Lighthearted Murder Mysteries (Really!) Cure the Winter Blues
Why are they trending? Because you can shriek with fear … and laughter!
What’s so funny about murder? If you take a look at some of the most anticipated new shows of the season, the answer is: a lot. That’s because this year’s hottest genre is the murder-mystery comedy, a hybrid that combines the laughs of a traditional sitcom with the thrills of a detective drama or true-crime podcast. Hot on the heels of Hulu’s critically acclaimed Only Murders in the Building, other streamers are getting in on the action: January and February alone will see the release of Murderville and The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window on Netflix and The Afterparty on Apple TV+, while new seasons of returning hits (like Dead to Me and The Flight Attendant) are expected later this year. Here, a watch list of eight great recent murder-mystery comedies, which run the gamut from goofy spoofs to pulse-quickening (if still laughter-inducing) thrillers.
Only Murders in the Building (2021-)
The premise: The most-watched comedy in Hulu history and a recent magnet for awards nominations, Only Murders in the Building is a loving ode to true-crime podcasts. When a man shows up dead in the ritzy Arconia apartment building and investigators rule it a suicide, three residents spring into action to prove he was murdered: Semiretired actor Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin, 76), Broadway director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short, 71) and a young woman named Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) who’s renovating her aunt’s unit team up to gather clues and start a podcast about the crime. Filling out the cast, other residents of the Arconia include Oscar nominee Amy Ryan (53) as a professional bassoonist, Nathan Lane (65) as a deli-chain owner and Sting (70) as Sting.
The most killer part: You’ll love the animated opening credits sequence, which feels like a New Yorker cover come to life.
Watch it: Only Murders in the Building on Hulu
Mapleworth Murders (2020)
The premise: If you don’t know writer and comedian Paula Pell, 58, you should fix that ASAP! A writer on SNL for 18 years, Pell created such memorable characters as Debbie Downer and the Spartan cheerleaders. In 2020, she teamed up with 30 Rock’s John Lutz to create this off-the-wall parody of Murder, She Wrote for Quibi, the now-defunct platform dedicated to short-form content. Pell stars as the mystery writer Abigail Mapleworth, who investigates a slew of murders in her tiny hamlet of New Woodstream. Now available to stream for free on the Roku Channel, episodes are all less than 10 minutes long, but they’re filled to the brim with such guest stars as Tina Fey, Wanda Sykes, Maya Rudolph and Andy Samberg.
The most killer part: J.B. Smoove, 56, whom you may know as Larry’s housemate on Curb Your Enthusiasm, won an Emmy for his role as Chief Billy Bills.
Watch it: Mapleworth Murders on the Roku Channel
The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window (2022)
The premise: If you like The Woman in the Window or The Girl on the Train, you’ll love this dark satire of psychological thrillers. Anna (Kristen Bell) sits home every day, drinking wine, popping pills and staring out the window as life passes her by. A handsome stranger (Tom Riley) moves in across the street, and Anna’s life is turned upside down when she witnesses a bloody murder. Or does she? Did we mention there’s a lot of day wine being drunk? In fact, the series tagline is: “When it rains, she pours.”
The most killer part: The show, which is co-executive-produced by Will Ferrell (54), comes from the same production company as the Emmy-nominated Dead to Me.
Watch it: The Woman in the House Across the Street From the Girl in the Window on Netflix
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The premise: Based on the BBC Three series Murder in Successville, this new show stars Arrested Development’s Will Arnett, 51, as Senior Detective Terry Seattle. Arnett has called the show “Law & Order without a script,” and the concept is a unique one: Each episode brings a new murder case, and a special celebrity guest star plays Terry’s partner. While the main cast gets a script, the guest has to fully improvise a way through the case and is ultimately responsible for naming the killer.
The most killer part: The sure-to-be-hilarious guests for Season 1 are Sharon Stone (63), Conan O’Brien (58), Ken Jeong (52), Kumail Nanjiani, Marshawn Lynch and Schitt’s Creek Emmy winner Annie Murphy.
The Flight Attendant (2020-)
The premise: The Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco finally earned her first Emmy nomination for this darkly comedic HBO Max thriller, expected to return for its second season this spring. After a night of hard partying, flight attendant Cassie Bowden (Cuoco) wakes up in a Bangkok hotel room next to the bloody body of a man whose throat has been slit. When FBI agents question her about the killing, she tries to piece back together what happened on that fateful night, as she deals with surreal flashbacks and hallucinations. Rosie Perez, 57, costars as Cassie’s coworker, while T.R. Knight (George from Grey’s Anatomy) and Zosia Mamet (Shoshanna from Girls) play her brother and best friend.
The most killer part: After she starred on a very popular but very, very broad and laugh-track-backed sitcom for 12 seasons, you will be incredibly impressed by Cuoco’s dramatic range. We can’t wait to see her next role!
Watch it: The Flight Attendant on HBO Max
The Afterparty (2022)
The premise: On the night of their 15-year high school reunion, a group of friends gathers to celebrate at the home of pop singer Xavier (Dave Franco) — who ends up dead and dashed on the rocky beach below his mansion. Who, as they say, dunnit? The new Apple TV+ show comes from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the brains behind The Lego Movie and The Last Man on Earth, and it once again shows off their outsize creativity and willingness to take big risks. Each episode is told from the perspective of a different character and in a totally different genre, including action films, musicals and romantic comedies, with an ensemble that includes such sitcom standouts as Sam Richardson (Veep), Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), Ilana Glazer (Broad City) and Ike Barinholtz (The Mindy Project).
The most killer part: The always-reliable Tiffany Haddish steals scenes as Danner, the detective on the case.
Watch it: The Afterparty on Apple TV+
Dead to Me (2019-)
The premise: After her husband is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Laguna Beach real estate agent Jen Harding (Christina Applegate, 50) joins a grief support group, where she meets the kindhearted Judy Hale (Linda Cardellini). The two form a deep bond, but their friendship is tested as secrets begin to trickle out about Jen’s husband's death. The plot will keep you guessing, but it’s the immediate chemistry between Applegate and Cardellini that really makes this show sing. Filming for the third and final season had to be temporarily paused when Applegate announced her multiple sclerosis diagnosis, but the show is expected to return sometime this year.
The most killer part: TV legend Ed Asner appeared in one of his final roles as Judy’s friend at the retirement home where she works.
Watch it: Dead to Me on Netflix
Search Party (2016-22)
The premise: The less you know going into this wickedly funny comedy, the better. In Season 1, a biting satire of millennial malaise, bored Brooklynite Dory Sief (Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development) decides to investigate the disappearance of a random college acquaintance whom she barely knew. Over the course of five seasons, the show freewheels through genres, transforming with ease from true crime to psychological thriller to legal drama, and spoiler alert: The body count does start to rise. The impressive rotating cast of guest stars included Louie Anderson, Susan Sarandon (75), Jeff Goldblum (69) and Kathy Griffin (61).
The most killer part: It’s truly one of the most unpredictable shows of the last decade. Every time you think it’s going to zig, it zags and then keeps on zagging.
Watch it: Search Party on HBO Max
Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.