Murderville, starring Will Arnett and an array of recognizable Hollywood celebrities, centers around Arnett’s character Terry Seattle (and no, he’s never been there… and yes, he knows you were going to ask that) as a partnerless homicide detective in LA. The catch? His team gives him a new celebrity partner each week where Arnett and Co navigate their guests through staged murders as they improv their way to solving it. It’s such a clever spin on a classic whodunit formula. I am a giant fan of anything murder mystery, both serious and comedic. Knowing Arnett’s comedic prowess from his performance as GOB from Arrested Development and voice work as the titular horse on Bojack Horseman, I was ready to laugh until my tummy hurt.
For starters, Murderville sets the tone just right. Its shots are a little gray and fuzzy. Arnett speaks in a slightly deeper, exaggerated voice for his character with a fake mustache to boot. The show’s narrative structure allows for world-building to be set up, along with the punchline, which always ends up punching Terry Seattle and works amazingly. I recently read Cassandra Peterson’s memoir, where she talked about her years in a comedic improv group named the Groundlings. She described a good comedy improv bit should always have the joke land back on the person delivering. Terry Seattle is the perfect melodramatic satire of a down-on-his-luck detective. From bits about the police chief being his ex-wife to his partner being suspiciously murdered more than a decade ago, the tropes of a familiar character archetype are broken down and turned on their head in Murderville.
The physicality of the comedy cannot be understated. With each guest actor, the whole Murderville team is supportive and rolls with the punches. The show is at its most fun when even the improv team is taken aback by the choices made by the guests. You can always tell when it happens because Arnett will not be able to conceal his smile and laughter, always peeking through his deflections or attempts to walk out of camera view to collect himself. One of my favorite displays of physical comedy is when special guest Conan O’Brian and Terry go to a diner to question someone, and Terry orders food for Conan. Except the food is 1) very sloppy and 2) very spicy. It’s clear from the first bite that Conan takes, from the direction of Terry, that it’s too spicy for Conan, and they’re both red-eyed and sniffling. However, Terry keeps pouring more and more hot sauce while nodding that, yes, Conan needs to take more because it’s not enough, right? It’s absolutely a riot to see them both struggle to continue the scene and not break character.
This show provides lots of great laughs throughout its six-episode run. However, it does not always hit. Certain episodes fall incredibly flat, offering just a few laughs or not enough chemistry between Will Arnett and the special guest. These episodes sit in the middle of the season, which creates a bit of a lull. Its comedy depends heavily on the back and forth banter, and it’s easy to see them get in cheap jokes at the expense of sounding juvenile. I still laughed, but it wasn’t nearly as much as other episodes. The loose narrative structure of the show can sometimes falter, adding to the lack of celebrity chemistry. There are character plotlines that range from Terry’s personal relationship with his ex-wife to his friendship with his dead partner, which can sometimes overpower a rift and set a tone that a celebrity may not be able to catch up with as they focus on just running with the gags. It’s like Gob making a dig at Michael in Arrested Development, except there isn’t a narrator offering quick quips to strengthen the joke.
It’s clear from every episode that viewers do not know what to expect, and feels fun and refreshing. It’s a good time that doesn’t always serve, but it’s still a good laugh. This first season of Murderville offers a lot of great moments, and it’s always a joy to see Will Arnett and his very specific over-the-top, deadpan comedy. I am excited to see where Murderville goes next.
Stream Murderville on Netflix on February 3rd, 2022.