Only Something in the Building?
September 29, 2021 6:00 AM   Subscribe

There is a new Hulu show called Only Murders in the Building. The show gets its title from a true-crime podcast created by the three main characters that is also called "Only Murders in the Building". The show seems to think this is an obvious reference to something but neither I, nor anyone I've asked, nor folks on FanFare, seem to get the joke. Any ideas? [No major spoilers in the question, but I can't speak for the answers, obvs.]

The phrase first appears when one character suggests investigating another murder they have heard of, but the suggestion is shot down immediately. "No, only murders in the building." says another, in a way that suggests they are making a bit of wordplay. This becomes the title of their podcast, which suggests it was a notable turn of phrase to the character who eventually publishes the podcast. Finally, the podcast is being mocked at one point by someone in front of a large audience and they say, essentially, "And the title of the stupid podcast is - get this - 'Only Murders in the Building'!" This gets raucous laughter from the crowd.

So what gives? I suspect this is some sort of very New Yorky, maybe even Upper West Sidey, in-joke, but it's hard to search for it online without results getting polluted with references to the show or to actual murders :(
posted by Rock Steady to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My interpretation: the title was mocked because it is such a limited topic. From the beginning, the somewhat inept, podcast hosts have set themselves up for a, most likely, short run show. Had they thought bigger, they would have gone with a broader title. The successful podcast host is mocking their naivety.
posted by jennstra at 6:08 AM on September 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I thought this was just making fun of crime shows by limiting the scope of their investigations to their building. The joke being that buildings wouldn't normally have multiple separate murders.

Have you seen this brief article on the name?
posted by knapah at 6:09 AM on September 29, 2021 [15 favorites]

Response by poster: knapah, thanks for that article! It seems to answer the question that it is just a product of Steve Martin's prodigious brain:
“That choice was firmly in the mind of Steve Martin from the very beginning,” Hoffman told us. “He presented it to me and said, ‘I feel this has to be the title. I don’t know why, (but) this has to be the title.'”
posted by Rock Steady at 6:14 AM on September 29, 2021 [4 favorites]

To me, it also evokes the way people in those UWS coops can have an almost provincial intensity of interest in building life, in a way that would seem weird to either people who live in freestanding homes or people who rent in normal rental buildings.
posted by praemunire at 7:34 AM on September 29, 2021 [16 favorites]

evokes the way people in those UWS coops can have an almost provincial intensity of interest in building life

When I was growing up, some of my friends lived in UWS buildings where everyone who had cable TV had a channel that was just a live camera feed from the building's entrance lobby. Naturally that was everyone's favorite channel.
posted by Umami Dearest at 8:00 AM on September 29, 2021 [24 favorites]

I agree that it's mean to be funny -- like how many murders do you expect there to be in this building?!?
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:38 AM on September 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

I don't know if it was Martin's explicit intent, but I feel like on the one hand it takes a trend on the various law & orders (laws & order?) and intensifies it to absurdity - where they each have their own genre of crime, but this is even more specific than svu or major crimes. AND on the other hand it inverts the other trend in crime shows to expand jurisdiction to get more interesting/varied crime scenes - no thanks NCIS anywhere in the world as long as a sailor is involved, no thanks CSIs of ever more cities, we are sticking to what we know best, and what we know best is this specific building.

You're here to report an attempted murder in the garden? Sorry, that's several different departments.
posted by solotoro at 9:34 AM on September 29, 2021 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: To be clear, I get the connotations and the general humor of it, it just seems like it's making a very specific reference, like if a mystery that took place in a Hollywood movie studio were called There's No Business Like Murder Business or whatever. Looks like that's not the case!
posted by Rock Steady at 9:48 AM on September 29, 2021

Although this is probably not helpful, I liked the wordplay of it - until the actual meaning of the title within the show was made plain ("We only talk about murders in the building - nothing outside of it"), I thought it mean't that the building was full of murder; that everyone has their skeletons (There is only murder in the building). Which is, obviously, what the show is about. So I'm right in my wrongness.
posted by Grangousier at 12:06 PM on September 29, 2021

Yeah I don't think the characters' reaction to the phrase was "hey this is accidentally a reference to [thing]" -- it was just them recognizing a pithy title the way someone might be like, "ooh! band name!"
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 12:32 PM on September 29, 2021 [5 favorites]

When I saw the title on my media service, I thought it was a comedic reference to Little Britain's 'only gay in the village' skit which, among my friends has become an 'only X in the Y' verbal meme. The joke is that there are a number of X in the Y.
posted by Thella at 4:42 PM on September 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

I have a huge podcast habit and feel confident that it's very much not a specific reference. Instead,it's mocking a type of title that is hyperspecific, in the way solotoro describes. Everyone who has a podcast works so super hard to carve out a distinct niche. Their niche is...their building. And the way they light on that phrase mocks the way people take an ordinary turn of phrase and turn it into a podcast title. It's the opposite of a specific reference - it mocks the entire ethos of podcasting.
posted by Miko at 8:52 PM on September 29, 2021 [2 favorites]

They did a Steven Colbert interview where they talk about the show - part of the joke is they're old guys that don't get out much and don't want to investigate anything they'd actually have to leave the building for.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:51 PM on September 30, 2021 [1 favorite]

The title didn't make sense to me when I first read it; it wasn't until they actually said it in the show that I realized it's "Only Murders in the Building" and not "Only Murders In the Building." Maybe I'm not alone in this.
posted by The corpse in the library at 11:59 AM on October 3, 2021 [1 favorite]

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