Murderville is an American adaptation of BBC 3’s Murder in Successville, which when it first aired, divided opinion. But its quirky mix of murder mystery, improv and partly-scripted comedy eventually won over fans and turned into a cult classic.
The gimmick behind the show is simple – the week’s guest takes part in a whodunnit but they don’t get a script to work with. The guests are placed in extremely uncomfortable situations and they have to respond while trying to keep a straight face about it – or not.
Will Arnett plays washed-up detective Terry Seattle, who’s stuck in the past and unable to move on with this life following the death of his partner Lori Griffin (literally Jennifer Aniston’s photo). His mental state takes its toll on his relationships, especially his marriage to Chief Rhonda Jenkins-Seattle (Haneefah Wood).
If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that Murderville was a Team Coco offshoot. The goofy sketch show vibe of the series and the personalities of the guest stars makes Murderville very different from its British counterpart.
No doubt, fans of the British original will regard theirs as the superior version, but in many ways, it’s also a bit like American Office vs British Office. Not everyone might enjoy quirky British humour and the dark, Sin City aesthetics. Murderville is arguably somewhat ‘safer’ and more accessible.
While Successville guests were a diverse cast of celebrities deliberately chosen so they would be lost at sea, Murderville’s guest list is predominantly comedians. It’s fair to say that with more experienced hands in the limelight, you lose much of what makes the show unique, but at the same time, there is potential for unlikely chemistry. Furthermore, it makes sense for the show to have a completely different vibe – why repeat the same formula? And worse, fail to match the original?
One thing that Murderville can’t match is the effectiveness of how the supporting cast is used. In Successville, every minor character is a piss-take of a real-life celebrity. As such, every interaction between DI Sleet (the ‘original’ Seattle) and the supporting cast is in itself a comedy bit. Murderville’s residents aren’t quite as colourful, with only a handful of characters who will leave a lasting impression on you. This means that humour responsibilities fall solely on Seattle’s shoulders and his ability to string his guest along.
To be honest, it doesn’t always ‘work’. Seattle could hardly get a rise out of Sharon Stone despite throwing in the kitchen sink but her cold-blooded responses are in itself a spectacle. But that’s the charm of the concept – you never quite know what you’re going to get. Some setups land with panache, while others take an unexpected turn. Seeing Ken Jeong fail miserably at keeping a straight face every other scene is a real treat.
A quick summary of what to expect from each of the guests:
- Conan o Brien – Conan looks like he’s in one of his remotes and he gives it as good as he gets. Especially when it’s Will Arnett on the other end.
- Marshawn Lynch – Ex-Seattle Seahawks running back switches easily from lovable goofball to fish out of the water.
- Kumail Nanjiani – Sporting Kumail just goes with anything and lets Seattle have a good time. We get plenty of good times.
- Annie Murphy – Gets one of the funniest moments in the series talking smack to a mobster boss at the behest of Seattle.
- Sharon Stone – A hard-nosed, good sport who takes the bit seriously and Seattle has a hard time making her crack. She almost makes a corpse break character.
- Ken Jeong – Nobody breaks character more often than Ken Jeong. Seattle knows which buttons to push and doesn’t let up.
Murderville is good for a few laughs and the idea is refreshing enough to keep you invested in this mini-series. And if you find that this is right up your alley, it’s time to move on to Murder in Successville.
Murderville won’t kill with its jokes, but it is good for some chuckles.