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Scott D. Pierce: True crime fans, get ready to laugh at ‘Only Murders in the Building’

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez team up in podcast spoof.

(Craig Blankenhorn | Hulu) Selena Gomez as Mabel, Martin Short as Oliver and Steven Martin as Charles in "Only Murders In the Building."

Americans — including many Utahns — are enamored with true-crime podcasts and programs.

I’m still having a hard time believing so many people watched (or at least talked about) the weird and not particularly well-made Netflix series “Tiger King.” The only explanation I can come up with is some sort of mass insanity caused by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

Serial killer Ted Bundy’s murders in Utah were the subject of one recent Netflix true crime series, while Utah forger/bomber/killer Mark Hoffman’s multiple crimes were dramatized in another.

And, apparently, a locally made true crime podcast about the still-unsolved disappearance of Susan Cox Powell also gained popularity with listeners across the country. Although, as someone who has seen umpteen true-crime TV shows about Powell, I’ll only be interested when somebody locates her body and there’s something new to report.

Still, if true crime is your thing, you’re certainly not alone. And among your fellow true-crime podcast aficionados is none other than Steve Martin.

“Yeah, I’ve listened to a lot of true crime podcasts,” he said. “‘Fan’ is the wrong word, but I’m interested in it. I’m interested in the solving of crime. I really like that.”

Which is why he and writer/producer John Hoffmann (“Grace & Frankie”) cooked up the idea for “Only Murders in the Building,” a 10-episode series that starts streaming Tuesday on Hulu. It’s about murder, obviously, and a podcast, and it’s very funny.

Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) all live in the same Manhattan co-op. Forced to evacuate by a false alarm, they start to chat and discover they’re all big fans of a true-crime podcast titled “All is Not OK in Oklahoma.”

(Tell me that doesn’t sound like a real title.)

(Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu) Selena Gomez as Mabel, Martin Short as Oliver and Steven Martin as Charles in "Only Murders In the Building."

When another resident of the building dies and the police rule it a suicide, Charles, Oliver and Mabel convince themselves it was murder. They decide to find the killer — and they will expose everything on a podcast of their own.

The neighbors/suspects include Nathan Lane as a deli king, Amy Ryan as a bassoon player and Sting as himself.

It’s mystery and farce all rolled into one, with numerous red herrings and lots of suspense amidst the slapstick. And it manages to mock the true-crime world, though the show is focused on delivering fun rather than any kind of accurate portrayal of the podcast industry.

“This is one the most unusual things I’ve ever done because it actually has a plot,” Martin said. “I usually don’t do things with plots.”

That longtime friends and frequent collaborators Martin and Short work well together is no surprise. That they work so well with Gomez is somewhat startling.

“I believe when Selena’s on screen, the show is suddenly elevated,” Martin said. “It’s more mysterious. It’s more interesting. There’s an old cliché: the camera loves her. And I would say the camera likes me, and it’s fine with Marty.”

Gomez said she “didn’t know what I was getting myself into” when she signed on. “And now I have, like, these two crazy uncles in my life that basically give me boy advice and I sing rap songs to them.”

According to Martin, “Only Murders In the Building” was not originally conceived as a comedy. Nor was it meant to be a vehicle for him to star in.

“I wasn’t even going to be in this, and I sort of thought, ‘Well, I’ll do it if Marty does it,’” he said.

“It was actually conceived for older actors. And then when Marty one day said to me, ‘Well, you’re old’ … the comedy came because of the casting. If you had cast three serious actors, it’d be a very different show. But the comedy just occurred through the writing and through the performances, I think.”

The end result is a lot of fun.

“I decided, with the director, that it was very important to play it straight. Otherwise it wouldn’t be real,” Martin said. “But the strange thing is I played it straight and it looks like a spoof.”

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