- TV News -Is 'Murderville' Improvised? The Original British Series Makes Sense Of The Unusual Premise
Murderville is the TV equivalent of a murder mystery dinner party. If that sentence instantly made you cringe from secondhand embarrassment then this is probably not the show for you. However, if you don't mind a side of awkwardness with your crime-solving then this American adaptation of BBC Three's cult hit Murder in Successville is well worth checking out.
As long as you know the premise is confusing AF going on, then you should be all set. Here's the deal: the show is largely improvised. There is a script, and Will Arnett and the rest of the regular cast all get to see it in advance of filming. The same cannot be said for the weekly guest stars, which include the likes of Schitt's Creek's Annie Murphy, Conan O'Brien, and Oscar-winner Sharon Stone.
The Netflix series gives viewers a brief overview of how the series works in the intro, but it's all very headache-inducing. Basically, each episode features Arnett's Detective Terry Seattle being paired with a new partner played by the celebrity of the week. Then he and the celebrity set about solving an absurd murder mystery (to give you an idea of the absurdity level, a magician saws his assistant in half in the first episode). The catch is, the celebrity has to figure out which suspect is the murderer — and there is a definitive right answer — but since they don't have a script, they have to rely on the clues served up by the other actors on the show to crack the case.
And just to make things just a little bit more complicated, Arnett is actively trying to distract and confuse them, which can either lead to hilarity (O'Brien) or extended awkward silences (Murphy, who gets really into solving the mystery). Again, it's very confusing, but the British show offers up some much-needed context.
So, How Much Of Murderville Is Actually Improvised?
Each episode of Murder in Successville started with the above disclaimer to let viewers in on the joke right up front. Murderville appears to follow a similar format. Since the celebrity guest doesn't get a script, then it's safe to assume the majority of the show, aside from the opening which usually features Terry Seattle interacting with his boss/ex-wife Chief Rhonda Jenkins-Seattle, is improvised. With the guest actors being thrown into the story blind, every actor on the show has to be prepared to roll with whatever questions they ask.
Remember, in addition to improving with Arnett, the guest actors are also trying to solve the central mystery. That means they approach each suspect with a list of questions — questions Arnett hilariously tries his best to stop them from asking. Throughout the season you'll notice the actors all have notepads which they actually appear to be jotting down notes in to keep track of all the clues.
The guest stars on the British series did the same thing, and as you can imagine, the tone of both versions of the show varies wildly based on how comfortable the guest actor is with improv. For instance, Emma Bunton looks slightly traumatized by the end of her episode of Murder in Successville, whereas British reality TV royalty Vicky Pattinson holds her own against series lead Tom Davis. Overall, Netflix's version of the show has bigger names, but the performances are just as much of a mixed bag as they were in the British original.
In addition to producing inspired comedic moments, improv is also inherently awkward, which means the cringe factor in Murderville can be high at times. But there's also something delightful about knowing that neither you or the celeb of the week has any idea what the hell is going on during any given minute of the show.
Images: Netflix; BBC Three; Lara Solanki/Netflix