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Only Murders in the Building: How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?

“But the world needs Oliver Putnams! You push people out of their comfort zone. I mean, I don't like to get involved with people, but I just met a very strange man and knocked a frozen cat out of his freezer. I still have its leg!”

Remember, two reviews ago, when I said “Be like Putnam,” because he falls down and gets back up again? He’s going to carry the investigation, and the fate of the Arconia, on his little shoulders this time when he heroically rises from another failure.

Like last time, this episode puts a lot of pieces into place. For starters, we meet Jan, the bassoon player whose lovely notes filled the air in the opening moments of the pilot. If you’re anything like me, you noticed Amy Ryan’s name in the opening credits the first two episodes and wondered why she wasn’t on screen. It’s a short season. Why have a regular who takes two episodes to show up? I guess that's the cost of hiring someone as famous as her.

And the show keeps up its creative style with Oliver Putnam's imaginative point of view. He sees the investigation as an audition for a play. Is that a good way to solve a murder? Probably not. But he’s using what he knows, and it advances the investigation more than what anyone else is doing. And Oliver really comes alive on stage. The screen lights up any time he puts on the director hat.

We also nearly meet Oscar, Mabel’s friend from her flashbacks, the one who went to jail for reasons unknown. Oscar’s father will not let Mabel speak to him and won’t even deliver a message, because Oscar needs to start over. Makes sense.

And we finally see the shroud that’s been hanging over Oliver’s head for too many years. The ridiculous musical flop, Splash! Oliver’s description of his biggest failure is so heart-wrenching that even the cold and distant Charles Savage feels sorry for him and does something very un-Charles like: he encourages Oliver. And it works. Oliver gets up and heads to Teddy Dimas one more time, even though he just struck out there, and this time he gets their podcast on the air.

My favorite part of the episode, and maybe of the whole series, is Charles and Oliver being afraid to text Mabel. They know calling is out of fashion, but have no idea how to write a message to a young person. They try anyway, and end up sending texts that would make your parents shake their heads. ("Dearest Mabel...") I’ve said it before, but not only is the inter-generational aspect of this show very funny, it’s an important message. We human beings are better when we’re connected to people who are different than us. Crossing generational lines is an important step in improving our lives. (Even if you have to send embarrassing texts.)

Of course, this episode has one of the most memorable cliffhangers, with Sting suddenly center stage as the prime (and only) suspect in the murder of Tim Kono. The investigation is very entertaining, but at this point I began to realize I wasn't going to watch Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple solve a case. These guys really are amateurs.

DUN-DUN-DUNNN!!!! (The Spoiler Section)

If you grew up watching Columbo, like me, then you probably spent a moment trying to analyze the handwriting from the ominous note found on Oliver’s door. You may have even noticed that the handwriting is very similar to the handwriting on the notes our heroes found in Tim Kono's trash. (It's not that I didn't have any friends. I did. I just wanted to watch Columbo all day.)

Under the Microscope

-Oliver hating everything Charles does is hilarious.

-Charles won’t pay for anything. You think he’s a charming cheapskate now, but in season two we find out he’s loaded, which means he’s really just a jerk.

-Mabel's past is the real key, as you probably know. She's digging into the plot without the others, which feels wrong, and we're going to find a lot of important stuff in the hole she's digging.

-The only weakness of the show so far is that we aren’t buying any of the suspects. In an Agatha Christie novel, every one of these residents would look like a murderer, but no one on Oliver's stage is convincing. Not one viewer believes it’s Sting (but we’re not really supposed to). No one believes it’s the cat lover. When Amy Ryan shows up we’re ready to put her under our own interview lamp, even though she was missing from Oliver’s lineup, partly because we're hungry for a real suspect.

-Also missing from the discussion of suspects is Teddy Dimas and his son. As soon as Teddy was on screen I put him front and center on my suspect list. Oliver is inspiring, but he’s not thorough.

-I have the same gripe about the recent Death on the Nile adaptation; the diverse and progressive characters on the ship, while interesting, are obviously not going to end up being guilty, so the suspect list quickly narrows itself to the killers, leaving the audience (or at least those of us who grew up on Columbo) with nothing to do for two hours. There's plenty of mystery left to solve in this season of Only Murders, and many more characters to meet, but the current suspect list is small.

Final Analysis: An Oliver episode is a good episode. Five out of Five cringey texts.

Adam D. Jones is a writer, musician, and medievalist. He's also something of a sleuth himself, having recently solved the mystery of whether or not a kitchen spatula will break if you use it to get ice off of your windshield. (It will. Another case closed!)

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