Review: ‘Murderville’ chooses quality over quantity for decent laughs

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It had some quality jokes that made me uncontrollably laugh out loud, but it takes more than star power and randomness to solidify a show as top-notch comedy.

If your Netflix viewing habits are anything like mine, the algorithm probably found a new show to shove down your throat every time you open the app: “Murderville.”

The trailer is star-studded with comedians from some of my favorite shows: Will Arnett from “Arrested Development,” Ken Jeong from “Community,” Annie Murphy from “Schitt’s Creek” and Conan O’Brien from… “Conan.” I decided to watch it despite being decidedly sick of the buddy cop genre, even when it’s satirical.

Starting off, the show has a fresh concept. Will Arnett plays a hardened, but stupid detective who lost his partner (Jennifer Aniston) years ago and can’t cope. Every episode, a new guest star is assigned as his rookie partner. The new partner, usually played by a comedian, doesn’t get a script and has to improv until they guess the killer’s identity at the end of the episode.

Photo contributed by Netflix.

While I’d consider “Murderville” to be funny, I can’t imagine gushing about it to my friends. Netflix marketed it as their new funniest show, and with so many beloved comedians, how could they be wrong? Well, I’ll tell you how: they depended too much on the guest cast. While the improv was unpredictable and silly, the plot and characters surrounding these surprise improv moments weren’t very well-written.

During the episode with ex-NFL running back Marshawn Lynch, I died laughing at the scene in which the interrogation room’s two-way mirror was missing. Lynch and Arnett, who were in the viewing room, had to mirror the movements of the people in the interrogation room so they wouldn’t know the mirror was missing.

The mirror joke is ridiculous, and the fear on Lynch’s face when he was told to mimic potential murderers is hilarious. However, besides this scene, the episode really relied on the over-the-top characters of the suspects. While the concepts for these characters were interesting and had a few clever one-liners, they were overplayed and nothing new.

This lackluster writing severely hurts the show. Most of the supporting cast of each episode are hilarious actors, but the writing itself is almost too tongue-in-cheek. The point of “Murderville” is to satirize serious cop dramas, but by being too over-the-top and stereotypical, it just feels cheesy.

It’s not just the supporting cast. Unfortunately, my beloved Arnett occasionally kills a gag by over-committing. It’s typically a ploy to get co-stars to break character, but since this isn’t SNL, it’s not nearly as funny as intended. Arnett, like the show itself, banks too much on improv and making guest stars uncomfortable rather than cleverly mocking cop show tropes.

That doesn’t mean the show isn’t funny, though. There are multiple strong contenders for best lines, many of which might sneak by viewers. A character announcing that someone had been “murdered against her will” made me pause the show to giggle.

The “undercover” bit of each episode was always hilarious; Ken Jeong infiltrates the Irish mob, Kumail Nanjiani is a cool guy from a suspect’s high school and Annie Murphy owns a pancake food truck. That said, the show relied too much on these bits. While the jokes were entertaining, they were too few and far between, which made some of the investigation scenes boring.

While I recommend watching “Murderville,” I don’t think it’s necessarily the innovative comedy Netflix really pushed it as. It had some quality jokes that made me uncontrollably laugh out loud, but it takes more than star power and randomness to solidify a show as top-notch comedy.

“Murderville” is rated TV-MA and is available to watch on Netflix.

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Alexandria Darmody (she/they) is the news editor for the Journal, and a senior journalism major and FTVP minor. She enjoys digital art, photography and reading nonfiction stories. In her free time, she makes collages from old magazines and collects stickers to decorate surfaces. She's interested in the business side of journalism, and she's an avid viewer of Succession.