In Murderville, big-city police detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) has to solve a case in each episode, but because, as his chief/ex-wife Rhonda Jenkins-Seattle (Haneefah Wood) tells him, he can’t seem to hold on to a partner, he gets a new “trainee” for every case. The trainee is a different celebrity playing his or herself, and they don’t have a script. In fact, they have no idea what the case is or what they’re supposed to do, but by the end of the episode, they have to guess who the murderer is. Does hilarity ensue? Read on for more.
MURDERVILLE: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: Scenes of a random city. “The big city, where only the strong survive,” says Detective Terry Seattle in voice over. He pulls up to the police station in his yellow Dodge Rampage.
The Gist: Conan O’Brien is the first trainee, and he gamely participates, even though Seattle tells Rhonda, “I think I just turned seven years old, because you hired a goddamn clown!” right in front of the legendary late night host (surprisingly, Conan could hear him through the fingers Seattle had him put in his ears). They’re called on a case where magician Captivating Keith (DeMorge Brown) kills his assistant when he accidentally sawed her in half when someone switched out his trick saw for a real one. Seattle leaves Conan to answer some very pointed questions about death from a little girl who was in attendance, then it’s time to question the suspects.
First there’s Keith’s old assistant, Deb Melton (Alison Becker), who works as a waitress. She breaks down about losing her gig while Conan questions her with mouthfuls of some weird Sloppy Joe-like sandwich. Then Magic Melvin (David Wain) comes into the station; the dead assistant used to work for him. When he does a card trick for Conan and Seattle, Conan can’t help but laugh at Seattle’s outlandish reaction at the trick.
Finally, they go to the home of Kathy Johansson (Mary Hollis Inboden), who is having a meeting of Mothers Against Magic Association (MAMA). Conan goes undercover as a magic hater, but Seattle gives him a safe word: “Tittynope”.
Then, at a gathering of all the suspects, Conan — dressed in a magician’s cape and top hat, for some reason — guesses who is the killer.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Hm… this is a tough one because we’ve never seen a show quite like Murderville. Maybe a cross between Law & Order and Curb Your Enthusiasm? Murder, She Wrote and Childrens Hospital? What we do know is that it’s an adaptation of a British series, Murder in Successville.
Our Take: Speaking of Childrens Hospital, Krister Johnson, who has that funny series among his credits, is the showrunner of Murderville, and he runs a writers’ room full of scribes from various comedies. You would think that there would be a need for less writers given that the celebrity half of each episode is unscripted. But the big roster of writers makes sense; not only do they have to at least outline each scene so Arnett and the other actors have a structure to work with, but there’s also a need to put each celebrity trainee in situations where they can be funny.
Then there’s the celebrity trainee and how he or she treats their role. Conan tried to play it as straight as he could, which made it even funnier when Arnett would break character to laugh at something Conan said, or Conan broke down at Arnett’s outlandish reactions to Magic Marvin’s basic card tricks. We’re curious to see how the other first season guests — Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong, Annie Murphy, Kumail Nanjiani and Marshawn Lynch (yes, that Marshawn Lynch) — act and react, but we’d imagine they got similar direction to Conan.
The mysteries really don’t matter; we’re just there to watch Arnett’s over-the-top performance as the mustachioed Seattle and how his clueless “partners” react to it. The fact that Johnson has decided to let things play out, whether Arnett or someone else breaks character or not, makes the show that much more fun to watch, and it’s appreciated by someone who is perfectly OK with messy comedy as long as it’s funny. And Murderville is pretty damn funny.
Sex and Skin: None in the first episode.
Parting Shot: Seattle has Conan pull handkerchiefs out of his sleeve, and after a while Seattle says, “I changed my mind; this is stupid.”
Sleeper Star: Brandilyn Cheah, the little girl who played Charlotte in the first episode, somehow manages to steal her scene from both Arnett and O’Brien. That’s some comedic feat right there.
Most Pilot-y Line: How do you find a clunky, absurd line in a show that’s full of absurd lines? That’s like complaining that the rain is too wet.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Murderville isn’t a show you watch for any sort of story; you watch it to see how the guest stars react to what’s going on around them. And you watch it to laugh. And you’ll laugh a lot.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.