The following contains spoilers for Only Murders in the Building Season 2 Episode 1, “Persons of Interest” (written by John Hoffman, Steve Martin & Noah Levine, and directed by John Hoffman), and S2E2, “Framed” (written by John Hoffman, Steve Martin & Kristin Newman, and directed by John Hoffman), as well as all of Season 1.
Only Murders in the Building, Hulu’s hilarious comedy series, created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman and centered around a true-crime podcast, has returned for a second season and the show immediately picks up where the spectacular first season left off.
At the end of Season 1, our core starring trio and hosts of the show’s titular in-universe podcast, Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), were arrested for the murder of the Arcadia’s (the singular New York City apartment building that serves as the series’s fourth lead) president of the tenants’ board, Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) and fans spent the time between the seasons worrying that that development would lead to the show changing tones for the new season.
Thankfully the show is just as weird, wacky, and dedicated to showcasing the tremendous talents of the core trio as it had been previously. After a hilarious interrogation scene featuring standout recurring character Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and the first of Only Murders in the Building Season 2’s many guest stars (Michael Rappaport as the angry and inept Detective Kreps), Mabel, Oliver, and Charles are released. But Det. Williams makes sure to tell them that they, as persons of interest in the case, should not try to do any detective work or podcasts about the murder. So of course, within minutes, they have decided that is exactly what they should do. The podcast is revived, the show has returned, and the three actors are back to being the modern-day (and less problematic) “Three Amigos” that made the first season so compelling.
Only Murders in the Building Season 2 is often hilarious, and has a surprising knack to go in really unexpected and fantastic directions from time to time—especially in extended dream sequences and flashbacks. The mystery of the first season played out really entertainingly, but the standout work of the series has been the focus on the interior lives of the three leads. The pairing of Martin and Short, who in addition to being comedic legends are also old friends, with Gomez was inspired in a way that few people could have seen coming. And the way the show trusts the actors lets them do inspired work. In Season 2 each of the trio members has to deal with how the success of the podcast and the infamy they have garnered from the murder investigation have changed their lives, and they have to navigate this newfound world without losing their souls in the process.
Charles-Hayden Savage spent Season 1 closed off, making omelets for the family who no longer shared his apartment and reliving his long-gone glory days as “Detective Brazzos” on the cop show, Brazzos. Through his connection with Oliver and Mabel, and of course, the Season 1 murderer in the building, Jan (Amy Ryan), Charles worked through a lot of those issues. But now, due to his newfound fame, he is offered a “series regular” role, in a reboot of Brazzos. He, as he is pretty hilariously horrified to hear, is no longer the star but instead, he is now “Uncle Brazzos”, the older mentor to the new lead detective.
Charle’s former fame was what set him apart from Oliver and Mabel in Season 1, and here he has to deal with the way even his greatest career triumph is now morphing into something different. Steve Martin is great, he has always given even his goofiest characters core humanity, and here it is clear that he is imbuing Charles with a lot of emotional depth. He is also it seems the most intricately tied to the murder, as it turns out his father had an affair with both Bunny’s mother, Lenora (played by the legendary Shirley MacLaine), and an artist whose “pornographic” painting of Charles’s dad plays a pivotal role in all the plot machinations.
In S2E2, “Framed” we start to see the many ways Charles and his father are interconnected with not only Bunny but the Arcadia itself. In a flashback, we get the history of the building, including the criminal sexual proclivities of the architect, and become more connected to Bunny and her intimate connection to the building along the way. Bunny may be dead, but she continues to loom over everyone in the vulnerable building and the great Jayne Houdeyshell continues to pop up in flashbacks illuminating various aspects of the case. The case is definitely going to be very personal for Charles and it should be interesting to see how it affects him as he learns more and more about his philandering scamp of a father and how he was drawn into the Arcadia in the first place.
Oliver, on the other hand, dealt with most of his family issues and guilt over being a bad father in Season 1. He continues to be the most broadly drawn of the three leads, possibly because Short is the actor most likely to devolve into schtick if given the chance, but he also has his moments of clarity and introspection. Oliver is approached by Amy Schumer (playing herself and taking over Sting’s penthouse apartment) about developing Only Murders in the Building, the podcast, into a prestige TV show, starring herself as the murderous Jan. Oliver has to fight his impulses to focus on this career-defining, and money-making, project to try to figure out Bunny’s murder and help his friends.
I continue to be surprised at how often I actually feel connected to Oliver, as Short is the one actor on the show who consistently does work I don’t love, but somehow this combination of creators, collaborators, and focus continues to give us Martin Short at his absolute best. (And we also get more Winnie the bulldog, who not only made it through the first season OK but seems to be thriving.)
Of course, the breakout star, and real revelation of the show, is Selena Gomez’s Mabel Mora. It was Mabel who was at the center of the murder mystery in Season 1, with her Hardy Boys crew all being destroyed in the process. She was childhood friends with the previous victim, Tim Kono (Julian Cihi), and had to get her fellow “Hardy Boy” Oscar (Aaron Dominguez), out of being framed for both his murder and that of their other friend Zoe (Olivia Reiss). Having dealt with all of that death, and also other secrets she still seems not to be sharing, walking in on Bunny’s last moments seems to have shattered Mabel. She is even more closed off than ever and seems to think that her life has become defined by death.
Gomez is fantastic, both at the comedy and the pathos. When she is with Martin and Short the three have the chemistry and timing of old pros. But this character is much deeper than just that comedic side. She is dark, hurting, and vulnerable, and Gomez plays all of those notes perfectly as well. Between the story, the performance, and the plot, Mabel Mora is the deepest character on the show.
Into that mix, her fame has now been defined by it too. She has become incredibly known as “Bloody Mabel” and seems to be developing an obsessive, and potentially dangerous, following akin to the groupies who flock to serial killers. One of the people who slides into Mabel’s DMs is Alice (Cara Delevingne) who successfully woos Mabel out into her “definitely not a cult” art collective. First Alice shows off her art gallery. Then she convinces Mable to vent her frustrations by destroying a sculpture Alice made, that she has titled “Mabel” (which Mabel chops to pieces with an axe!). This frees up Mabel’s inhibitions for a moment and she and Alice make out. Alice is incredibly compelling to Mabel and seems to keep pulling more and more out of her, but it definitely seems like a trap.
In fact, all of these offers of fame and fortune that face the trio seem like traps. They are still being actively followed and framed for Bunny’s murder and each of them seems to be set up for a big fall. The joy of the show is in how it is able to advance both the mystery and the characters in compelling ways, while still being incredibly funny, and so far Only Murders in the Building Season 2 seems poised to do this even better than it did in Season 1.