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Recommended: Murderville on Netflix

Improv comedy is famously hit or miss, but an all-in Will Arnett kills in this murder mystery comedy
  • There's been a murder, but not to worry: Detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) and his trainee Conan O'Brien are on the case. (Photo: Netflix)
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    Murderville Season 1 | Netflix
    Half-Hour Comedy (6 episodes) | TV-MA

    What's Murderville About?

    A murder mystery is solved through a series of improvised comedy scenes.

    Who's Involved?

    • Will Arnett (Lego Masters, Arrested Development) is hard-bitten cop Terry Seattle, who solves bizarre crimes with help from celebrity guest trainees.
    • Haneefah Wood (Truth Be Told) plays his ex-wife and boss at the police department.
    • Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong and NFL great Marshawn Lynch are the celebrity “detective trainees” in Season 1.
    • Krister Johnson created Murderville and is known to genre-parody fans for his work on Childrens Hospital and Medical Police, both streaming on Netflix.

    Why (and to whom) do we recommend it?

    Merging improvisational and scripted comedy is not a new thing — John Lehr’s 10 Items or Less was one of the funniest shows of the aughts — but this adaptation of the British series Murder in Successville feels fresh and innovative, a tribute less to its format than the all-in performance of Will Arnett. The show is structured like a whodunit, sort of: Mr. Lego Master plays homicide detective Terry Seattle, who is paired each episode with a different “detective trainee” in solving a bizarre murder.

    The conceit of Murderville is that the guest trainee doesn’t know the storyline; going into each scene cold, he or she must wing it. As a result, everyone else in the scene forced to improvise, including the murder suspects and Arnett himself, and that last part is why Murderville ultimately succeeds: Arnett is so completely over the top.

    Operating as an especially manic version of Leslie Nielsen from the old Naked Gun movies, Arnett consistently makes it a challenge for his trainees to keep straight faces. (At one point Conan completely loses it, a la David Spade in the Matt Foley sketch.) Unlike live improv comedy, there’s no audience, so the single-camera footage can be edited, resulting in a show that manages to be both loose and tight.

    Murderville isn’t remotely a murder mystery, or even a parody of a murder mystery. But it offers a fresh take on improvisational comedy, one of the few underrepresented subgenres in today’s television landscape.

    Pairs well with

    • Middleditch & Schwartz (Netflix) — Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz weave intricate 45-minute improvised programs out of a single interview with an audience member.
    • Quick Draw (Hulu) — 10 Items for Less is inexplicably not available for streaming, but John Lehr and Nancy Hower teamed up again for this 2013 structured improv comedy starring Lehr as a clueless Easterner who winds up a sheriff in the Old West.

  • Murderville (Season 1)
    All six episodes are now streaming on Netflix.
    Developed by: Krister Johnson. Based on Murder in Successville by Andy Brereton and Avril Spary.
    Starring: Will Arnett, Haneefah Wood, Lilan Bowden, Phillip Smithey, Conan O'Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Annie Murphy, Sharon Stone, Ken Jeong, and Marshawn Lynch.
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    TOPICS: Murderville, Netflix, Annie Murphy, Conan O'Brien, Haneefah Wood, Ken Jeong, Krister Johnson, Kumail Nanjiani, Lilan Bowden, Marshawn Lynch, Phillip Smithey, Sharon Stone, Will Arnett