murders in the Building” premiered its first five episodes on Hulu on Tuesday, August 31st. New episodes are published weekly.

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