Another Detective Show, Really?
In a world where there’s an overabundance of procedural detective shows, how could you possibly find a fresh slant and want to create another? Insert Will Arnett in ‘Murderville’, a delightfully hilarious new improvised comedy on Netflix. ‘Murderville’ follows Arnett’s character, Detective Terry Seattle, as he struggles to keep a straight face while he works to solve murders with a rotating cast of new partners, none of whom have been given a script. The list of partners for Arnett features a strong and random group of Conan O’Brien, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong, Kumail Nanjiani, and a very funny Marshawn Lynch.
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As he has done in his better roles throughout his career, Arnett is in strong form leaning into his zany side as Terry Seattle. Arnett is the only one actually in on the joke as he knows and moves the plot along through his goading of his partners, forcing them into awkward and very strange improv scenes as they try to solve comedically complex and bizarre murders. Arnett has a very impressive talent to create completely natural-seeming chemistry quickly with his fellow actors that is definitely on full display here. His pumped-up antics, over-the-top reactions, and running commentary both give his partners something to feed off of, while also struggling to maintain their composure to get through their scenes.
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I couldn’t help but think of another successful Netflix sketch show ‘I Think You Should Leave’ while watching Arnett’s performance. Like Tim Robinson in that show, Arnett hilariously plays up the absurdity to such an unbelievable level that you have no choice but to buy into the scene no matter how insane it becomes. Arnett as he has been his whole career stands out in this show when he is having fun being an over the top version of himself. Some of his finest comedic work as an actor comes in films like ‘Hot Rod’ where he is just completely outside the realm of reality and a wholly ridiculous person. The whole show in general has a feeling that it was tremendously fun to make, and every character seems to genuinely be having a great time trying to break one another.
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Playing With the Genre and Yielding Successful Results
‘Murderville’ to me is a singularly very interesting concept for a series. It is certainly not easy to carry improv for as long as they aspire to, but it somehow works by bringing the viewer into the show and making them feel like they are a part of the ride as they feel the tension of the ‘new trainees’. As much as it is based on improv, the show strikes an interesting tone of almost trying to marry episodic and reality TV. Since each of the new trainees is in effect playing a version of themselves and using their own names, the show draws you in and puts you in the shoes of the visiting guest, feeling all of the cringe-worthy scenes as they unfold. Since we the audience are in effect playing the role of trainee along with the celebrity guests, it is a fun wrinkle as well that they keep a lot of the reactions of various characters breaking down in their scenes.
A great bit the show employs is when the trainee for the episode is first introduced to Terry Seattle. Since they do not have a script and are very much in the dark about the preceding 5 minutes of content to start the episode, each trainee enters the first scene with tremendously genuine anxiety and intimidation having no idea what has taken place thus far. Even an established performer such as Conan O’Brien couldn’t help but break character in the first scene as he tried to keep it together and impress his hard-nosed partner in Seattle.
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‘Murderville’ – Using the Format as a Road Map For Comedy
A major factor in helping establish the show’s tone and setting comes through its gritty cinematography, helping to suggest Terry Seattle may be taking the events of the show to heart. The lighting and camerawork are working to call back to classic detective movies and shows like ‘Lethal Weapon’ or even ‘Beverly Hills Cop’ which helps play to the aspirations of ‘Murderville’ to be a parody of the format and premise of these types of shows and movies. In Seattle’s head, he is living the life of a Martin Riggs type of detective, who just so happens to have a constant stable of celebrity trainees ready and willing to be his partner.
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Coupled with the cinematography, another nice highlight of the show comes in the form of its use of voiceover. As Seattle, Arnett has a consistent running commentary as we jump from scene to scene of him expressing the events that have just taken place and to help set up the next scene. With his line readings coming in the chiseled and aggressive detective voice he employs, we get a hilarious glimpse into the inner workings of the fictional detective’s mind and get a genuinely solid grasp on his character that we don’t have time to get through the usual exposition and backstory.
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The show also employs Arnett’s voice work as a way to ‘help’ his trainees while they are stuck in tense situations. Each episode has a gag where the trainee has to go ‘undercover’ to infiltrate and get more information from a potential suspect. Since they are only improvising and don’t have formal lines, Arnett speaks to the trainee through an earpiece and feeds them nonsense to say while the trainee attempts to keep a straight face. This serves to both test the improv chops of each of the trainees and give them a chance to shine if they can make it through his line feedings without completely losing it in front of the suspect and ‘blowing their cover.’
‘Murderville’ is a singularly interesting show that was well worth the anticipation. Will Arnett is at home playing the over-the-top ridiculous Terry Seattle, and genuinely seems to have had a blast of a time making the show. Each of the trainees really bring their A-game, trying to keep up with Arnett’s comedic chops and the ridiculous plot as they help to make it unfold as they go and legitimately giving it their all despite the wacky events that befall them. All six episodes of ‘Murderville’ are now streaming on Netflix.
Cast: Will Arnett, Conan O’Brien, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong, Kumail Nanjiani, Marshawn Lynch
Cinematography: Kevin Atkinson | Editors: James Fitzpatrick, Maura Corey, Nicholas Gallucci
Directors: Iain Morris and Brennan Shroff | Creator: Krister Johnson |
Producers: Franny Baldwin, David Soldinger, Trish Hadley
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.