At summer camp one time I was part of an elaborate game of human Clue. The counselors dressed up in laboriously ridiculous costumes and tasked us with equally ridiculous challenges before they would give us hints toward discovering whodunnit. It was amusing, ever so slightly degrading, and went on just a bit too long. Same with “Murderville.”
The new six-episode Netflix series dropped last week, and its premise taunted a brilliant mash-up of comedy and crime. Senior Detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) is joined by a new celebrity guest in each episode, who must then help him solve a murder. The catch is, the guest doesn’t know the script, and must improv his or her way through three suspects and a handful of clues to arrive at the correct answer and crack the mystery.
There is always a right answer, with enough hints riddled throughout the episode to make it possible to find. At the end, the three suspects are gathered for the celebrity guest to name the killer in a moment I can’t help but compare to the elimination of chefs in “Chopped.”
It’s a fun and creative premise that just, like a meandering joke with no real punch line, goes on too long. Each of the six episodes clocks in at roughly 35 minutes, but cutting them down to 20 minutes would be a big improvement — perhaps enough to make the show really enjoyable.
As the show’s written, however, Seattle is a deliberately obnoxious ripoff of Ron Swanson, and each episode begins with a tidbit of a forced storyline surrounding Seattle, police chief Rhonda, and their divorce. The show isn’t conducive to multiple seasons (and hopefully the producers agree with me), so the forced insertion of a continuing cross-episode side plot seems like a waste of runtime that isn’t fleshed out enough to be worthwhile.
Before pounding the pavement to interview the murder suspects, Seattle also sits down with each celebrity guest in a sort of interview. I assume it’s included to showcase each guest’s improv, but it usually just comes off as slow and flat.
The lineup includes Conan O’Brien, Marshawn Lynch, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, and Ken Jeong. I has especially high expectations from Jeong after loving him in “Community,” and from Conan. But neither added much on-the-fly improv other than facial expressions and mannerisms, although both are still admittedly entertaining with those. With the exception of Stone (who delivered some witty acting with a straight face), most of the guests do more break-the-fourth-wall giggling than dishing back comedy of their own.
It’s still entertaining, in the same way it’s entertaining to watch a comedian or a magician pull a random member of the audience into his act. But when that happens, we know not to expect much contribution from the audience member. He’s going to laugh and awkwardly not know what to say, but that’s all you expect from him. Not so with celebrities (especially comedians!), whom we expect to be more comfortable on the spot.
If you like the pace of elimination cooking shows or “House Hunters” or game shows or competitions like “The Bachelor,” you might find “Murderville” enjoyable. I tend to find those shows interesting on the first episode, but with little to keep you coming back — every “Chopped” or “Jeopardy!” episode is more or less the same recipe with different ingredients, and it’s the same here.
In this case, that formula would be fine for a quick 20-minute romp through a crime scene, but more than half an hour per episode is too much time to devote to such subject matter. Like a case gone cold, “Murderville” drags on too long, and eventually you find you’re just not that invested in it anymore.