“Only Murders in the Building”–A Cozy Mystery

In this Hulu original mini-series we see two septuagenarians from the entertainment industry begrudgingly have to team together to solve the murder of a young wealthy neighbor–Tim Kono– in The Arconia, a luxury New York City apartment building. Oliver (Martin Short), an out-of-work theatre director who relies upon his estranged son for financial support, imagines that the recent murder would make a popular “true-crime” podcast. Charles (Steve Martin), a retired actor who starred as a TV detective decades ago, will star as the narrator. Mabel, a millennial (Selena Gomez) a fledgling cosmetic artist remodeling a family member’s upscale residence, is talked into assisting them with the detective work.

Only Murders in the Building is reminiscent of the old-school cozy mysteries like “Murder She Wrote” and “Doc Martin”, but with the emotional old guys providing the comedy while the no-nonsense Mabel, the twenty-something artist-wannabe, tries to bring them into the 21st century world of technology. The unlikely threesome, brought together by a shared loneliness and need for friendship, offers the viewer an entertaining, if sometimes cringeworthy, one-upmanship on who is the most hipster of the three.  And then a fourth character, Jan (Amy Ryan), a bassoonist, enters the scene as a distracting love interest for Charles.

Only Murders in the Building proves to be a lighthearted, amusing comedy/mystery with some twists and turns, only a few red herrings, and fun to solve.   Yet what really makes this series work beyond its reach as a cozy mystery is the multi-generational friendships and romance.  Breaking out of the common segregation- by-age friendships, we see three strangers in a New York City high-rise yearn for and create a sense of community despite huge generational gaps.  While the gaps provide much of the good-natured and on-point humor, the genuine friendships that are created are reminiscent of an adult child with her grandparent. 

Selena Gomez is perfectly cast (in a role worthy of her “Fundamentals of Caring”, see my August 22, 2016 review­­­­), an emotionally blunt “granddaughter” to Steve Martin and Martin Short’s curmudgeonly seniors.  Comic in tone with some almost clownish lines, the cast nonetheless integrates comedy, mystery, and the drama of quiet sadness when loneliness and family problems surface.

An entertaining, easy-to-watch family series with a second season under contract.

Availability:  Hulu streaming

“Nine Perfect Strangers”–A Hot Mess­­­­­­­

Nine Perfect Strangers is based on the Liane Moriarty novel by the same name. Starring Nicole Kidman as Masha, a spiritual therapist, she  is reputed to heal all wounds of her wealthy  clients at her wellness retreat, Tranquillum.

Following closely after the release of White Lotus (see my August 17, 2021 review), the same territory is explored:  why do uber-rich white people seem so unhappy? There is the damaged novelist (Melissa McCarthy) who just can’t trust anyone.  Another has a virulent past of drug addiction (the superb Bobby  Cannavale as a physically damaged athlete) ,Another couple (played by Michael Shannon and Addie Keddie) and their adult daughter grieve over the death of their son,  Young marrieds   provide the much-desired mystery tension.   An investigative reporter and  a fragile divorcee ( Luke Evans and Regina Hall) round out the group.  Who is going to die?

Nine Perfect Strangers   could have been so much more.  Purportedly about the self-help movement and its tendencies to be a scam preying on the wounded affluent, this series could have satirized the “perfect strangers”  wounds, their slights and neuroses.  The staff who cater to their clientele’s demands, no matter how unreasonable, and to their boss, Masha, are angry and servile at the same time,  Again channeling White Lotus.  More of their anger and their dreams were sorely needed.

And let’s look at Masha.  A Russian emigre and highly successful former corporate CEO,  Masha suffers from multiple traumatic  experiences which we see in flashbacks.  Trauma is the impetus for leaving her adrenaline-pumped life for the tranquil retreat she builds for those like herself: sufferers who need and want to move on.  Nicole Kidman seems drugged, coated with a Russian accent so annoying it is difficult to decipher what she is saying.  Such a travesty of a role for a great actress.  What was she thinking?

Only Melissa McCarthy, as the demoralized author of romance novels, is watchable.  In every scene she is commanding. The viewer feels motivated to hang in there and not reach for the remote.  But even she cannot save Nine Perfect Strangers from its abject imperfections.  If you watch this to the conclusion of the ten episodes, you are likely to raise the same question I asked myself:  “Why did I waste my time watching this?”

Availability:  Hulu

“The Accident”–Unexpected Trauma

The Accident Hulu series

The Accident , a four-part  British series, plunges into a  Welsh community’s fight for justice after an explosion on a construction site kills several local teenagers.

The town of Glyngolau, Wales is comparable to many Appalachian  coal mine and steel mill towns. Most have lost their main employers, leaving everyone in financial ruin. To the rescue is a large real estate developer, Kallbridge Developments.  It  swoops in,  promising a thousand local jobs, and the residents breath a sigh of relief.  Iwan Bevan, head of the town council, has worked hard to secure the project.

Fifteen-year-old daughter, Leona Bevan,  rebellious and bored, has experimented with drugs and is looking for a good time in a town with very little going on.   In the opening scene, Iwan’s wife, Polly (Sarah Lancashire of “HappyValley” and “Last Tango in Nova Scotia”), catches Leona in bed with a forty-year old man and warns her of the father’s reaction. Sullen, Leona takes eight of her teenaged friends to sneak into the Kallbridge building site, to vandalize the yet-unfinished interior,  and most of all, to annoy her dad. A tragic accident occurs and legal recourse follows.

Harriet Paulsen (Sidse Babett Knudsen of “Borgen”), the senior vice-president of Kallbridge, is responsible for the construction site and is implicated. Polly, who understands her husband’s tempestuous behavior all too well, suspects Iwan is culpable in the accident as well.  Harriet, romantically involved with a junior employee she supervises, soon reveals her moral compass in defending her position as do Polly, Iwan, Leona and individual residents.

As the town mourns the tragedy, attention towards the grieving parents shifts to who is to blame: A fellow townsman who managed the construction? Harriett Paulsen fronting the greed of the Kallbridge corporation? Or ,the councilman and some of his peers?  What price is worth pursuing justice?  Does the cost seem too high when the grieving parents put up their houses as collateral to cover the legal expenses?

The Accident is about who is to blame, the power of greed and relationships crumbling to save oneself.  The ending is somewhat weak, but the performances and the narrative, for the most part, support the drama and the suspense.

Availability:  Hulu streaming and Channel 4 (BBC).

Note: There are powerful, deeply disturbing, and– unfortunately,– convincing  scenes of domestic violence and the battered woman syndrome. Distressing to witness and  certainly harrowing.

“Run”–Walking Is Not An Option

Run is an intense and suspenseful thriller starring the master at horror and diabolical characters:  Sarah Paulson.  Portraying Diane, the mother of Chloe, a disabled seventeen-year-old girl (newcomer Kiera Allen, who is also wheelchair-bound in real life), has chosen to raise her daughter at home, in a rural town outside Seattle. 

Mother and daughter seem to be very close.  They begin each day  settled into a cozy routine of  daily lessons in physics or American lit,  relaxing meals around the kitchen table, an occasional movie in town.  But Chloe’s days also include hoisting herself into her wheelchair, spitting up in the  toilet, massaging her skin with prescription creams, and swallowing a battery of prescription medicines.   Born with severe complications (arrhythmia, hemochromatosis, asthma, diabetes, and paralysis in her legs),  Chloe needs a lot of care that Diane provides diligently and lovingly, almost obsessively.  Typical of any teenager, Chloe is looking forward to life away from home at the University of Washington.  She waits every day for delivery of a letter of admissions.  

And then the thriller ramps up.  For this review I cannot say more or risk spoiler alerts and ruining the experience for some viewers.  Don’t watch the trailer ahead of time!  {It is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Dhh7q9Us5c)

Both main characters’  worlds begin to unravel in terrifying ways and the viewer soon realizes that whatever has just happened, the worst is yet to happen.

The buildup is excellent.   Run keeps the audience so tightly wound, some viewers may feel one step away from panic mode and hyperventilation.  Both leading actors–Allen and Paulson– are noteworthy  in succeeding to ratchet the suspense. 

In a lean 90 minutes, the viewer almost wants the experience to be over  because Run is so nerve-wracking, and you need to take a breath.  Hang in there!  There’s no way you should stop watching, even if you technically could end your anxiety by simply reaching for the remote!

The ending is well-worth the tension and– for this reviewer– is absolutely perfect!   

Availability:  Hulu as of November 20; originally scheduled for Mother’s Day (!)

Note: Casting newcomer Kiera Allen  marks the first time an actual wheelchair user has played a lead role in a major thriller.