Murder can be a funny thing.
Produced by Will Arnett, Murderville introduces the world to Terry Seattle (Arnett), a hard-nosed homicide detective who is struggling to get his personal life together. However, even though his marriage is crumbling, he’s still the man you want on the job but he can’t do it alone. In each episode of the series, Seattle finds himself working with a different celebrity as his rookie partner. From Annie Murphy to Kumail Nanjiani to Conan O’Brien and more, Seattle and his accompanying guest dig deep into the world of murder to solve the case and get justice for the victim.
A loose adaptation of the BAFTA award-winning series Murder in Successville, Murderville is an absolute treat for the cold nights of winter. Anchored by Arnett’s commitment to playing the broken detective, the film does its best to feel authentic to the crime genre. Gravelly voiceovers, filtered lighting and bland colour palettes all work together to create a light-hearted, noir-ish atmosphere.
However, what makes the show so unique is how it manages to use all those same tropes as backdrops for improvisational comedy. Part Whose Line is it Anyways and part Punk’d, Murderville drops each guest star into the storyline completely unaware of what’s about to happen next. Although the series remains scripted for Arnett’s cast and crew, the special guest is left to react without the benefit of the script. Whether its interviewing suspects or examining evidence, these ‘rookie detectives’ are often thrown into situations and asked for immediate responses. Sometimes they handle themselves well. Other times… not so much. (For instance, watching Conan O’Brien attempt to explain to a young witness what happened at a bloody murder scene is both cringe-inducing but also absolutely hilarious at the same time.)
It’s this sort of evolving reality that sets Murderville apart from other improv series. On the search for each clue, guests must determine the most determine details amidst the madness unfolding around them. They know they’re playing a game but watching them attempt to decipher clues in a chaotic atmosphere is just plain entertaining. In fact, watching these celebrities bumble their way through the activities set before them almost feels like watching friends endure an escape room. From the outside, it looks relatively easy… but we aren’t the ones faced with the unexpected.
What results is a bizarre experience for the celebrity guest and hilarious content for the viewer. Because the guest has no idea what they’re about to face, there’s a certain authenticity to their performance. When Marshawn Lynch reacts to the discovery of a bizarre murder weapon, we know that his confusion is genuine. When Annie Murphy gets increasingly flustered by Seattle’s bizarre demands in the kitchen, we understand her frustration. As a result, there’s an honesty and mischievousness to the series which simply makes it a joy to behold.
At its heart, this is a series that’s simply about play. There’s no prize money at stake and no consequences for being wrong. All that’s up for grabs are the potential bragging rights of being able to say that they figured out whodunnit. As Arnett walks his friends through these strange murder scenes, one can see the sheer delight in their eyes. While guests with a background in improv comedy are clearly more prepared for what’s to come, each rookie partner manages to hold their own with Arnett’s antics. Whether its Conan O’Brien’s undercover storytelling or Lynch’s antics as a false mirror, every newcomer to the series is willing to commit to the silliness of the moment. They’re having fun, so we do as well. (In fact, there are multiple moments when both guests and cast members visibly break into laughter, especially Nanjiani and Jeong who constantly struggle to keep a straight face.)
There’s little question that Murderville is one of the silliest surprises to drop in recent memory. Loose and light-hearted, Arnett’s hilarious little improv experiment simply has a feel-good vibe about it, making it an easy watch. Though Nanjaini and (shockingly) Sharon Stone may end up being the series’ MVPs, all the guest celebrities are up for the challenges which range from infiltrating a mob hideout to committing surgery.
So, after an intense investigation, the verdict on Murderville is that it absolutely kills it when it comes to comedy.
Murderville streams on Netflix on Wednesday, February 3rd, 2022.