Review by C.J. Bunce
Sometimes things are exactly as you hope for. That’s true for Murderville, a new experimental comedy-mystery series on Netflix. Mixing the irreverent police procedural comedy of Angie Tribeca with the improvizational hijinks and fun of Whose Line is it Anyway?, Improv-a-ganza, and Thank God You’re Here, the six-episode series is all about the laughs. In the spirit of Sam Francisco and Beverly Hills Buntz (Korben Dallas? Yosemite Sam? Carmen Sandiego?), Will Arnett stars as Terry Seattle, a swaggering, bumbling senior detective with the earnestness of Barney Fife and the marital issues of John Luther, but without all the real-world drama. Guiding a new guest celebrity each episode to maneuver the story as his new partner, but without the benefit of a script, Arnett does his best to both help the guest star while also trying to get them to break character and laugh at his own off-the-cuff antics. This is neither Dragnet nor Law & Order, but it’s darned funny.
As with last season’s comedy hit Ghosts, this half-hour, offbeat show is derived from a British series, this time the 2015-2017 series Murder in Successville. As in the similar improv show Thank God You’re Here, the production will feature a company of recurring players, with Haneefah Wood in the lead role as Seattle’s boss and ex-wife, Chief Rhonda Jenkins-Seattle. Philip Smithey plays her new boyfriend and a fellow cop, and Lilan Bowden is the coroner/medical examiner.
The heavy-hitter celebrity guest on this first season (more seasons would seem to be a sure thing) is Emmy and Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated actress Sharon Stone. She’s the best at staying in-character, while also not giving an inch to Will Arnett’s efforts to throw her off-balance. In a snap you can easily see her starring in her own serious drama police procedural, and who wouldn’t want to see that?
The other big star is Terry Seattle’s orange 1982 Dodge Rampage, joining the ranks of Rockford’s Camaro, Starsky’s Gran Torino, and DCI Hunt’s Audi Quattro.
Annie Murphy puts in the strongest effort in her 30 minutes, in one segment tasked to go undercover sporting a moustache and 1970s vintage leather jacket to get her guy. All of the players are given an earpiece for one of the quarter segments, whereby Arnett feeds them unexpected–and often inappropriate–lines to struggle through. Luckily the show doesn’t take the trademark Whose Line is it Anyway? forced-eating shtick past Conan O’Brien’s episode. O’Brien is the most guarded of the players (who all act under their real names during the episode). He seems like he thinks he’s going to get punked at any moment, but plays along for laughs more than the rest. Marshawn Lynch goes all-in for his episode, often staying a step ahead of Seattle’s next move with his own ideas. Kumail Nanjiani probably gets the biggest laugh of the season, and Ken Jeong takes a slightly different approach in his playing of himself. All the guests make a good showing, and there’s someone for every audience.
The mysteries are rudimentary and solvable, enough so that even kids could learn along the way if it weren’t for the adult language, and yet a few of the celebrities don’t name the correct murderer. But it doesn’t matter, because the only goal is fun.
Don’t miss this one when you need a lighthearted break from your reality. Murderville is streaming now only on Netflix.