I can imagine the pitch to Netflix executives for Murderville, a six-episode, part-scripted-part-improv murder mystery comedy, went something like this:
“Think Saturday Night Live meets Law and Order meets Whose Line is it Anyway?”
(Note: the show was adapted from the BBC series, Murder in Successville, but I’d like to imagine this description was pitched nonetheless.)
The show stars Detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett of Arrested Development fame), and each episode features a different celebrity guest who is introduced as Terry’s detective-in-training. Together they solve the murder of the day with one caveat; the celebrity guest is not given a script for the episode. Detective Terry guides each trainee through the details of the case and keeps the plot moving forward, but the undeniable appeal of the show is the improv aspect of it.
For some guests, like Conan O’Brien, the unscripted back-and-forth comes naturally and makes for a hilarious viewing experience. Others not so much. For instance, one would think that Ken Jeong, a comedian, would really shine in this format. But his episode was hard to watch, if only for his constant breaking out of character. He simply laughed too much instead of adding his own improv contributions to the scene. My favorite celebrity performance, surprisingly, came from retired NFL star, Marshawn Lynch. I won’t offer any details to spoil his performance, but I will say, as a die-hard fan of American football and someone who has seen Lynch’s media interviews, I shouldn’t have been surprised. He once handed out Skittles to a few post-game reporters he felt asked the best questions. All the episodes of the show were wildly entertaining, and at 30-minutes an episode, the entire season is easily binged in one lazy afternoon.
As of this writing, Netflix has not made a definitive decision about season two, but my guess is Murderville will develop a bit of a cult-following and a second season will get picked up by someone out in the streaming universe. (Rated TV_MA for strong language, gore. Netflix)
About the Author
Daniel Jung is a graduate of Calvin Theological Seminary and an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. He lives in Northern California, where he serves as an associate pastor at Home of Christ in Cupertino.