Can you believe it? There’s been yet another murder in the quaint and seemingly idyllic town of New Woodstream, and once again it’ll fall to the legendary author/amateur sleuth Abigail Mapleworth to solve the case. After all, even as Abigail struggles with writer’s block in an attempt to write her first full-length work of fiction after publishing dozens of popular crime novellas, she has found the time to solve some 116 murders.
Take that, Jessica Fletcher.
Paula Pell’s new Quibi series “Mapleworth Murders” is an affectionate albeit raunchy send-up of “Murder, She Wrote,” with at least one new corpse surfacing in nearly every episodic chapter — with each episode lasting fewer than 10 minutes, in not-so-classic Quibi tradition. The immensely talented and likable Pell created such characters as the Spartan Cheerleaders, the Culps and Debbie Downer during her legendary run as a writer on “Saturday Night Live,” and while “The Mapleworth Murders” has its laugh-out-loud moments of inspired lunacy, the broad tone and highly exaggerated characters seem better suited for an “SNL” sketch than a continuing series.
But I did get a kick out of ol’ Abigail, a goodhearted, no-filter busybody who lives with untold numbers of cats and dogs in her cozy country home, is prone to utterances dripping with sexual innuendo, and delights in saying, “There’s been a MAAAHRDER!” every time she walks in on yet another fresh crime scene. And oh, does Abigail have keen deductive powers. When she walks into a butcher shop and sees the proprietor (Chris Parnell) under glass, deader than dead with a giant hunk of product protruding from his mouth, she proclaims: “Murder by ham!” She’s not wrong.
Hayley Magnus is a bright presence as Abigail’s Australian niece, Heidi, a gangly charmer in orange Converse gym shoes who eagerly accompanies her aunt around town and loves to post selfies with the latest dead body before the cops even arrive. (Heidi is quick with the deadpan humor. When a butcher played by Tim Meadows is suspected of murder and a longtime town resident says that’s impossible, as he wouldn’t hurt a fly, Heidi cracks, “Well, he’s a butcher.”) Not that the police force is any help. J.B. Smoove’s Chief of Police Bills (that’s his name, Bills) is dumber than a slab of ham, while John Lutz (who co-created the show with Pell) plays Gilbert, an officer who might be even thicker, if that’s possible, and is in love with Abigail. (Spoiler alert: Given Abigail’s innuendo-laced stories of traveling with various female companions, the deputy might not stand a chance.)
Chief: I’m going to question every single person here.
Gilbert: So none of the married people?
So many of the jokes in “Mapleworth Murders,” including many too racy to repeat here, sound like they’re in need of a rimshot from a nearby drummer. Some of my favorite comedic humans in the world, including Patton Oswalt, Tina Fey, Andy Samberg, Ike Barinholtz, Wanda Sykes, Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen, make cameo appearances, but their respective shticks range from the mildly amusing to borderline terrible. (A storyline involving a sibling singing group with incestuous leanings and deep-seated jealousies is profoundly unfunny.) With an intriguing enough premise and some fantastically gifted comedic minds driving the vehicle, “Mapleworth Murders” could have been so much better than all the double-entendre jokes, flatulence humor and high-decibel yelling. Alas, the town of New Woodstream might just have another lifeless body on its hands.
As for that Quibi delivery system: although it was originally a mobile-device-only service, you can now watch its offerings on your TV monitor via Apple TV or Chromecast — but only if you first install the app on your phone or tablet. Content-wise, I’ve yet to see the value in doling out material in short segments. It just feels like the storytelling momentum has to stop for a mini-cliffhanger every eight minutes or so, to accommodate the system. There’s no sense in slicing the pie if it detracts from the flavor.