SHOW TITLE: The Murderer Did It!
PRODUCER: Four Humors
HAILING FROM: Minnesota
SHOW DESCRIPTION: Seven strangers. A remote location. A web of lies. Unexplained deaths. Everyone is a suspect, but in the end you’ll be shocked to find… it was the murderer all along! An original murder mystery from the creators of last year’s Harold.
PRE-FRINGE PROFILE: “Originally our plan was to just do an Agatha Christie…but as I read through some of the old plays…I started to wonder, ‘Why aren’t these people trying harder to get out of this death trap?'”
I’ve long been obsessed with slasher flicks, and when I was a teenager I (much to my mother’s bafflement and dismay) had a period of obsession with Wes Craven’s Scream. It marked something of a rebirth of the genre with a more modern sensibility, featuring characters who were horror buffs constantly commenting on the action surrounding them. (Y’know, like Cabin in the Woods, but sixteen years earlier and oh God I’m having an aging moment.) I had a number of friends who were equally baffled by my fascination, derisive of the central schtick: “It’s just a cheesy horror movie with guys talking about how scary it all is.”
Ah, but…I Think It Goes Deeper Than That (TM). The very fact that the characters are conscious of the tropes raises the possibility of subverting them. It clearly establishes a set of expectations for both them and us, and horror, like comedy, is all about fucking with your expectations.
So when I say that this show reminds of Scream — only for, like, the 1930s predecessor of the slasher flick — I mean that as a hearty compliment. Hell, it even uses much of the same formula and many of the same character types — from the goofy sociopath with an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre to the pragmatist wondering where the hell everyone’s survival instinct went.
The point that I’m trying to make here is that this isn’t just a mystery with some fine clowning slathered across the top. (Although the clowning is fine. I usually lurk in the back, but another critic urged me to sit near the front, to watch the actors’ faces. I was dubious, but I have shitty eyesight, and he was right — there was some very subtle, very funny stuff.) This isn’t just parody, it’s homage — it invites you to figure out what’s going on, and plays fair by giving us some characters who are as self-aware as we are.
(I would complain that it doesn’t play fair enough to give us the tools we need to actually have a shot at solving the mystery ourselves, but that’s a complaint I have about Agatha Christie, too, so at least it’s faithful to the source material.)
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