Who Killed Santa? Murderville special the best of the new holiday shows

Review by C.J. Bunce

Sometimes things are exactly as you hope for.  That was true for Murderville, this year’s hilarious new experimental comedy-mystery series, and it’s true for its new holiday special, Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery Mixing the irreverent police procedural comedy of Angie Tribeca with the improvisational hijinks and fun of Whose Line is it Anyway?, Improv-a-ganza, and Thank God You’re Here, the holiday special continues this unique brand of laughs.  In the spirit of Police Squad! and The Naked Gun, with the spontaneity of the old Carol Burnett Show, Will Arnett is back as Terry Seattle, that swaggering, bumbling senior detective with the earnestness and skill of Barney Fife.  This time he gets to do his own homage to Bruce Willis in that perennial favorite Christmas movie, Die Hard.

The conceit is that Arnett has a script, but the guest actors don’t.  Arnett does his best to both steer the guest stars while also trying to get them to break character and laugh at his own off-the-cuff antics–you’d have to be a Grinch to not appreciate the actors’ efforts to stay in character without cracking up.  The holiday special is streaming now on Netflix.

In the first six episodes a dozen celebrities all approached the show differently–some did their best to stay in character, others were steadfast at not letting Seattle embarrass them too much, others let themselves burst out laughing at Arnett’s efforts to throw them off.  The two celebrities of the holiday special are Ozark’s Jason Bateman and Saturday Night Live’s Maya Rudolph–plus a quick appearance by SNL’s Pete Davidson.  You’ll find these three take a different tack altogether.  Their job: to find the killer of a local orphanage’s Santa Claus.

You’ll want to just watch the show to find out much more, because the laughs come from the unexpected, especially Arnett’s efforts to get the guest actors.  Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes is a professional football player who is supposed to be playing Santa.  Haneefah Wood returns as Seattle’s police chief.  Other Murderville regular players include Lilan Bowden and Courtney Parchman, plus there’s Bob’s Burgers’ Kurt Braunohler, Dating Casually’s Dennice Cisneros, and Happy Ending’s Eliza Coupe.

First season guest Marshawn Lynch is back in this episode, and the funny bit beyond his improv is he doesn’t seem to know who Jason Bateman is other than remarking when he notices he’s the “guy from Ozark.”  Another plus is Bateman doesn’t know Rudolph is appearing and vice versa.

Bateman really dazzles in his efforts, and he’s probably the best of the entire first season guests, playing the role of himself as a new rookie cop trying to solve a crime, and getting suckered into some over-the-top antics.  Don’t overlook the value of narrator Steven Zirnkilton to the great Dragnet impact of the show.

The show is derived from a British series, Murder in Successville.  As in the similar improv show Thank God You’re Here, the production features a company of recurring players.  The heavy-hitter celebrity guest on the first season was Emmy and Golden Globe winner and Oscar-nominated actress Sharon Stone.

Don’t miss Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery when you need a lighthearted break from the holidays.  Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Murder Mystery is streaming now only on Netflix, along with the entire first season.

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