‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 3 Review: Meryl Streep Takes Center Stage in Broadway-Set Mystery

The amateur detective trio becomes fractured as the Hulu comedy returns with a more focused installment

Meryl Streep and Martin Short in "Only Murders in the Building."(Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

The end of “Only Murders in the Building” Season 2 featured a flash forward to a year after the series’ true-crime podcasting trio — Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin) and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) — solved the murder of their curmudgeon of a neighbor Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell). Set on opening night of Oliver’s latest Broadway play (“Death Rattle,” which is even more absurd than you can imagine based on the title), with Charles and Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd) as the show’s feuding stars, the epilogue served as the series’ way of saying, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.” Or, more specifically, as Mabel herself said to close out the episode and season: “You’ve got to be f–g kidding me.” Because, naturally Ben ended up dying right there on the Broadway stage, most definitely not from natural causes.

That cliffhanger ending suggested a shift in the status quo for this next season, both in terms of Oliver and Charles’ returns to professional success and the fact that the murder took place in a building (and on a Broadway stage) but not the building (the Arconia). So when the series returns Tuesday on Hulu, that status quo shift propels the season.

As this season progresses, the amateur detective trio becomes more and more fractured, hiding personal issues and even clues from each other for their own purposes. Oliver is obsessed with making “Death Rattle” into a success, regardless of who might have committed the crime. Mabel is the odd woman out not being part of the play, and struggling to find her purpose outside of the podcast. Charles tries to be the glue but remains a mess himself.

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in “Only Murders in the Building.” (Patrick Harbron/Hulu)

Things are definitely different as the trio isn’t on the same page for most of the season — and the podcast itself is on the back burner — but Short, Martin and Gomez all remain electric, both together and apart.

There’s also another major change to the series that feels a long time coming with cat-obsessed neighbor Howard Morris (Michael Cyril Creighton) becoming even closer to the trio as Oliver’s assistant. (Creighton also becomes a series regular, with the opening credits adjusted accordingly to reflect the change.) For a series as meta as “Only Murders,” it’s funny to say that any specific character speaks for the audience — but Howard especially fills that role this season.

This season is less concerned with the Arconia and more with being a love letter to Broadway and New York theater. Which paves the way for the elephant in the room, as the one and only Meryl Streep plays a vital role as Loretta Durkin, a “Death Rattle” cast member and potential murder suspect. (Both she and Rudd are credited as “Special Guest Stars.”)

So much of the promotion for this season has centered on Streep, which has been cause for concern. As the second season of “Big Little Lies” proved, the rare Streep television appearance runs the risk of making her the center of attention. But Streep’s performance meshes well with the other big-time stars and only enhances the quicky, charming nature of the popular Hulu series.

Even with these big swings, showrunner John Hoffman (who co-created the series with Steve Martin) keeps the show from getting too big for its own good. There is one scene in the premiere that makes it seem like Streep might stick out like a sore thumb, but other than that, she is very much a welcome addition, like Rudd and the rest of the “Death Rattle” cast. As good as Season 2 was, it felt a bit convoluted, with mysteries layered on top of mysteries in the pursuit of finding the killer.

Season 3 gets back to a more focused, intimate story — and that’s no small feat when centered around Broadway.

“Only Murders in the Building” Season 3 returns Tuesday, Aug. 8, on Hulu.