Although the public has long had a fascination with true crime, over the past couple of years it’s never been more popular.
A never-ending list of shows have hit streaming services, countless movies have been released, and then there’s the ever-growing world of true crime podcasts – something which is showing no sign of slowing down. As we continue to live through the true crime boom, filmmakers and podcasters are having to think outside the box to come up with a fresh angle that will catch the eye in a heavily saturated genre.
The same can be said for those responding to the trend, such as Netflix with mockumentary American Vandal and Saturday Night Live with their parodies of popular podcast Serial. Enter Steve Martin and John Hoffman, co-creators of hit show Only Murders In The Building, which is about to premiere its third season.
Just like the above projects, the series aims to capture the obsession and frenzy surrounding true crime, following three neighbours as they bond over their love for podcast All Is Not Okay In Oklahoma. Events take a turn when the dead body of Tim Kono is discovered in their apartment building the Arconia, with the trio taking it upon themselves to solve the crime and tell the story with their very own podcast.
The show was a breakout success, with audiences responding to the sharp writing, charming performances, and crucially the way it grappled with the world of true crime. It’s relatable, reflecting the way many of us attempt to solve the crime in our heads when engaging with a show, film, or podcast.
We become amateur detectives – it just so happens the show’s trio of Oliver, Charles, and Mabel take this one step further.
However, as mentioned above, our obsession with true crime has been explored before in pop culture with several parodies released. Only Murders In The Building stands out because it effectively delivers a fresh twist on a familiar genre and takes things more seriously, giving viewers an intriguing mystery to solve whilst analysing every nook and cranny of the true crime business, including the knotted ethics involved.
That’s something that has earned the show a fanbase amongst real life true crime podcasters, who appreciate that the series remains respectful and serious whilst also poking fun at some of the more ridiculous parts of that world. As Kevin Flynn, co-host of Crime Writers On…, tells Zavvi, it’s clear that Only Murders In The Building is made by people who have a genuine love for the world of true crime podcasts.
He said: “Many shows that spoof true crime or podcasts are demeaning, their jokes come from looking down on the genre and its fans. They presume the genre has a kind of tacky, lurid voyeurism.
“However, the jokes in Only Murders In The Building come from writers who are actual consumers and reveal obvious affection. The show touches on many of the tropes but presents them as funny quirks and not character flaws.”
Co-creators Martin and Hoffman are both open about how the idea of the show was inspired by their mutual love for true crime podcasts, something Kathleen Goldhar, host of Do You Know Mordechai? agrees “100 percent shines through”. However, what is perhaps unexpected is just how much Only Murders In The Building gets right about that world, with the podcasters we interviewed all admitting they feel seen by the show.
For Goldhar the beauty of the series lies in how it mocks some of the more absurd aspects of the business, but crucially not with a scathing tone. She added: “It’s what it makes fun of that it gets right!
“The way we talk amongst ourselves, gather tape, grab sound effects – it’s perfect, funny, and wonderful. The equipment is ridiculous and it’s inconsistent, as we see in the great scene where they record in a closet which is of course true.”
Only Murders In The Building doesn’t always accurately depict how podcasts are made though, with Flynn pointing out that the show wouldn’t be produced week-to-week in real time and Goldhar adding that if you walked in with a huge boom mic like Martin Short’s Oliver does, you will be laughed out of the room. However, both agree that these small technical inaccuracies don’t matter given the goal of the show is to entertain.
What is important is that the people who listen to and make true crime podcasts are accurately depicted, something Flynn feels is absolutely nailed: “There are so many things it gets right about the genre and the audience.
“The whole conceit about the second podcast episode needing to tell the victim’s story is on the money. The cops rolling their eyes at amateur detectives who see conspiracy in everything is also true.
“And there are plenty of cringeworthy investigative podcasts out there created by enthusiastic yet clueless people – Charles, Oliver, and Mabel fit the bill perfectly.
“Limited series podcasts such as Serial and In The Dark are award-winning ethically produced investigations that elevate journalism. The fictional Only Murders podcast is like the second wave of true crime podcasts made by dopey people with no experience in anything, investigating a cold case they have no chance of solving, and thus telling a really bad story.
“The podcast Charles, Oliver, and Mabel make is probably crap!”
Whilst our beloved trio may not exactly be producing a great podcast to listen to, at least their hearts are in the right place, and they want to see justice done. Meanwhile on the other hand we have the character of Cinda Canning played by the great Tina Fey, the crowned “queen of murder podcasts” who bears a resemblance to Sarah Koenig, the award-winning host and producer of Serial.
The two may look alike and make hugely popular true crime podcasts, but their ethics certainly differ with Canning openly more interested in fame and money having sold her brand for millions of dollars. As Alaina Urquhart and Ashleigh Kelley, the hosts of Morbid, tell us, Only Murders In The Building perfectly captures the various drives behind creating a true crime podcast, some of which aren’t exactly moral.
They said: “The show does poke fun at the parts that need to be poked at from time to time, but you can feel the real passion that these characters have for justice, which is something many true crime podcasters have in common.
“We relate to the trio and their constant attempts to get it right whilst also staying respectful. However, the show also gets it right with Fey’s character of Canning and how some podcasts turn real crime into sensationalised entertainment.”
At times our trio do flirt with this, particularly Oliver who can’t help but get swept up by the fanbase the Only Murders podcast builds seeing it as a merchandising opportunity, and then in season two as a way to get a TV deal. But this is arguably where the series really shines, carefully analysing the complicated ethics that all true crime podcasts must face.
It explores every nuance, the good and the bad, leaving audiences with plenty of food for thought in regard to the morals of true crime podcasting, something season two further explores. Given how much of a success Only Murders In The Building has been, the question remains whether it has sparked further interest in true crime podcasts, perhaps from viewers who previously were unfamiliar with that world.
Flynn isn’t too sure, but does understand why the series has appealed widely to both true crime fans, including podcasters themselves, and those new to the genre.
He concludes: “Did Cheers make bars more popular? Did Friday Night Lights make people more interested in football? I don’t know if Only Murders In The Building moves the needle on listenership but what they have done is create a superior sitcom anyone can relate to.”
Season 3 of Only Murders In The Building premieres on Disney+ on Tuesday, 8th August.