The playful idea trumps the hit-miss execution in “Murderville,” a semi-improvised comedy/murder-mystery that’s every bit as odd and messy as that sounds. Will Arnett is the constant in this US version of a British format, which, in terms of the material’s weightiness, occupies that vague space between a good “SNL” sketch and, when prolonged, a so-so series.
Arnett plays snarling homicide detective Terry Seattle, who takes on a different celebrity guest in each of the six episodes as his “trainee.” While Arnett and everyone else has a script (such as it is), the guests don’t, forcing them to roll with whatever lunacy is thrown their way and eventually try to solve the case, choosing from one of three designated suspects.
Not surprisingly, the guests yield varying comedic returns, but the producers do all they can to knock them off their games (and not incidentally, crack them up), from Arnett (sorry, Seattle) smothering Conan O’Brien’s food in hot sauce to repeatedly pressing Sharon Stone on whether she’s falling in love with him.
Others featured in this opening batch of episodes are Annie Murphy, Ken Jeong, Kumail Nanjiani, and NFL veteran Marshawn Lynch.
Essentially, “Murderville” (based on an award-winning BBC show titled “Murder in Successville”) falls into that growing subgenre of reality/scripted hybrids, seeking a measure of spontaneity and even a play-along element, as each guest walks through who they think the killer is before the final reveal.
Still, it’s such a thin construct that most of the burden falls on Arnett to keep the silliness quotient high, and while he can vamp with the best of them, the process yields diminishing returns. Indeed, this is one of those shows where spreading out the viewing, as opposed to bingeing, helps considerably, since consuming more than one in a sitting quickly becomes numbing.
As ideas go, Netflix gets points for trying something a little bit different, but the result mostly serves as a reminder that trying to be goofy is hard work. “Murderville” is a nice place to visit, but finally doesn’t generate enough consistent laughs to make it worth hanging around for long.
“Murderville” premieres Feb. 3 on Netflix.