“Murder!” starts with a full moon, scary music, and even a lone wolf howling as Russ and Lina are startled from bed (and their argument about whose job is worse) by an unexpected noise. Those heavy horror music cues—and some genuinely effective jump scares and reveals courtesy of episode director Jamie Babbit—persist throughout, as Russ and Lina gradually almost convince themselves (and A.J. and Bernie) that the creepy guy living in their guest house is a murderer.
Naturally, he’s not—Married really doesn’t admit such dramatic developments in its cosmology—which explains why “Murder!” isn’t an especially successful episode of Married. Without the real possibility of danger from the unpleasant Judah, Russ and Lina’s actions here come off as both broad and dull—like typical sitcom behavior.
Not that Judah’s not a jerk. Played by master of deadpan unpleasantness Marin Starr, Judah—who’s been living in the Bowmans’ guest house because their landlord clearly doesn’t view it as the Bowmans’ guest house—carries that Starr stare, where his baleful eyes seem always prelude to a cutting remark. Here, Judah’s more prone to simply speak with unnerving directness—but only to Russ, even when Lina’s the one talking to him. There’s some hint laid in that Judah’s recent painful breakup has flipped a misogynist switch that’s causing the behavior (although Brett Gelman’s A.J. theorizes it’s because Lina’s got “crazy eyes right now”), but that doesn’t make the guy any more trustworthy. Especially when Lina steals a mis-delivered letter from Judah’s parole board, he speaks vaguely about the “bad shit” he did to his ex, and he’s buying sandpaper, bleach, and a bow saw—which Lina and Russ see after ditching work in order to ineptly tail their neighbor to the hardware store.
Married often sets up a threadbare sitcom situation like this one in order to play around with expectations. Here, however, the expected payoff never comes, with the explanation that both Russ and Lina are really only so caught up in the caper because they’re both dodging some unpleasant tasks at work. (Russ is supposed to fire Bernie, who can’t stop showing off his “old man with a merkin” sight gag, while Lina doesn’t want to decide whether to accept a full time teacher’s aide position in lieu of her substitute gig.) Nat Faxon and Judy Greer, as usual, enliven the stale proposition with banter and hints of soulfulness, but the whole enterprise plays as rushed and thin.
Greer, also as usual, has the most heavy lifting to do, as Lina’s reaction to the skulking Judah comes off as especially contrived. Despite genuinely not liking Judah, it’s clear from the outset that this is more of a game to her, Lina’s delaying tactic spelled out condescendingly by Russ as he mocks her in front of their daughters, saying, “Mommy has a big decision to make. She thinks if she doesn’t go to work, then work will make it for her.” Greer lays in some signature sadness to Lina’s work dilemma, confiding in Russ (as they hide in the hardware store’s model shed), “When I was ten, I thought I’d be an astronaut.” And Greer’s excited role playing (“You’re the by-the-book guy to keep a loose cannon like me in line”), as well as her playful peeping while Russ is at work offers the actress little opportunities to show off the recklessness Lina usually keeps buried. But she’s fighting an uphill battle against a plot that’s leading her around.
Faxon, too, continues to find the sheepishness of a husband and father forced to pretend to be more capable than he feels, both his trepidation in conceding that Judah might be a danger and his agony at having to fire a friend (a friend who’s always loaned the Bowmans money over the years) registering in the actor’s crooked, twitching facial expressions. It’s just that, like Lina, he’s forced into a plot with nothing to recommend itself but cliché. Russ and Lina’s turns at playing the sensible one in their relationship score pretty evenly on Married. Here, though, the gap between Russ and Lina’s behavior is weighted too heavily on Russ side—it makes Lina look too childish.
So when the reveal comes—Judah only cheated on his ex (and got a stripper pregnant), and he’s just planting an herb garden and not, as Lina suspects, his ex-girlfriend’s dead body—the fact that the episode doesn’t plan anything more ambitious takes the air out of the proceedings once and for all. What’s left after “Murder!” is done is a smattering of funny lines and not much else. (Oh, and some great post-investigation sex.) But, in the end, both make the choice they knew they were going to make all along, reducing the whole plot of the episode to mere pretext.
- “You’re gonna get killed, I’m gonna get raped and killed.” “Don’t be too sure about the order, okay?”
- Lina’s teaching style: “You let Mikey sit in your chair.” “Well, I like Mikey.”
- A.J. got a big buyout when he was forced out of his firm. A.J.: “Rich people have problems too.” Lina: “I know—they just don’t matter.”
- “That was a good one Bernie. We really believed we were about to be killed.” “Really? Good.”
- Bernie’s schtick finds a poor audience in Zack Pearlman’s humorless boss Gil. “Try the veal… Ok, that’s a very common comedy thing.”
- Bernie really does come off like a prick in the episode. Bernie’s take on life is always entertainingly skewed, but the way he keeps pounding his gag into the ground here—apart from being obvious sexual harassment—feels too crude for the character.
- The episode’s thinness extends to the supporting cast. Kimiko Glenn, so bright and funny in last week’s episode, gets one line, telling on Bernie. Sarah Burns’ Abby pops up for a drink and one line as well. And Todd Louiso seems poised to recur as Lina’s principal boss, but he’s not given anything to do here.
- Bernie and A.J.’s prickly relationship continues to provide unexpected joys, with A.J. demonstrating simple assault by throwing a drink in Bernie’s face, and then objecting on unspecified grounds to Bernie’s delight that Judah might be digging up a time capsule from 1982, snapping “Enough with 1982—it wasn’t a great year for everybody!”