MURDERVILLE: Hilarity Takes A New Crime-Filled Form

When I first read the description for Murderville I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly I was going to watch. What it ended up being is both wildly different than imagined and yet, somehow, exactly what you’d expect. While there are some awkward and prolonged moments of silence, there are still enough laughs to sustain these truncated episodes and enough intelligence in its intent to keep you enthralled. Based on the BBC series Murder in Successville, one of the biggest takeaways is the reminder that Will Arnett can be comedy gold.

“Here’s the Catch”

Will Arnett plays detective Terry Seattle, and while he has a basic script to follow, the guest celebrity partners (playing themselves) do not. This creates an opportunity to not only mess with the guest, but also the additional challenge of responding in time with something hilarious. Arnett is up to it. If he’s your anchor, you could do much, much worse. (In other words, Arnett knows his shit). Not only do they have to improvise but they have to make note of interactions and details to solve the crime. Intrigued? You should be.

MURDERVILLE: Hilarity Takes A New Crime-Filled Form
source: Netflix

At only six episodes and a brisk run-time of around 30 minutes, these easily digestible episodes manage to pack a lot in. The celebrity guests (including just a cameo, framed picture of Jennifer Aniston as his murdered partner) range from comedians to athletes and some serious performers, making this first season challenge your expectations on how things will go. Some can’t keep in their laughter, and others take the assignment very seriously. At the end of the day, it has you asking, who can solve this crime? And who will end up losing it in laughter because they can’t keep it together as Arnett arduously tries to make it difficult for them? Each episode starts with the same conceit but the storytelling of the “crime” and the various responses are always new. Of course, the comedy legends bring something expected to the table, but the others are an interesting surprise.

“They aren’t being given a script. They have no idea what’s about to happen.”

There is a scene in the opening episode where Will Arnett’s Senior Detective Terry Seattle and guest partner Conan O’Brien are investigating a murder at a magic show. They are interrogating a fellow magician who starts doing tricks in the room. Arnett’s character is quite literally jumping out of his chair by simple card tricks, meanwhile, in classic O’Brien style, his off-the-wall sense of humor comes through, as he dryly responds “No one gets that excited about a card trick.” I find it difficult to imagine someone not feeling the expertise at the in moment hilarity that ensues, causing a gut-busting reaction from me.

The show mixes comedy with the use of improv married with scripted work that makes each scene pop with surprise. There are layers to it: when the celebrity reacts, the others are forced to as well, and as an audience member, there are the genuine laughs that come from watching. It feels at once like an improv show, an SNL skit, and a bite-sized murder mystery. You can easily get wrapped up in the humor of it all, but if you pay attention it’s actually pretty darn fun to try and figure out who the killer is. It’s admirable in what it’s able to do, even with its fumbles. In ways, those upsets make it charming, because you feel the untethered parts starting to drift away, but somehow, by the episode’s close, it’s won you over again.

MURDERVILLE: Hilarity Takes A New Crime-Filled Form
source: Netflix

It is a little challenging to discuss this show in detail because so much of the joy of it is enjoying it in real-time, and not knowing what’s coming. I will say that Conan O’Brien, Marshawn Lynch, Kumail Nanjiani, and Sharon Stone led some of the stand-out episodes, but there was something to appreciate with all of the guests. I was never not curious about how someone would proceed, because that’s the beauty of improvisation, and I loved finding out what was around the corner.

While this may not ultimately be everyone’s cup of tea, I thought it was a blast. I couldn’t help but note things myself throughout the episode, trying to test my own awareness and attention to detail; detective skills, as you would. Some nail the suspect, while others do not. It isn’t an easy exercise, especially when you have Arnett trying to distract you while feeding words into an earpiece (“repeat what I say exactly”) or bringing in other characters that try to slip you up. You can tell some are having a blast and some are really trying to solve that crime, and either tactic is a delight to take in.

Conclusion: Murderville

If you’d like to see Sharon Stone do zumba while interviewing a suspect, Marshawn Lynch taking photos to be on a fake currency, witness Kumail Nanjiani acting cool, (and uncool) see Conan O’Brien eat a ridiculous amount of hot sauce, Ken Jeong hide behind furniture as guided by Arnett, and Annie Murphy go undercover as a pancake maker for gangsters, Murderville is for you. Yes, that was a mouthful, it was intentional.

Murderville, if nothing else, is fun. This is a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously but still manages to accomplish several feats (all in the name of silliness) while showing the hilarity that can arise from improvisational potency. Do you want a pick me up without a lot of stakes? Go for Murderville. 

Season one of Murderville is currently streaming on Netflix

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