Home Featured It’s been a good year for streaming whodunits

It’s been a good year for streaming whodunits

It’s been a good year for streaming whodunits


It all began with Natasha Lyonne calling bullshit. At the start of the year, Peacock premiered its first great original series with Poker Face, a Rian Johnson-helmed whodunit created in the mold of classic mystery-of-the-week shows. Since then, it’s been a surprisingly fruitful period for mystery shows on streaming services, from the return of The Afterparty to the third season of Only Murders in the Building, which wraps up on Tuesday evening.

At a time when streaming networks tend to default to either big-budget blockbusters or low-budget reality hits, the resurgence of the mystery genre has been very welcome. Each of these three shows helps to fill in a nice middle ground once occupied by the likes of Murder, She Wrote and Columbo. They’re about crime and death, sure, but also playful, with lots of jokes and lovable characters. Best of all? They’re very different from one another.

The Afterparty.
Image: Apple

The Afterparty season 2

Streaming on Apple TV Plus

The Afterparty’s premise made for a very funny first season. It took place after the host was murdered during the afterparty of a high school reunion and a detective, played by Tiffany Haddish, then had a single night to figure out who did it. The twist is that each episode focused on a different character telling their story, with the episode taking the form of a different kind of movie to match. The jock’s story played out like a Fast and Furious film, for instance, while the band geek’s was a musical.

What made the show work was that it was successful as both a fun genre-hopping story and a mystery. And the same is true for the second season, which has wrapped up and transports the cast — along with a host of new characters — to a wedding where the groom has been killed. The mystery is even better this time, and the show gets more ambitious with its spoofs, covering everything from Wes Anderson movies to Regency-era romance to the tension of Hitchcock.

The only problem, really, is that I have no idea where it goes from here.

Only Murders in the Building.
Image: Hulu

Only Murders in the Building season 3

Streaming on Hulu

To be fair, I had similar concerns about Only Murders in the Building, which had to keep concocting new deaths for Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, and Martin Short to solve on their podcast. It ran the risk of feeling forced — but thankfully, that isn’t the case in season 3. Instead, the story — which involves the death of the leading man on the opening night of a new Broadway show — breathes new life into the show.

Part of that has to do with the hilariously goofy new musical at the heart of it, but it’s also because of some excellent guest characters who join the proceedings, led by Meryl Streep as a struggling actress and Paul Rudd as an actor who is definitely not struggling. Season 3 wraps up this evening, and while I was able to easily figure out a few clues along the way, I actually have no idea who really did it.

Poker Face.
Image: Peacock

Poker Face

Streaming on Peacock

Of all the shows I’ve talked about, Poker Face feels the most like a classic whodunit show — but in a way that smartly works for modern audiences. Each episode is a standalone story, as Charlie (Natasha Lyonne) travels across the US, visiting small towns where, for some reason, she always ends up getting involved in a murder, whether it’s a beloved BBQ pitmaster or a heavy metal drummer. Part of it is because Charlie has a superpower that lets her detect when someone is lying; combine this with her good nature, and she can’t help but try to solve these killings.

A large part of the appeal is Lyonne herself, who is positively charming as an unofficial detective. But it’s also the structure. Since the mysteries stand on their own, you don’t have to remember every detail from past episodes to understand what’s going on. It’s refreshing in a retro kind of way, especially in the era of prestige dramas. And Poker Face builds on that with an overarching story that does connect the episodes but slowly builds over the course of the season, culminating in an excellent finale. And there’s good news: a second season is in the works.


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