Even with a surge of the COVID-19 delta variant dampening our hopes of finally ending the blackout on live theater, we can still look forward to an array of new streamed series filling the many available platforms.
One I recommend on Hulu is “Only Murders in the Building,” a series of 10 episodes, generally 30 minutes each, written by comedian-playwright Steve (“I’m a wild and crazy guy”) Martin. He stars along with the wilder and crazier guy Martin Short, his longtime comedic partner.
The two have been friends since appearing together in “The Three Amigos” (1985), which was also written by Martin. He is a prolific screenwriter, with 14 films to his credit including “The Jerk,” “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” and “The Pink Panther.” Both have appeared numerous times on “Saturday Night Live.”
The pair have most recently been touring with “The Funniest Show in Town at the Moment.” They can also be seen in the Netflix production “An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.”
If it’s anything like their performance I saw several years ago at the Chicago Theatre, it’s not to be missed.
In the Hulu production, Martin portrays Charles Haden-Savage, a washed-up television actor who once played a bumbling, Columbo-type detective.
Martin Short plays Oliver Putnam, an out-of-work Broadway director and unsuccessful producer, in the mold of Mel Brooks’ “Producers” creation Max Bialystock.
Selena Gomez is a woman of mystery named Mabel Mora, who, in her youth, was a devoted fan of the Hardy Boys detective series and claims to be an apartment renovator.
In this funny satire of crime podcasts, the trio are featured as tenants living in the Arconia, a glamorous, turn-of-the-century New York co-op. They meet in an elevator moments before another passenger, who had exited before them, is found dead.
When the deceased is determined to have committed suicide, the three decide otherwise and embark on their own investigation in hopes of getting material for a podcast.
But this emerging whodunit turns into a “Who Didn’t” as the amateur detectives begin to consider everyone in the building a suspect, leading to a sequence of “confessions” that are all eliminated for ridiculous reasons — except one.
This is but one of the hilarious moments in the first three episodes, with hope of more to come, as a number of famous comic actors fill other roles.
There’s Nathan Lane as Teddy Dimas, a Greek deli owner and possible investor in the podcast; Second City veteran Jackie Hoffman as a wacky neighbor; Tina Fey as the host of “Everything’s Not O.K. in Oklahoma,” a true crime podcast, and Jeff Award winner Jayne Houdyshell as president of the co-op board.
The production is reminiscent of the 1963 blockbuster “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad World,” also filled with celebrities in both major and cameo roles.
The major stars consisted of Spencer Tracy, Edie Adams, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Jimmy Durante, Jonathan Winters, Buddy Hackett, Ethel Merman, Phil Silvers, Mickey Rooney and Dick Shawn.
They were supplemented by characters filling minor roles, too numerous to list at 55 but including Buster Keaton, Peter Falk, Jim Backus, Selma Diamond, ZaSu Pitts and Eddie “Rochester” Anderson. Even Jack Benny showed up in a convertible, only recognized by his signature “Well!”
As I recently watched this movie, I was surprised not only to see so many stars willing to accept so little money to be in such minor roles, but also to notice how much the movies have changed in their approach to comedy.
In 1963, the motion pictures depicted comedy in a broad, slapstick style, not unlike the burlesque routines of the silent films of the early 1900s. They featured ridiculous car chases and absolute destruction of buildings and properties inspired by the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
Today, comedy relies more on parody and clever dialogue, much to the credit of writers like Martin and performers like Short.