Hulu’s “Death and Other Details” is a murder mystery about powerful families and generations of secrets. Fast-paced and complex, the series ebbs and flows between delightful chaos and complete bewilderment. Yet, despite the uneven pacing and other missteps, the whodunit of it all should keep audiences interested.
The show, which was created by Mike Weiss and Heidi Cole McAdams, opens two decades in the past. Rufus Coteworth (Mandy Patinkin), the “world’s greatest detective,” arrives at the Collier estate to speak with 10-year-old Imogene Scott (Sophia Reid-Gantzert) about her mother’s suspicious death. From there, the series zips forward to the present. Imogene (Violett Beane), now 28, arrives at a Mediterranean port to board the luxurious cruise liner SS Varuna.
Taken in by the Colliers after her mother’s murder, Imogene is here to celebrate the retirement of patriarch Lawrence (David Marshall Grant) and the promotion of her best friend, Anna (Lauren Patten), to CEO of textile company Collier Mills. Also aboard the charter are matriarch Katherine (Jayne Atkinson); Anna’s fragile wife, Lelia (Pardis Seremi); and Anna’s cocaine-fueled brother, Tripp (Jack Cutmore-Scott). Other guests are the governor of Washington (Tamberla Perry), the wealthy Chun family, whom Anna is courting for a billion-dollar deal, and the now-disgraced Rufus, who is working as the Chun family’s personal security guard.
What should be an opulent party quickly goes left when a guest is killed, and Imogene becomes the No. 1 suspect. To save herself, she is forced to team up with Rufus, whom she’s loathed since childhood. As will be learned from the detective’s narration, he has his own reasons for wanting to solve the crime.
Intricately stylized, boasting dizzying twists and turns, “Death and Other Details” offers much to keep abreast of — so much so that a few fringe characters and plot points get lost. Yet, as Imogene and Rufus investigate, revelations about the past begin roaring into the present.
Many components of the show work well, including the unpacking of how we understand memory and how it’s easily manipulated. There are also standout characters like 14-year-old That Derek (Sincere Wilbert), the TikTok-obsessed son of the Collier family’s spiritual adviser, Father Toby (Danny Johnson). As the series moves back and forth in time, the audience discovers what happened to Imogene’s mom and how her death may be connected to the events transpiring on the Varuna.
However, because of the large cast and ever-evolving plot, some episodes lack clarity. Moreover, no living person aboard the ship, except maybe That Derek, is likable. As the storylines and secrets pile up, the mystery becomes more of a confusing maze than an intriguing puzzle.
There is no shortage of murder mysteries in current popular culture, including recent hits like Netflix’s “Knives Out” films and Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.” It’s clear that Weiss and Cole McAdams are trying to set their show apart by presenting a classic Agatha Christie-type tale. Yet the series functions best when the old-world glamour is infused with modern humor.
Though “Death and Other Details” fails to maintain a balanced sharpness throughout, Patinkin and Beane work well as an unhinged duo determined to dig up the truth. While sometimes labored, the series asks viewers to consider things we overlook because of preconceived notions. It’s also a reminder that being stuck out on the ocean with a ship full of the upper echelon of society is probably the last place any sensible person would want to be.
The first two episodes of “Death and Other Details” premiere Jan. 16 on Hulu, with new episodes dropping weekly on Tuesdays.