By Joan Amenn
When “Only Murders in the Building” (2021) premiered a few months ago, it was bound to receive some mixed reviews. Both co-stars Martin Short and Steve Martin can be polarizing in their unique brands of humor. You either like them or you don’t. However, the real star of the show is Selena Gomez who plays Mabel Mora, a reimagined femme fatale for the twenty first century.
Maybe it’s my New York roots but I found the series charming in how it depicts the casual way neighbors form bonds over random interests in that city. In this case, our trio of apartment dwellers come together over their love for a good mystery. Initially Mabel was a bit of a mystery herself, like any good noir femme. While both men are fairly open about their pasts, she keeps her story under wraps even after the “murder” of the series title takes place. It is only later that her connection to the victim is revealed.
Like many other femme fatales of the genre, Mabel once ran with a bit of a bad crowd. Gomez is quite convincing in her rueful reminiscence of how naïve she once was in how she rationalized what she and her friends did for fun years ago. Playing at being the “Hardy Boys” was how she saw it then but the murder brings back how badly her camaraderie ended. Of course, there is a missing valuable to be found too, which a femme fatale would naturally be drawn to. Mabel, like Mary Astor in “The Maltese Falcon” (1941) is obsessed with finding the gem and solving the mystery.
Unlike Lauren Bacall in “The Big Sleep” (1946), Gomez is neither tall nor blond. But like Bogart’s favorite co-star she is a bit of a fashionista, causing Short to comment at one point about her stylish footwear. Like Bacall, she is as tough as nails and able to defend herself. However, unlike the noir femmes of the past who tended to favor snub nosed pistols, Mabel’s weapons of choice are knitting needles. Exceedingly long, metal knitting needles.
Season 1 ended with a cliffhanger that finds our modern femme entangled in yet another mysterious murder which she may be framed for committing. Just as her love interest is cleared for a past crime he did not commit, she now faces her own battle in absolving herself with the police. “Only Murders in the Building” is a breezy homage to the great noir films of the 1940’s with a wry take on the foibles of New Yorkers thrown in the mix. Tune in for the plot twists but stick around for the lox and bagels, especially since it has been renewed for a second season. I can’t wait to see how Mabel out thinks her two older male costars next time.