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How Only Murders in the Building Highlights the Good and Bad of the True Crime Community


  • True crime has become a popular genre, with podcasts, books, movies, and series dedicated to it, but there are ethical concerns about profiting off of others’ tragedies.
  • Only Murders in the Building highlights the entertaining aspect of amateur detectives, but also highlights the negative consequences of armchair detectives interfering in investigations.
  • The show examines how some true crime content focuses on the criminals rather than the victims, blurring the line between championing and exploiting those involved. It also explores how true crime can cultivate a sense of community and provide a distraction and a way to do good.

Only Murders in the Building premiered on Hulu in 2021 and became one of the streaming platform’s most-watched comedies. It also went on for multiple seasons. The show takes place in a fictional building called the Arconia in Manhattan. Our three main characters are Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez). The three live in the same building and, as the title of the show suggests, solve murders in the building.

Despite the show dealing with murder, it is definitely a comedy. Whether it be the situations the trio find themselves in, the colorful cast of residents in the Arconia, or downright hilarious lines, it remains light in tone. Yet the subject matter means the creators can’t ignore the darker, heavier moments that come with talking about true crime. Here’s how the hit Hulu show highlights the good and bad of the true crime community.

The True Crime Craze

Podcast fans in Only Murders in the Building

True crime was once a niche interest for people who were interested in scouring discussion boards and reading police reports. Now, there are books, movies, series, and, as Only Murders in the Building shows, podcasts dedicated to it. The surging interest in this genre has birthed several documentaries, investigative series, and fictionalized shows based on real and fictional killers. In 2019, Zac Efron starred in Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile, a film based on Ted Bundy. In 2022, Evan Peters portrayed Jeffrey Dahmer in Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. These productions gained lots of attention and backlash, especially Dahmer as the victim’s families were particularly vocal.

Only Murders in the Building shines a light on this phenomenon. Charles, Oliver, and Mabel bought into the true crime hype as they were fans of another podcast. The interest only grew as they covered more murders and viewers saw the other residents in the building become more invested. They have merch. They have fans. And this is not exaggerated for the show. True crime content creators have upwards of a million followers/subscribers and have crafted profitable brands. Some question the ethics of profiting off of others’ tragedies. Many of these creators donate money to organizations fighting crime and raise awareness about forgotten cases. The question remains: is this a net positive or negative?

Related: The Best Hulu Original Films and Television Series

Amateur Detectives

Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez in Only Murders in the Building

One of the most entertaining parts about Only Murders in the Building is seeing the main characters play detective and try to break down the case. Arguably the best moments of the show are in fact watching characters sneak backstage to find items, break into apartments before the crime scene can be cleaned up, and concocting elaborate setups. But this does not happen without criticism. On the show, there’s a recurring character called Detective Williams, who admonishes the trio in a deadpan expression how they need to stop playing detective and that “true crime nuts” poke their noses in the investigation, often making the job harder for actual law enforcement.

Anyone who has dived into true crime cases knows the amount of armchair detectives who flock to Reddit forums and the comments of YouTube videos, coming up with their own theories and suspects. While having more eyes on cases can yield benefits, bringing up angles others haven’t, there are also downsides. There have been instances when overzealous true crime aficionados take to contacting suspects, victim’s families, even leading to harassment. S,o while Only Murders in the Building certainly highlights how extreme and ridiculous Charles, Oliver, and Mabel are in their actions, does it also glamorize or normalize it?

People, Victims, or Just Names?

Selena Gomez and the Hardy Boys in Only Murders in the Building

Each season of Only Murders focuses on a particular victim. Season 1 had Tim Kono. Season 2 — Bunny Folger. Season 3 — Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd). Mabel was particularly determined to humanize Tim, even with her own complicated feelings for him. Ben had a lot of attention on him due to being a celebrity. But the show does poke fun at the tendency for some involved in true crime to see victims are simply another name on the list. In Season 3, morally bankrupt podcaster Cinna Canning (Tina Fey) tells Mabel she’s “lucky” that people keep getting murdered in her building because it provides more content.

A lot of the backlash for programs that center on the crimes of Bundy and Dahmer is the focus on the criminals and not those who they impacted. Yet there are “Tim Kono-like” victims who would not get the attention or justice they deserved because of preconceived notions about them. Tim wasn’t a good person, but he wasn’t all bad and his murderer still needed to be held accountable. True crime fans are adamant that even people who “don’t light up the room” deserve to have their cases heard. However, the line between championing and exploiting those involved can sometimes blur.

Related: Only Murders in the Building: The 10 Best Major & Recurring Characters from Seasons 1 & 2, Ranked

Selena Gomez, Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Zoe Colletti in Only Murders in the Building

Not only did the main trio find each other through their shared love of a true crime podcast, but they have their own hoard of diehard fans. These fans wait outside their building and happily insert themselves into the investigations. There’s no shortage of critics who question why so many people (especially women) take interest in true crime. Only Murders provides one potential reason why. All of the characters have their own internal struggles. In Season 1, Mabel is still dealing with the death of her former friends, her other friend being wrongly incarcerated, the death of her father, and strained relationship with her mother. Oliver is battling a dying career and financial troubles. Charles is coming to terms with no longer having the fame he did years ago and loneliness.

True crime allows individuals to, yes, learn about the most depraved humans, but also provide a distraction and for those who become more involved, a way to do good. It can feel like you’re honoring the victim by hearing their story, by trying to find the person who harmed them, and to prevent others from falling victim as well. And seeing thousands or millions of others who have the same goal is comforting. As a society we often shy away from darker, bleaker parts of our world. True crime “fans” embrace it. In a weird contradiction, it scares us of the world and also helps restore our faith in it by witnessing the slew of people fighting for change.

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