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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

‘Only Murders’ Nails the Growing Divide Between Millennials, Gen-Z

Most shows treat the two generations as interchangeable. An exchange between Selena Gomez and guest-star Zoe Colletti drives home the fact that they are not.

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Screenshot: Hulu

Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building—the comedy-mystery starring Selena Gomez, Steve Martin, and Martin Short as true crime podcast-stans-turned-citizen-sleuths—was nominated for 17 Emmys this week, and for good reason. The show is somehow still a constant delight even in its second season, and arguably its greatest strength is its clever, culturally relevant writing and dialogue.

This week’s episode was no exception. The gang is currently waist-deep in being framed for their building president’s murder and podcasting about it every step of the way. On top of it all, seemingly out of nowhere, Charles’ (Martin) former almost-stepdaughter Lucy—a very hip teenager—shows up, and is surprisingly incredibly helpful, revealing secret passageways concealed within the heart of the Arconia that you’d think three, bonafide, adult detectives would have been able to uncover themselves.

But my favorite moment of the episode was one particular exchange between Gomez’s Mabel and guest-star Zoe Colletti as Lucy. Only Murders’ most recurring joke is that Mabel, in her late 20s, and Charles and Oliver (Short), in their 70s and 60s, respectively, struggle to understand each other due to the generational divides. Throughout the first season, both men sign their texts to Mabel, puzzle about why Mabel and her kind (millennials) dislike phone calls, and oft misunderstand her use of slang. With Mabel and Lucy, the show flips the script on this running bit: Now, it’s millennials who are out of touch.

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Lucy is immediately delighted to meet Mabel, who is unknowingly a TikTok sensation called “Bloody Mabel” in reference to the string of murders and deaths she always finds herself engulfed in. “Bloody Mabel is, like, my favorite thing to happen since those baby witches tried to hex the moon. They tore,” Lucy tells her. “Tore,” I’ve strung together through context clues, seems to mean... they were… cool?

Lucy continues, speaking at approximately 3x speed to a visibly confused Mabel, “This TikToker made this whole timeline of your life, then cross-references the various deaths, murders, etc, with the DSM-5. You are so lucky. It’s probably so easy to get, like, xannies and klonopin and stuff. I prayed to the 100 Gecs tree to get a real diagnosis, but my mom, she, like, hates big pharma.”

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Lucy is written deliberately as what Stereogum calls “a composite of extremely Gen-Z tropes,” but Colletti and Gomez’s delivery gets the point across: Contrary to TV writing and boomer misconceptions, millennials and Gen-Z are pretty different—the gulf between these generations widens more by the day. Some millennials are 40, others are well into their 30s, having grown up looking for classmates’ phone numbers in physical directories to call and ask about the homework, tying up the family landline in the process; by the 2010s, they were furiously reblogging polaroid pictures on Tumblr and probably finding Jennifer Lawrence aggressively relatable—maybe too relatable. Zoomers, on the other hand, are literal teens, posting the outtakes of their perennially plugged-in lives on BeReal, swimming in their crushes’ DMs, diving down TikTok rabbit holes about how embarrassing Justin Timberlake is, and glamorously frowning in vintage film photos.

I had some personal stakes in loving this bit between Colletti and Gomez’s characters. At 24, I’m what you might call a geriatric zoomer, narrowly making the Gen-Z cut-off. Many of the traditions of classical, millennial adolescence—landlines, looking for phone numbers in physical school directories, entire Facebook albums of photos from school dances, getting schooled by Tumblr feminism—were my bread and butter growing up. At the same time, I’ve adjusted relatively smoothly to the minefield that is TikTok; I’ve long abandoned skinny jeans; I, too, am for some reason on BeReal; and I have no memory of what it was like to travel before 9/11. My age makes me a member of Gen-Z, but there are countless ways I identify more with millennials, and I certainly have more friends who are 27 and 28 than I do friends who are 16, of whom I have zero.

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To baby boomers, and frankly, most TV shows that lack the almost surgical cultural precision of Only Murders, these generations are interchangeable: both predictably liberal, lazy, entitled, the works. Yet, in a single blink-and-you’ll-miss-it interaction, Only Murders nails the reality that many members of Gen-Z and millennials grew up and currently live in entirely different worlds. It’s just one of many subtle yet delicious examples of the show’s brilliance.