I subscribe to far too many streaming services as it is, and adding another, especially one like Hulu, whose content interests me one out of a hundred times, really makes no sense. But my daughter and grandson live with us and there is a particular animated series on Hulu about talking trains.
Living with a 3 year old who is obsessed with all manner of “choo choos,” my daughter wisely signed up, and now I have Hulu on my “smart” TV. How smart I am to allow this device to capture all kinds of information and transmit it back to some underground bunker in Nebraska so that I might be more efficiently packaged and marketed to is another question.
But when you have grandpa status and see how delighted a 3 year old can be with a simple and, thankfully, innocent show about talking locomotives, you overlook most of the crud that exists on a streaming service you would have otherwise avoided like a nine-hour recording of a Yoko Ono concert.
In the interest of journalistic integrity, I must admit I like trains too, but that is probably something I should keep between myself and my therapist — at least that’s what my wife thinks. Something else I must come clean about is that there is a show on Hulu, not about talking trains, that has enthralled me and all other non-train loving adults in our household.
It is the Steve Martin/Martin Short limited series “Only Murders in the Building.” I’m only three episodes in, solely due to the fact we are pacing ourselves and trying to make it last longer. It is a throwback in many ways. The relationship between Martin and Short harkens back to earlier Hollywood. They have a kind of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby rivalry exchanging insults at each other but through a decidedly oblique prism.
In the series, Martin and Short (that even sounds like an old-school comedy team) join forces to solve a murder in their upscale Manhattan apartment building.
Steve Martin’s character is an actor who was once a shining television star for several years, which explains how he can afford to live in what must be a ridiculously expensive New York City luxury apartment building.
Short’s character, a flamboyant Broadway producer and director, is not so much a has-been as a never been. The closest he came to hitting the big time is when he had convinced a delicatessen magnet played perfectly by Nathan Lane — who also lives in the same building — to financially back a major Broadway production called “Splash,” with Martin Short’s character at the helm as director. Unfortunately, a malfunctioning stage pool that did not have its cover removed on the appropriate cue turned the show more into “splat” rather than “Splash.”
In public, Steve Martin’s character brims with confidence and swagger, and expects everyone who seems to recognize him on the street to immediately recall his former TV stardom. Martin Short’s character is eternally enthusiastic and positive — in public — and holds dearly to the fantasy that he is still relevant and New York is still his “town” at his beck and call. When we see their private moments, we know the truth is much different.
Former Disney star Selena Gomez is a key to the mystery and provides the point of view from someone almost two generations removed from the two leads. She holds her own against the abilities of Martin and Short, which is no mean feat.
It is quite refreshing to see two great comedians who are not afraid of pathos. You don’t see a lot of that these days. In many comedies, pathos doesn’t exist at all and when it does, it often feels like some obligatory scene inserted by a production executive to artificially prop up a character’s likability.
Martin and Short’s characters have back stories that are teased out slowly to the audience until they reveal two older men burdened with terrible loneliness. Sounds like a downer, but it does not hamper the comedy; a finesse of art few great comedians have been able to pull off. If Charlie Chaplin was the gold standard for pathos in comedy, Martin and Short take the silver and bronze.
There is no great theological exegesis to be harvested in “Only Murders in the Building,” even though this series says some important things about loneliness, friendship, forgiveness, and kindness. It is ultimately just a comedy and escapism doled out an hour at a time. In these uncertain times, that is high praise and a much-needed commodity.