This article contains spoilers for Only Murders in the Building season 3 episodes 1 and 2.
The second season of Only Murders in the Building ended with the characters gathered to watch the premiere of Oliver Putnam’s (Martin Short) play, Death Rattle, many months in the future. The star of the production is Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), an apparently big name actor in the show’s universe who drops dead for no apparent reason right up on stage. With mere minutes to get acquainted with Ben, audiences don’t know anything about him other than his hinted stage presence and the fact that Oliver thought he was the right leading man for the job.
As the third season begins with “The Show Must . . . ,” Only Murders in the Building brings us back to the first table read of the production, where Ben is introduced to the rest of the cast and crew of the Broadway play. Paul Rudd’s incredible ability to be charismatic, riotous, cocky, and embarrassing at the same time isn’t something many actors can pull off. He imbues Ben with various “actor” traits that conjure up allusions to real-life film and TV stars from our pop culture zeitgeist. From bragging that he was the star of the action vehicle CoBro to Mabel’s (Selena Gomez) school-girl crush on Ben from his time starring in Girl Cop, there are many items in Glenroy’s filmography that start to coalesce into a resume we can deduce is intended to be very meta in nature. These are the Hollywood performers we think Ben Glenroy was based on!
One of the first people that comes to mind when comparing Ben Glenroy to an actor from our real world is Channing Tatum. Both Glenroy and Tatum have popular roles playing high school students when they’re way too old to be posing as teenagers. Glenroy’s big TV role in his past is the aforementioned Girl Cop. In a scene during the episode “The Beat Goes On,” Mabel is watching an episode of Glenroy in this fictional buddy comedy series.
Glenroy is hilariously dressed in cheeky high school garb to point out the absurdity of the age gap, and the show’s plot seems to be that Glenroy’s character and his female co-star go to school like any other kids during the day, and they fight crime after dark. Glenroy’s co-star mentions that she is worried about making it to both the prom and the drug bust on the same day.
I immediately got some 21 Jump Street vibes from this scene, almost like the writers of Only Murders in the Building were riffing on the plot of that movie in which Tatum and Jonah Hill play cops who go undercover in a high school to catch criminals. In Girl Cop, Glenroy and his castmate are actually still high school students. Both stories rely on the corny and distracting fact that the actors are well past their youthful primes.
In a scene in the second episode of the season, Mabel and Charles (Steve Martin) are taken through a crazed fan’s elaborate display of movie posters paying homage to Ben Glenroy’s career. One of the biggest standouts is a war film titled Chinook Rising. The film appears to be about Glenroy playing a stereotypical soldier in an ambiguous conflict, with the term “Chinook” maybe referring to the Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopter?
When seen with some of the more light-hearted projects in Glenroy’s career, a war film almost feels like an ode to Bruce Willis. A famous action star, Willis was famous for taking on comedy roles alongside more serious, violent ventures. Willis got mixed reviews for his starring turn in Hart’s War in 2002, in which he plays a prisoner of war.
Just like how Glenroy is taking on a Broadway role, Willis also decided to get in on the stage action when his career was in the twilight phase. Misery got decent reviews, but Willis’s performance was considered very underwhelming. Even though Glenroy dies before he’s able to appear in a second show, Oliver talks to a stage critic who was planning on decimating Glenroy’s acting ability in Death Rattle. Washed-up action and comedy actor who tries to rebound on Broadway? The similarities are uncanny!
When Ben Glenroy walks into the table read for the first time in the premiere, he has a whole spiel about how he can’t eat cookies. More than just their high sugar content, Glenroy insists the bakery treats will completely derail his ability to be in shape for CoBro, the already-mentioned action film series in which Glenroy plays a zoologist with the ability to transform into a cobra.
The unnecessarily-excessive regimen makes Glenroy look a little weird, and a lot like a conceited douche. Because of their similar predilections for action films, Glenroy may remind viewers of Tom Cruise in this moment. The Mission: Impossible star has been known to eat barely over 1,000 calories daily during the filming of his movies like Top Gun: Maverick. Cruise certainly knows how to put on a show on the big screen, but his complicated personality and associations with odd habits cloud his off-screen reputation.
Neil Patrick Harris
Throughout most of the first two episodes of the season, Glenroy has a heated rivalry with co-star Charles. It’s revealed in the climax of the second episode that this started when Glenroy was a child actor and was spurned by Charles on the set of Brazzos. The fact that Glenroy becomes a successful actor after attempting youth acting might bring to mind the journey of Neil Patrick Harris.
The How I Met Your Mother actor was first the title character on Doogie Howser, M.D. as a kid before having stage and TV success as an adult. This is the furthest the comparisons should go, though, as Patrick Harris known for being one of Hollywood’s most affable personalities and Glenroy is, for lack of a different term, a complete jackass in many of his interactions with cast and crew.
The two first episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 3 are available to stream on Hulu now. New episodes premiere Tuesdays through the finale on Oct. 3.