'Murderville' review: Improv whodunit is hit or miss
Courtesy of Netflix
On paper, the premise of Netflix’s comedy series “Murderville” seems like a slam dunk but at times can feel stale. Over six episodes, Will Arnett plays fictional detective Terry Seattle who is assigned a celebrity trainee to help solve a murder. The catch being everyone involved with the production has a script or knows where to steer the show whereas the episodic guest (or trainee) must improvise their way to the finish line while dealing with whatever antics or curveballs Arnett throws at them. The roster for the inaugural season is an odd batch that yields a variety of uneven results: comedians/actors Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanijiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong, as well as superstar athlete Marshawn Lynch are enrolled in Murderville academy and some are funnier than others.
The structure does get repetitive and throughout the season starts to lose some luster where the only thing salvaging “Murderville” is Arnett’s ability to keep the wobbly framing device together. Each episode begins with a five-minute set-up where Seattle is introduced, via his ex-wife/boss Chief Rhonda (Haneefah Woods), to a “Trainee” and then hijinks ensue until they’re dispatched to a crime scene where another operative, Amber Kang (Lilan Bowden) basically lays the groundwork for the guest. The detective duo then interview three suspects, the trainee takes notes, asks questions and at the end makes their educated guess at who the culprit is and Chief Rhonda either confirms or denies the choice. For those watching at home, it can become a fun game listening to specific clues and hints and guessing who the murderer is (it’s harder than you think, I got only 2 out of 6 correct).
This repeats with very minimal diversion from the structure, so what gives “Murderville” the leg up is whether or not Arnett can get his compatriots to break character in the middle of the scene by saying the first silly and outlandish thing that comes to his head. At one point he gets Jeong to sport an Irish and Finish accent, Nanijiani to create a weird and silly walk, and Murphy to go on a rant about pancakes. The best episode, maybe not surprisingly, belongs to O’Brien who seemed to have the most fun trying to solve the murder of a magician’s assistant. There’s a sequence inside a restaurant where he and Arnett try to wolf down sloppy-joes and I was in hysterics.
While the rest of the series never reaches the high of that first episode (especially as you’re still acclimating and don’t know what to expect) “Murderville” has enough charms to warrant a passive watch for those craving something that won’t melt your brain. It’s hit or miss (Lynch’s epsiode was flat) and borrowers familiar elements from “Impractical Jokers,” but the overall creativity of the premise makes the trip into “Murderville” slightly more pleasant than expected.
MURDERVILLE debuts on Netflix Thursday, February 3rd.