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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Richard Roeper

‘Who Killed Santa?’: Will Arnett’s detective delivers plenty of holiday hilarity

Jason Bateman (left), playing Jason Bateman, goes undercover as an elf as the new partner of detective Terry Seattle (Will Arnett) to investigate a heinous stabbing on “Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Mystery.” (NETFLIX)

Will Arnett is a master at playing clueless blustering nincompoops, and his talents are perfectly suited to the role of Senior Detective Terry Seattle, a mustachioed copper who stumbles through one murder mystery after another while breaking in a new partner every episode in the Netflix improv comedy/mystery “Murderville.”

Here’s the deal. For each new storyline, Arnett and the supporting cast are given a script, while the guest celebrities (playing themselves) are told nothing and are just plunged into the roughly half-hour storyline, which always involves a murder, three suspects, the guest star attempting to identify the killer and a clever reveal that actually makes some sense. Season One guest stars included Conan O’Brien, Kumail Nanjiani, Sharon Stone, Annie Murphy and Ken Jeong, all of whom proved more than capable of going with the flow and playing off Arnett’s lead, even when it placed them in ludicrous situations. “Murderville” made for goofy, escapist, easily bingeable light entertainment in Season One.

Now comes “Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Mystery,” which is stretched a bit thin by the 52-minute running time and hits a few dry spots, but still provides plenty of genuine laughs and some nifty twists, including the appearance of a couple of guest stars we won’t spoil. What we can tell you is Terry gets not one but two new partners this time around: Jason Bateman and Maya Rudolph, who (as you’d suspect) are true gamers and unafraid to look ridiculous in the name of getting laughs, whether Bateman is imitating a cat or Rudolph is going undercover as a Bulgarian basketball star. (I’ll say no more.)

‘Who Killed Santa? A Murderville Mystery

“Who Killed Santa?” kicks off on Christmas Eve, with Terry in his crummy apartment, scarfing a slice of Nakatomi Pizza and about to watch a VHS of “Die Hard” (the handwritten label says “COOL PARTS ONLY”) when he is summoned at the last minute to head up the security detail at City Hall’s annual holiday party. Much to Terry’s chagrin, his ex-wife and boss, Chief Rhonda Jenkins-Seattle (Haneefah Wood), has assigned him yet another new partner, one Jason Bateman, who explains, “I used to be an actor.” (Terry’s typically blunt and dopey reply: “Kicked out?”)

Bateman is pressed into duty as an elf at the party, and one of the joys in “Murderville” is how the sets are bare-bones affairs, with sad decorations and just a few extras hanging about “City Hall,” which looks to be studio lot production offices. (Much of “Murderville” is filmed on a soundstage that was previously used for “Teen Wolf” and had sets for a school, a library and a police precinct already in place.)

Will Arnett’s other co-star, Maya Rudolph, goes undercover as a Bulgarian basketball star. (Netflix)

After the lights go out and Santa Claus is stabbed to death with a large, sharpened candy cane, the murder investigation begins, with Maya Rudolph eventually joining the team, because why wouldn’t you want Maya Rudolph joining the team? This leads to some terrific set pieces, as when Bateman and Rudolph go from playing good/cop bad cop during an interrogation to playing French cop/Italian cop.

Arnett manages to play it straight most of the time, while Bateman and in particular Rudolph frequently break up at the absurdity of it all. One looks forward to future holiday-themed specials. Anyone up for “Who Offed the Easter Bunny? A Murderville Mystery”? Let’s do it!

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