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'Only Murders' returns for Season 3 with a new case to solve and surprises galore


This is FRESH AIR. "Only Murders In The Building," the hit comedy-mystery series starring Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez, just rolled out the first two episodes of its new third season. The big-name guest stars this year are Paul Rudd and Meryl Streep. And our TV critic David Bianculli says that both of them are a pivotal reason why this season of "Only Murders" is even more entertaining than its predecessors. Here's his review.

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: Hulu's "Only Murders In The Building" is a program that's not only excellent. It's enjoyable. Like "Ted Lasso" and "Poker Face," it's one of those rare TV series in these dark days of anguished protagonists and bleak comedies that's actually fun to watch. The creators of "Only Murders," Steve Martin and John Hoffman, have been painting on their canvas in several clever layers. They're making fun of the phenomenon of crime podcasts. Like "Poker Face," they're presenting intriguing mysteries populated by eccentric and unpredictable suspects. But in addition, "Only Murders" also has great fun with its three leads, and so do viewers. Martin Short and Steve Martin as past-their-prime director Oliver and actor Charles play off each other beautifully and effortlessly like an old comedy team, which - let's face it - by now, they are. And Selena Gomez as Mabel, their younger-generation podcasting partner, gives as good as she gets.

Previous seasons have benefited from strong support by Tina Fey, Nathan Lane and others. The new season adds two additional, very sparkling shining lights - Paul Rudd and Meryl Streep. Rudd showed up for the cliffhanger in last season's finale, which had jumped forward in time one year to the opening night of Oliver's new Broadway play. Paul Rudd's Ben Glenroy was the star and Steve Martin's Charles a supporting player. Just before the curtain rose, Charles approached Ben with obvious hostility.


STEVE MARTIN: (As Charles-Haden Savage) Good luck tonight.

PAUL RUDD: (As Ben Glenroy) Thanks.

MARTIN: (As Charles-Haden Savage) Good luck is a curse in the theater.

RUDD: (As Ben Glenroy) I know that. Well, you don't think that I know that? I just didn't mention it to be polite to you, you piece of [expletive].

MARTIN: (As Charles-Haden Savage) Hey. Hey. We got 2 1/2 hours to get through. If I can do it, you can too.

RUDD: (As Ben Glenroy) I'm the pro here, all right? You don't have to worry about me.

MARTIN: (As Charles-Haden Savage) Be smart. Stay away from her.

RUDD: (As Ben Glenroy) Why? What are you going to do?

MARTIN: (As Charles-Haden Savage) Ben, I know what you did.

BIANCULLI: After the curtain rose, Ben collapsed, apparently dead, and Season 2 ended. Season 3 picks up at that point, then flashes back four months. In the briefest of montages, we see the ambitious but uneventful childhood and adult life of Loretta, who aspires to be an actress, but faces nothing but rejection her entire career. Then Loretta, played by Meryl Streep, trying out for the part of the nanny, crashes a casting call held by Martin Short's Oliver, who's sitting in an empty theater, auditioning supporting roles for his upcoming mystery play, "Death Rattle." And as Loretta is auditioning and music starts to play, Oliver leaves his seat and walks to the lip of the stage.


MERYL STREEP: (As Loretta Durkin) Would I kill to protect a child in my charge? That is the question you have for me, I assume, detective. To that, I would say, without so much as blinking, I would kill without compunction for the sake and safety of any child in my care. So now you have your answer.

MARTIN SHORT: (As Oliver Putnam) Where have you been?

BIANCULLI: Soon, we're at the first-day table read for "Death Rattle." Streep's Loretta, a total unknown, has gotten the part of the nanny. Paul Rudd's Ben has just shown up as the star, all attitude and ego, and taken his seat at the table. Oliver's assistant begins reading the stage directions of the opening scene, and the actors read their lines as Oliver listens intently. And this is where Meryl Streep, as Loretta, as the nanny, made me laugh out loud repeatedly.


MICHAEL CYRIL CREIGHTON: (As Howard Morris) A detective makes his way toward the audience. He is our narrator.

RUDD: (As Ben Glenroy) What turned me into a creature of the night? Let me tell you. I just finished up a case in Halifax when I got a call about some curious goings-on at the old Pickwick Lighthouse. I made my way to see for myself.

CREIGHTON: (As Howard Morris) A lighthouse appears, and a storm shelter door opens. A nanny emerges from the shelter.

STREEP: (As Loretta Durkin) Storm's coming - don't think it's a night for roaming on the rocks.

SHORT: (As Oliver Putnam) I'm sorry. I think I missed some of those words.

STREEP: (As Loretta Durkin) Oh, I was trying a Scottish dialect.

SHORT: (As Oliver Putnam) Because the nanny's...

STREEP: (As Loretta Durkin) The nanny refers to a childhood in Aberdeen.

SHORT: (As Oliver Putnam) Right.

STREEP: (As Loretta Durkin) Or not.

SHORT: (As Oliver Putnam) No, no, no, no, no. It's OK to try things. Let's just go again.

CREIGHTON: (As Howard Morris) A nanny emerges from the shelter.

STREEP: (As Loretta Durkin) Storm's coming - don't think it's a night for roaming on the rocks. French Canadian - because it's up in the Maritimes there, so a lot of French - I'm sorry. It's - this is my process.

BIANCULLI: By the time the season premiere episode ends, there are surprises galore and another murder to solve. But just like such classic TV mystery shows as "Columbo," solving the crime is not only the last piece of the puzzle - it may be the least. Spending time with the characters and actors of "Only Murders In The Building" is the real reason to watch, and it really is a joy every step of the way.

MOSLEY: David Bianculli is professor of television studies at Rowan University. He reviewed Season 3 of "Only Murders In The Building," which premiered Tuesday on Hulu with two new episodes. If you'd like to catch up on FRESH AIR interviews you missed, check out our podcast. There you'll find some great lessons, like our interview with poet and author Shane McCrae, whose new book is about coming to understand that his maternal grandparents, who are white supremacists, kidnapped him when he was a child from his father, who was Black, or with Andrew Leigh Lynn, who has a new book about gradually losing his vision over the past 20 years. Find our podcast wherever you listen, along with other FRESH AIR interviews. For Terry Gross, I'm Tonya Mosley.


THE BAND: (Singing) Forefather pointed to kingdom come, sadly told his only son, just be careful what you do. It all comes back on you. False witness spread the news. Somebody's going to lose. Either she or me or you - nothing we can do. So don't you say a word or repeat a thing you heard. Time will tell you well if you truly, truly fell. Tarred and feathered, yeah, thistles and thorns - one or the other, he kindly warned. Now you look out the window. Tell me, what do you see? I see a golden calf pointing back at me. We've been sitting in here for so darn long... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

David Bianculli is a guest host and TV critic on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross. A contributor to the show since its inception, he has been a TV critic since 1975.