Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UNBINGED is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too. This week we ask the question: how grim are current times that we have to turn to divorce (Loot), homicide (Only Murders in the Building), mayhem and monsters (What We Do in the Shadows) for a laugh? The answer: Dark. Really friggin’ dark.
Only Murders In The Building (Hulu/ Season 2)
The campy whodunit centered on two comedy masterminds from yesteryear and a former Mouse House muse has become the dark comedy hit of the year, and for good reason. Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building capitalizes on the public’s obsession with both true crime podcasts and other people’s business and turns it into a charming, deadpan humor and homicide-filled delight.
In this second season outing, the blood-soaked Mable moment in the first season’s cliffhanger is explored as the series asks the question: Who Killed Bunny Folger?
Found stabbed with a knitting needle belonging to Mable (Selena Gomez), the former board president of the Arconia apartment building where the show is set was not a favorite of the show’s hero trio. Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mable are therefore “people of interest” in her murder. It doesn’t help that evidence of her murder keeps “popping up” in their messy, messy lives.
The mystery of the show plays well to a generation of people who use true crime podcasts to escape modern-day horrors, though the idea of using one abhorrence to escape another seems horrifically ironic. But that is where Only Murders lives: in the satire of this particular epoch, where two boomers can set sail with a millennial to solve crimes, create a podcast, and become heroes, only to become villains the following week when they are set up for a different murder.
It’s an odd premise that only works because of the chemistry between the group. Short’s over-the-top theater director plays well to Martin’s ego-tripping actor with a heart of gold. Together, the duo bounce off of Gomez’s stony twenty-something artist who takes their zaniness in stride, playing off their quirks as possible early signs of a stroke.
Though murder is at the heart of the story, the hijinks of the trio keep the audience engaged. We forgive their occasional asshole behavior and impassive attitude when it comes to human life because we want to join them on their mission. And as we do, we get to know the victim, and not just the vulgar details most podcasts tend to glorify. Though the morbid curiosity hooks us, the individual glimpses behind each character in Only Murders in the Building gives the show its heart, allowing us to care, as well as laugh, even at the dark subject matter.
Loot (AppleTV+, Season 1)
A woman whose husband is found cheating on her after decades of marriage isn’t necessarily the makings for a great comedy. But give that woman a few billion bucks, cast Maya Rudolph in the lead, and explore human insecurities about doing the “right thing,” and AppleTV+’s Loot makes for a feel-good laugher.
Rudolph plays Molly, a woman who finds herself in a Bezos-esque situation when she catches husband John (Adam Scott in full sleaze mode) cheating on her with a younger model and no prenup. Devastated by her husband’s infidelity, she takes her half of their massive fortune and blows off a little steam with exotic clubs, strange men, and designer drugs. During her highly-publicized shame spiral, the charity that she forgot she founded asks her to tone it down just a smidge in an effort to not besmirch their good name. Instead, she decides to give the foundation her full attention, much to their chagrin.
Rudolph lives and breathes Molly, happy in her ignorance but quick to despair the minute she contemplates her reality for more than a micro minute. At first she uses the foundation to fill the emptiness within her, but after finding her stride and thanks to her coworkers — who are the best parts of the show after Rudolph herself — the foundation becomes her lifeline. In many ways, Molly is all of us. She is trying her best not to crumple at the feet of her inner demons while finding her way during a trying time.
The supporting cast is strong and Rudolph elicits laughs just by standing in a designer dress, but overall, this show waltzes through Ted Lasso territory like it owns the place. Trying to capture the breezy vibe of the Emmy-winning sitcom, Loot lunges into Ted terrain too often when it should be finding its own tone. It doesn’t quite capture the warmth and love of Lasso, either. At least not yet.
What We Do In The Shadows (FX; Season 4)
“Oh, you’re still alive?” A bewildered Nadja looks at the documentary crew in wonder after a long absence, wondering to the camera how they made it this far. The confusion is completely understood. On many, many levels.
For its fourth season, Taika Waititi’s fang gang of Staten Island have returned to wreck havoc on the Forgotten Borough with their monstrous abilities and basic incompetence. This time around, they set their sights on the nightlife scene. There’s also marriage and “child” rearing to contend with.
After a year-long sabbatical (for the viewer, not the coven), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) has given up the Vampiric Council for dreams of opening up her own nightclub, Nandor (Kayvan Novak) is looking for companionship with the help of a newly-discovered Djinn (Anoop Desai), while Laszlo (Matt Barry) is raising the offspring of the recently deceased Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), who climbed out of the energy vampire’s chest cavity after he died. And vampire familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) continues to take it all in stride, though a bit happier as his own personal life improves.
In the four years we’ve been blessed with What We Do In The Shadows, the bar on dark comedy has been raised to impossible new heights. And it’s not just horror hounds, Fangoria fans and fang bangers who appreciate the pitch black humor of the show. After all, the FX comedy has received many accolades over the years, including a recent Emmy nom for Best Comedy series.
Everyone involved deserves praise for bringing this kind of mad, macabre hijinks to television. What’s a bit of bloodshed compared to the horrors of everyday living these days, right? One can easily look at their campy tales of pestilence, plagues, and panics of a hundred years ago and think, “same.” For a show that breezes by murder, death, destruction, the end of civilization, and the insignificance of the human experience as a whole, What We Do In The Shadows is a lovely escape from the times we live in right now. And that might be the darkest thing about it.
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