Despite the success of “Knives Out” and Kenneth Branagh’s three-movie revival of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, the murder mystery has found an especially fertile home in limited series, teasing out twists over multiple episodes. The small voice saying we’re nearing the tipping point of that trend sounds considerably louder after “Death and Other Details,” a Hulu series set aboard a cruise ship that feels stuck in dry dock.
Granted, Hulu has enjoyed plenty of success in the genre, including multiple seasons of “Only Murders in the Building,” a frothier (and considerably more fun) construct that also mines the everyone’s-a-suspect formula, usually within a confined space.
The main wrinkle here, frankly, is having Mandy Patinkin (sporting a rather vague accent) portray Rufus Cotesworth, billed as the world’s greatest detective, who gets reunited with a young woman, Imogene Scott (“The Flash’s” Violett Beane), in trying to solve a murder committed within a compartment aboard a privately commissioned Mediterranean cruise.
Imogene has essentially been adopted by a wealthy and powerful family that has brought her along for the ride, which is trying to close a megadeal that would preserve its fortunes. Yet the murder not only ties into high finance but shadowy forces that reach back to the very cold case of Imogene’s mother’s murder when Imogene was just a child, the unsolved case that first introduced her to Rufus.
“Pay attention. Details matter,” Rufus tells her, advice that’s illustrated by having Rufus and Imogene “see” events as they delve into them, a modest wrinkle on the art of Sherlock Holmes-ian deductions.
The details, however, grow a bit tedious as new bodies, clues and betrayals pile up over the course of the 10-episode series, eight of which were previewed.
Although such projects must stand on their own, there’s no denying the sheer glut of similar fare over the last few years – adding Apple TV+’s “The Afterparty” and FX/Hulu’s “A Murder at the End of the World” to the roster – has thrown an anchor into the water that, barring stunning execution or a stellar cast, makes it difficult to avoid being dragged down into the familiar or stand apart from the crowd.
By that measure, “Death” proves particularly bland and low wattage, even for those who’ll enjoy watching Patinkin, back in series mode after his yeoman work on “Homeland,” feast on the pivotal role.
There’s an old saying that the devil is in the details, meaning it’s the little stuff that can muck up a larger scheme. In “Death and Other Details,” by contrast, it’s the grinding nature of the whole exercise, rather than any individual aspect, that ultimately sinks a project that appears to operate on cruise control.
“Death and Other Details” premieres January 16 on Hulu.
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