Ah! The Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s Day season. This is the window in time when any of your children who have achieved escape velocity, and departed the nest, are most likely to return for at least a visit.
When they do, it’s quite likely that the little things you do — and have always done — will suddenly look weird to them. And they will make comments like this one from my oldest a few years ago:
“Mom, why is it that all those murder mystery programs you watch have a priest as the main character?”
“What? That’s just not true.”
“Really? So who’s Father Brown?”
“Well, he’s a Catholic priest, based on a character created by (British writer) G.K. Chesterton.”
“And who’s the main character in ‘Grantchester’?”
“Well, yes, he’s a priest, or rather I should say a vicar because he’s not Catholic, he’s Anglican, but his best friend is a Detective Inspector, so they solve crimes together…”
“Like I said, Mom. Priests.”
I watch 20 other shows, from “NCIS” (American Navy detectives) to “Bletchley Circle” (women who were British code-breakers in WWII) to “Castle” (a New York detective and a fiction writer). Yet the only two with religious figures are the two he notices.
But this year I have the perfect rebuttal for him, because I have just discovered a fabulous new mystery series starring a wonderful trio of nosy civilians, all without a scrap of religion. It’s called “Only Murders in the Building,” starring Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Steve Martin, who was also co-creator of this Hulu original project.
The first season of 10 episodes is available now if you get Hulu or if you have very good friends who invite you and your husband over to watch it all.
I can authoritatively pronounce it “delightful” and a lot of fun. It’s the story of how three unlikely people, united by a shared passion for true-crime podcasts, decide to produce one themselves when someone in their apartment building is murdered.
It is well written, well scored and gorgeously shot. As for the acting, it’s a revelation to watch this team — one I could never have predicted — turn out to work so beautifully together.
They’re also really funny. “Only Murders” is full of little zingers — at “olds” who don’t “get” texting; at “youngs” who do; at Upper West Side snobberies; at podcasting and podcasting fans; even at NPR. At one point Martin Short complains that Steve Martin’s podcast narration is “so PBS-y, like a Ken Burns documentary on the History of Boredom.”
I’ve been a fan of Steve Martin ever since his appearances on early “Saturday Night Live” in the 1970s. He was hilariously clueless with Dan Aykroyd as a “Wild and Crazy Guy.” I also love his tongue-in-cheek song about “King Tut” (worth finding on YouTube). My husband is especially a fan of Martin’s first major movie appearance in “The Jerk,” which begins: “I was born a poor black child in Mississippi.” In that scene he is conspicuously uncoordinated, unable even to clap in time to a very catchy Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee tune.
Martin Short has done so many things, even IMDB has trouble listing them all — but none so memorable for me as his early characters on SCTV (Second City TV, the Canadian comedy show) and SNL. Until now.
In this show, Short is completely believable as the over-exuberant, over-extended and washed-up Broadway producer who may be short of the $35,000 he owes on his condo apartment, but is never short of energy or ideas. He takes it upon himself to direct his two new friends mercilessly. And somehow he always manages to have a professional-sized microphone on him whenever there’s something to record. (It’s a tribute to how much my husband enjoyed the show that he never complained how unlikely that is.)
Selena Gomez, at 29, is the perfect Millennial to offset “these two weirdos” as her character calls her two aging Boomer partners. She brings a perfect dry-witted tang to the mix. I was vaguely aware she’d had a Grammy-winning music career before this, and some Disney productions, but I did not realize that she began as one of the child actors with Barney the Purple Dinosaur.
No matter what, this will be one of the best things she ever does.
Best news of all — there will be a Season Two. I may even pay for the Hulu next time around — if my kids will come home and watch it with me. Maybe then they’ll admit that I’m enjoying something that features at least one Millennial and no priests.