“To care about a murder mystery, you need to care about the person who was murdered.” Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building is back! The highly-rated comedy is about a trio of unlikely characters, who, using their obsession with true crime, find themselves in the center of a murder investigation in their apartment building.
Not only is the series hilarious, well-written and paced, but it’s such a good depiction of the true crime community. I’ve already binged it all. I found myself completely wrapped up in its satirization. Let me explain how.
1. It’s a good old-fashioned mystery
Sherlock Holmes. Scooby-Doo. Knives Out. Everyone loves a good mystery. It pulls you in, keeps interest, and at the end has you going, “Why did I never see that?” Well, the same is true for OMITB and true crime content.
OMITB is clearly fiction. The victims are characters. So, even though you’re trying to solve the mystery, at the end of the day, they’re not real. The majority of true crime podcasts are also murder mysteries. But there’s one main difference: It’s real.
Oliver Putnam, one of the main characters, illustrates where blurring the lines between fact and fiction get dicey. Often, he’ll pop up with a mic out of nowhere to get a sound bite. It doesn’t matter when or where, as long as it’ll add to the “story.” The characters could find themselves in Jersey among strangers as they investigate, and here he comes, directing the narrative and endangering lives.
2. OMITB gets really meta
In OMITB, the main characters initially connect over being obsessed with a true crime podcast. They trade theories, compare notes. Soon, the trio is producing their own podcast, chronicling their journey as they attempt to solve the mystery in their building. And you find yourself invested like they are — making mental notes, slightly theorizing. You find out how true crime media envelops a person’s interest as you’re enveloped in the story.
As soon as Tim Kono shows up dead, these strangers immediately start asking questions. I mean, it is instant—the police are still evacuating the building when they start looking for evidence. Eventually, breaking into apartments (a crime) becomes commonplace. All of this they learn from a podcast host. Almost like it’s normalized. This is a show, but you know what they say about what art imitates.
3. The fans
So this is my favorite part about the show. Let me start by saying that when I was a teenager, there was a certain British boy band I grew quite fond of. I bring this up because I could not tell the actions of some of those fans from OMITB’s fans apart. Some dedicated listeners start camping outside of the building just for a glimpse of the hosts — the hosts, who in their mind, are new celebrities to idolize. You can easily point to these hilarious characters like “Haha, look at these weirdos,” right?
If you’re familiar with the true crime community, you know where I’m going with this. The hosts, the YouTubers, the bloggers, they all have fans. Sometimes, hundreds of thousands, or millions of fans. They become connected to the host and the (real) cases being shared. When does this become a problem?
What comes to mind is the devastating case of Elisa Lam at The Cecil Hotel. True crimers started vlogging at The Cecil. Pointing out the elevator Elisa used. Sensationalizing a real case, as if they’re at the Hollywood Walk of Fame—but they weren’t. They weren’t at a destination made for documentation. They’re at a real place, talking about a real person with a real family. When does it become insensitive? Or too far? When Oliver Putnam has to beg fans to find a real job or hobby?
4. The characters are relatable
No matter what spectrum of the true crime community you’re in, there is a character in the show you can relate to. When Mabel says that young women listen to Dateline to figure out how not to end up on Dateline, for instance. All of the characters have some sort of connection to the murder(s), whether they were falsely convicted, knew the victims, live in the building, listen to the podcast, or it’s their job to investigate. But their stories make sense.
You see how regular people get sucked into this world. The wife of an officer assigned to the case casually listens to OMITB, and her simple comments lead to overlooked details coming to light. One of the trio starts dating someone who is super guilty. The podcast’s sponsor is fishy. Well, when you find one detail, there’s another not far away. And you might feel like it’s your duty to do what you can…even when there’s real people involved.
5. The fame
If you don’t know, let me tell you something about the true crime community: Podcast hosts are going on tours. Playing sold-out shows. Going to “CrimeCon,” speaking on talk shows. And I think it’s great when true crime media helps to reopen cold cases or exonerate someone who was wrongly convicted. Or spread awareness. But more often than not, some true crime content tends to lose the plot.
In the show, for instance, Cinda Canning sells her true crime persona for $30 million dollars. There is never a mention of the fictional podcast’s victim. I don’t think that’s by accident—but at least a cruise line sponsors it. The Cinda Cannings and businesses of the world get to capitalize off of a real life case for their own benefit, but what do those involved get? Especially if they have no control over how people tell their story, invade their privacy, and go through great lengths to learn every little thing.
Adnan Syed is still in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Serial, the podcast that proves it, won a Peabody Award. Host Sarah Koening is famous. And while there are legal hoops that I don’t understand involved, Syed has been in prison since 1999. But at least people with savior complexes could profit, monetarily and emotionally, right?
All this to say, there is a such thing as going too far—because eventually, you could find yourself arrested for an actual murder, like the trio in season 2.
In related news, Black Mirror is working on a new season.
Photos via Hulu, IMDb