Hulu's Only Murders in the Building returns for season 2, featuring one of TV’s most unlikely detective team-ups. Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez play Charles, Oliver, and Mabel, the residents of a ritzy Manhattan apartment house who attempt to solve a murder in the building while chronicling their adventures in a podcast.
One of the reasons why Only Murders became such an instant hit was because it was the perfect pandemic entertainment. Yes, society was technically opening up in June 2021 when the show debuted, but the pandemic mind set remained. Not only did people want comfort food served up by reliable entertainers (in addition to the three leads, the first season also features Sting, Nathan Lane, and Tina Fey), our fantasies leaned toward safe, open spaces like those of the show: palatial apartments, airy courtyards, roomy elevators and corridors, all sparsely populated and within a few minutes of reliable deli delivery — a dream compared to what most of us lived through. Below are five tales of amateur sleuthing that provide some of the same comforting escape.
Knives Out (2019)
Like Only MurdersRian Johnson’s Knives Out was one of the more surprising successes of recent years, doing more than $300 million at the global box office on a $40 million dollar budget. Also like Only Murders, the movie is an old fashioned mystery/comedy featuring aging stars (including Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer, Don Johnson, and Jamie Lee Curtis). Craig plays the gentleman detective with the Blanche DuBois accent called to a country house to unravel the events surrounding the death of a patriarch (Plummer), over whose publishing empire his children and grandchildren are now squabbling.
Like Kenneth Branagh’s recent and similarly star-laden adaptations of Agatha Christie mysteries, Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile, Knives Out is lushly photographed with a distinct sense of place. The old house, its eaves dripping with rain, dogs darting across misty moors, exudes atmosphere. But Knives Out is a funnier, sharper, more thoughtful movie than Branagh’s cursory efforts — hardly surprising coming from Johnson, who made the most thoughtful recent Star Wars film, The Last Jedi — and has more in common with the contemporary and satirical Only Murders in the Building.
You can rent Knives Out from multiple digital platforms.
Search Party (2016-2022)
A scathing satire of the young and vapid, Search Party stars the indispensable Alia Shawkat (Maeby Fünke in Arrested Development) as Dory Sief, a millennial New Yorker who enlists the help of three close friends to search for a missing woman she knew from college. As with Only Murders in the Buildinghijinks ensue as they become involved in a series of incidents that escalate in both severity and hilarity.
The show’s comedy stems mostly from the fact that Dory and her crew (John Reynolds, John Early, and Meredith Hagner) are passive-aggressive narcissists — hardly the kind of friends you want to cover your back if you’ve committed crimes together (Early is a standout as the unabashedly gay Elliot Goss, who possesses an unrivaled gift for self-promotion). Search Party sort of runs off the rails in its fourth season — or, at least, becomes an entirely different kind of show. But its first three seasons are pitch-perfect black comedy.
You can stream Search Party on HBO Max and rent it on other digital platforms.
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
The movie was notable for being the first pure comedy Allen had directed in many years, as well as a reunion with his former screen partner, Diane Keaton. Not surprisingly, it was also the first film he released after admitting to his relationship with Soon-Yi Previn, which ended his collaboration with Mia Farrow. It also followed what some considered the brilliant, but also dour and strident, Husbands and Wives (1992), in which Allen’s real-life relationships seem to be coming apart on the screen. All in all, Allen felt it high time to return to some lighter fare.
In terms of plot and situation, the movie hews closely to Only Murders in the Building. Allen and Keaton play a married couple living in a Manhattan high rise who play amateur detective when a neighbor drops dead and they pursue their suspicions, resulting in their increasing peril.
I suppose this entry depends on whether or not Woody Allen has been “canceled” for you, though canceling Allen does bring up the tricky question of how to consider the work of all his collaborators, which in this film includes a typically great performance by the national treasure otherwise known as Diane Keaton (who was nominated for a Golden Globe), as well as good work by Alan Alda and Anjelica Huston. If we cancel a half-century of Woody’s work, we lose the contributions of many other artists as well.
You can rent Manhattan Murder Mystery on Apple TV+ and other digital platforms.
Veronica Mars (2004-2007; 2014; 2019)
One of the few post-Buffy the Vampire UPN/CW Beautiful Young People shows that, like Buffyfeatured a female protagonist in a typically male genre (in this case, detective noir) and actually had character and depth. Veronica Mars became such a cult classic that its fans crowd-funded the production of a 2014 movie (a fourth season also ran for eight episodes on Hulu in 2019).
The show stars Kristen Bell as a high school student who solves cases for her peers while working for her private eye father (Enrico Colantoni), thus embroiling her in the murder and intrigue that touches everyone in the fictional oceanside town of Neptune, CA. Like any good teen show, Veronica Mars chronicles Veronica’s friendships and love affairs, but its heart lies in the relationship between Veronica and her father as they try to survive the disappearance of Veronica’s mother. In addition to the strong storytelling and performances, the show is noteworthy for its impeccably-curated soundtrack, and for the way that it achieves the no-so-easy feat of making a wealthy surfer town feel like hardboiled noir.
You can stream Veronica Mars on Hulu and rent it on other digital platforms.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
Wait, what? That’s right, Star Trek VI is practically Only Murders in the Building set in space: A country house mystery (the country house in question being the starship Enterprise) in which two famous old dudes (William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy as Kirk and Spock) team up with a young brunette (Sex and the City‘s Kim Cattrall as a junior officer) to solve a murder for which they are being blamed. The murder is that of a Klingon ambassador who is working to achieve peace between the Klingon Empire and the Federation in the face of those who prefer perpetual Cold War. The baddies include General Chang, the Shakespeare-spouting Klingon that Christopher Plummer played 30 years before his performance in Knives Out (bringing us full circle, yay!)
One of the reasons why The Undiscovered Country is considered one of the all-time classic Star Trek stories is because writer/director Nicholas Meyer deftly weaves half a dozen genres: mystery, political allegory, a courtroom showdown, a prison break, and an action film. But the mystery story remains the heart of the movie, and its troubling resolution expresses some profound themes about human nature.
You can stream Star Trek VI on Paramount+ and rent it on other digital platforms.