February 26, 2024
From "The Afterparty" to "The Tower," these streaming series, films and documentaries amuse, entertain and horrify. Here are nine binge-worthy shows to check out.

Ah, those sweet mysteries that dominate our streaming lives. How we love those crime solvers cracking cases, often wisecracking all the way.

Hunky John Luther (Idris Elba) takes down a serial killer while being hounded by the law. Squabbling podcasters Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles-Haden (Steve Martin) investigate murders that go down in their building. And Los Angeles lawyer Mickey Haller (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) juggles cases, as he bounces back into the courtroom after a hard patch in his life.

This summer saw a surge of mysteries, bingeable watches that fire up – as Hercule Poirot so pithily dubbed – our “little grey cells.”

There’s little doubt that audiences eat these shows up: David E. Kelley’s second season of his rather old-school-TV treat, “The Lincoln Lawyer,” stormed up the Netflix charts. Meanwhile, two successful murder comedies – “Only Murders in the Building” and “The Afterparty” – delivered fresh seasons and brought in formidable guest stars.

We’re mourning the cancellation of HBO’s pricey, period-rich “Perry Mason” series, but there’s comfort in knowing we have nine more great ways to play armchair detective.

‘Only Murders in the Building: Season 3’

10 episodes, Hulu

Starring: Martin Short, Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, with a lineup of guest stars that include Paul Rudd, Meryl Streep and Jesse Williams

An upcoming Broadway show leads to another case for amateur sleuths/podcasters Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) in the hit “Only Murders in the Building.” (Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu) 

For armchair detectives who adore: Broadway shows, vaudeville, the board game/film “Clue” and the series “Knives Out.”

The case debriefed: The argumentative but endearing trio of true-crime podcasters find their apartment digs again draped in New York City crime scene tape, when Oliver’s Broadway comeback ushers in the demise of its showboating lead (Rudd). With the obsessed Oliver flustered about the show and semi-retired actor Charles-Haden occupied with a relationship and a role in the same cursed production, it’s up to Mabel to give her ace detective skills a major workout.

Our denouement: The leads are dynamite, together and on their own – Short, in particular, is given juicy material as Oliver’s out-of-control ego wreaks havoc. The writing remains sharp as a stiletto, and the cozy mystery is puzzling enough to keep us guessing.  Streep and Rudd make it even more entertaining. They’re having a grand time, and so will you. (3 out of 4 stars)

‘The Afterparty Season 2’

10 episodes, Apple TV+

Starring: Tiffany Haddish, Sam Richardson, Zoë Chao, John Cho, Paul Walter Hauser, Ken Jeong, Vivian Wu, Jack Whitehall, Elizabeth Perkins and more

The clever “The Afterparty Season 2” finds guests and relatives investigating who slew the groom. Naturally, everyone seems to have a killer motive. (Apple TV+) 

For armchair detectives who adore: Murder mystery dinners, movies in general and Arthur Hiller’s classic comedy “The In-Laws” with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin (just rent it!)

The case debriefed:  Who killed the socially inept techie groom with a pet lizard? That’s what ex-detective, now author, Danner (Haddish) susses out as she joins two suspects from Season 1 – flummoxed Aniq (Richardson) and bold Zoe (Chao) – at a posh estate. The groom has been found dead on a bed, and a guest list of suspects awaits. Among them, a pretty-boy business partner (Whitehall), the secretive bride (Poppy Liu) who’s also Zoe’s sister,  a kooky, adventure-loving uncle (Cho) and the groom’s cynical, often liquored-up mom (Perkins). Each episode is told from a different perspective, a la “Rashomon.”

Our denouement: Season 2 hits its stride after a rough start; season 1 is better. What makes “Afterparty” stand out is its creative structure, with each episode paying homage to a film genre. The best and most hilarious one that creator/showrunner Christopher Miller cooks up lampoons the overheated erotic thriller. And what a treat it is to see Perkins applying the right amount of acidity to every saucy line and eyebrow-arching look. (3 stars)

‘Shelter’

10 episodes, Amazon Prime – drops Aug. 18

Starring: Jaden Michael, Adrian Greensmith, Sage Linder and Abigale Corrigan, along with Didi Conn, Peter Riegert and Adrienne Barbeau

Amateur teen sleuths — played by Abby Corrigan, Jaden Michael and Adrian Greensmith — get caught up in a mystery that would confound Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys in the twist-filled “Harlan Coben’s Shelter.” (Michael Parmelee/Prime Video) 

For armchair detectives who adore: The CW’s “Riverdale,” John Hughes movies, “Stand By Me” and “It” and the book series “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators.”

The case debriefed:  After a tragic accident in SoCal, now fatherless teen Mickey (Michael) moves in with his aunt (Constance Zimmer) in his dad’s East Coast hometown of Kasselton. He chums around with three high school outsiders and discovers shocking truths about his dad’s past, all tied to a creepy Stephen King-like house where a rumored witch lives.

Our denouement: Yes, it strains credibility. So what? Most creations from talented author Harlan Coben (Netflix’s “The Stranger,” “Safe” and “The Woods”) do. We’re hooked from the first episode. With its tongue-in-cheek humor and wild twists, this will become your next guilty pleasure. Keep an eye out for some nice touches, including the “Grease” poster in Mrs. Friedman’s room. She’s played by Conn of Frenchy fame. (3 stars)

‘The Tower 2: Death Message’

4 episodes, BritBox

Starring: Gemma Whelan, Tahirah Sharif, Jimmy Akingbola, Emmett J. Scanlan

For armchair detectives who adore: “Prime Suspect” with Helen Mirren, “Luther” and “Happy Valley”

The case debriefed: Tenacious, by-the-book Sarah Collins (Whelan) has been reassigned to “Homicide Command” this season, after solving the fatal plunge of a veteran officer and a 15-year-old Libyan teen from the Portland Tower in season one. Now, she finds herself working more closely with a young officer (Sharif), whose previous tempestuous actions incur Sarah’s scorn.

Our denouement: Polished in every way – the acting, dialogue and complicated ethical quandaries – this crackerjack series is super smart. We binged the first two seasons over a weekend and can’t wait to gobble up the just-announced third. Executive producer/screenwriter Patrick Harbinson balances human drama with the investigations, and the result is one of the better book-to-series adaptations currently available. It’s tension-filled and even sexy. (4 stars)

‘Last Call: When a Serial Killer Stalked Queer New York’

4 episodes, HBO and streaming on MAX

For armchair detectives who adore: True crime podcasts.

The case debriefed: A serial killer preyed on gay men, strewing their body parts in various locations during a spree that terrorized gay, sometimes closeted, men in the New York area in the late 1980s and ’90s. What took so long to track down the killer? As director Anthony Caronna lays forth in his thought-provoking documentary series, co-executive produced by Charlize Theron and other notables, indifference and even hostility to the gay population played a major part.

Our denouement: True-crime stories sometimes make us feel like we need a shower to wash away all the sordid, salacious details and creepy re-enactments. The murders in “Last Call” are indeed horrific, but they’re handled in a candid, but non-exploitative manner. Caronna gives this one heft, using the material to probe police inaction and make the victims flesh-and-blood human beings, not fodder for sensationalism. It’s insightful, damning and terribly sad. (3½ stars)

‘The Night of the 12th’

Film, available at FilmMovement.com and others

Starring: Bastien Bouillon, Bouli Lanners, Anouk Grinberg, Mouna Soualem

“Night of the 12th” states its case up front — that the crime is not solved — and yet it remains one of the best and most provocative mysteries released in 2023, a gripping drama anchored around Bastien Bouillon’s calibrated performance as an obsessed detective. (Fanny de Gouville/Courtesy of Film Movement) 

For armchair detectives who adore: Bong Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder,” “The Killing,” David Fincher’s “Zodiac”

The case debriefed: Dominik Moll’s unconventional, award-winning mystery is upfront about what it is – a dramatization about the unsolved murder of a vibrant, sexually active young woman named Clara. She was intentionally burned to death in the French town of Grenoble. Resolute inspector Yohan (Bouillon) becomes obsessed with finding her killer during an investigation that calls into question the way men view and treat women.

Our denouement: What begins as a standard, fact-based drama – with the murder as its opening act – morphs into a provocative look into how preconceived notions about gender roles can trip up an investigation, particularly when it’s just a pack of men on the case. Bouillon gives a performance filled with subtlety, intelligence and vulnerability.  (4 stars)

‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’

3 episodes, BritBox

Starring: Will Poulter, Lucy Boynton, Daniel Ings, Hugh Laurie, Amy Nuttall, Jonathan Jules

Actor Hugh Laurie does Agatha Christie right as director with the charming whodunnit “Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?” starring two dapper crime solvers played by Lucy Boynton and Will Poulter. (Britbox) 

For armchair detectives who adore: The various Agatha Christie “Tommy and Tuppence” series on film and TV, Nick and Nora Charles from “The Thin Man” series

The case debriefed: Dapper vicar’s son Bobby (Poulter) happens upon a dying man, likely shoved off a cliff near the Welsh coastline, whose last words – “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” – are but a clue. Do-gooder Bobby is on the job and with sassy input from his new sleuthing partner – the very wealthy Frankie (Boynton) – the duo set out to uncover what happened.

Our denouement: If Kenneth Branagh’s overproduced interpretations of Christie classics “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile” weren’t your cup of tea, this feisty lark will delight you. It’s directed with pluck and Christie appreciation by actor Hugh Laurie, who co-stars too. The period details are divine, but it’s the charming turns from Poulter and Boynton that make this red herring-stuffed 1934 whodunit such a pip. (3 stars)

‘Dark Winds Season 2′

6 episodes, AMC, AMC+

Starring: Zahn McClarnon, Jessica Matten, Kiowa Gordon and guest stars Nicholas Logan, Jeri Ryan, A. Martinez

Joe Leaphorn, played by Zahn McClarnon, searches for a seemingly unstoppable killer in the second season of the underseen series “Dark Winds.” Season 2 is even better than Season 1. (Michael Moriatis/AMC Networks) 

For armchair detectives who adore: Tony Hillerman’s classic mystery novels and Taylor Sheridan’s “Wind River”

The case debriefed: Navajo Tribal Police Lt. Joe Leaphorn (McClarnon) has his hands full in Season 2, investigating a fatal bombing and mysterious cult for rich folks in 1970s New Mexico. With the help of suave freelance PI and former FBI guy Jim Chee (Gordon) and resourceful officer Bernadette (Matten), they try to puzzle out these interconnected cases and stop a killer’s rampage.

Our denouement: Anchored by McClarnon’s steely performance (well deserving of an Emmy), this is an even better season than the last, bringing up unresolved issues, revisiting how horribly indigenous women were treated and pushing the narrative forward. There’s a lot of talent — Robert Redford, George R. R. Martin and Graham Roland to name a few — backing one of the most underrated series currently running. It helps, too, that Chris Eyre directs three of the six episodes. (3 stars)

‘River’

6 episodes, Topic and other streaming outlets

Starring: Stellan Skarsgard, Nicola Walker, Lesley Manville, Adeel Akhtar

Detective John River (Stellan Skarsgård) communicates with the dead in “River,” an exceptional mystery series that sadly produced just one season. (Photo: Topic) 

For armchair detectives who adore: M. Night Shalyman’s “The Sixth Sense,” TV’s “Medium” and “Broadchurch” and “True Detective”

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The case debriefed: Mourning the loss of his more extroverted partner, Stevie (Walker), detective John River (Skarsgard) still gets the chance to talk to her, since he can commune with the dead. The morose River concerns everyone around him, including his boss (Manville) and new partner (Akhtar), but those conversations and killer detective instincts lead him on the treacherous path to figure out who murdered Stevie and why.

Our denouement: The premise sounds rather hokey, but the execution and writing make you almost buy the idea that River can speak to the dead. What tips it over are the performances, from Skarsgard’s haunted, lonely detective to Walker’s effervescent turn.  Written and co-executive produced by Abi Morgan, it’s a shocker with one of the more disturbing, but realistic reveals. What a shame it never landed a second season. (3½ stars)

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