Only Murders in the Building Season 2 Wisely Sticks to a Winning Formula

5 minute read

In the second season of Only Murders in the Building, the investigators become the investigated. Fresh off of cracking the Tim Kono case, the unlikely trio of has-been actor Charles-Haden Savage (co-creator Steve Martin), financially strapped theater director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and mysterious millennial Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) have become heroes in the true-crime podcast community. But just as they’re celebrating their success, Charles and Oliver walk into Mabel’s apartment to find her kneeling over the dead body of building board president Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell), white sweater soaked in blood.

After an initial round of questioning yields insufficient evidence to make an arrest, Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) releases the trio under orders to stop podcasting. “Get a new hobby—now,” she tells them. “I do not give a damn what it is, just as long as it doesn’t land you in jail.” Do they obey? Of course not. Because Only Murders, which returns to Hulu on June 28, is a hugely popular series about three oddball amateurs who, yes, investigate murders in their posh Upper West Side building, the Arconia, and document their progress in the eponymous, accidentally hugely popular podcast. Unless Martin and his co-creator, John Hoffman, were looking to blow up a winning formula, a new season of the show would necessitate a new season of the podcast. It’s mostly for the best that they’ve decided not to fix what wasn’t broken.

So, aside from the fact they’re now trying to clear their own names—and Mabel’s in particular—fans can expect more of the same charming, intergenerational citizen-detective stuff they fell hard for last summer. Most episodes are framed by the emergence and dismissal of a suspect. Each of the podcasters gets their own season-long emotional arc. Fatherhood becomes a theme, as Charles is reunited with his sort-of-stepdaughter, Lucy (Zoe Colletti), and Oliver’s relationship with his son, Will (Ryan Broussard), is tested. Peppered with flashbacks that explore her childhood bond with her own dad, Mabel’s story line flirts with violence and dissociation, occasionally going darker than Only Murders’ droll tone can support. She’s saddled with the nickname “Bloody Mabel” when paparazzi photos of her from the night of Bunny’s murder land on the covers of every tabloid in town, and her art and mythos attract the attention of a glamorous English gallerist, Alice (played by Cara Delevingne).

Amy Schumer and Steve Martin in 'Only Murders in the Building'Barbara Nitke/Hulu

It’s the addition of new characters, along with the development of peripheral ones (Adina Verson’s Poppy, as the loyal assistant to Tina Fey’s imperious murder-pod queen, gets a fun arc) and a deepening of the show’s immersion in the history of the Arconia, that keeps the new episodes from merely repeating season 1. We meet Bunny’s equally fearsome successor as board president, Nina (Christine Ko), who is extremely pregnant and has her own ideas about the building’s future. (Of course there are Rosemary’s Baby jokes. Did you even have to ask?) Shirley MacLaine makes a splashy appearance, though I’ve been asked not to describe her character. Amy Schumer is this season’s Sting—the good-sport celebrity appearing as herself—who moves into the Arconia with hopes of adapting the podcast for TV. This meta side plot is low-hanging fruit, but at least it doesn’t detract too much from the main story.

For anyone enamored of 20th-century New York (find me an Only Murders fan who isn’t, I dare you), Martin and Hoffman’s forays into that era will surely be the highlight of the season. Charles gets a ’50s-set origin story; we learn about his father, too. A look back at Oliver in his ’70s glory, leading parlor games at house parties, is pure delight. A deep dive into the intertwined biographies of Bunny and the Arconia? Yes to that, and an emphatic yes to all the self-aware Gotham kitsch of a season that revels in diners and blackouts and Son of Sam lore.

None of this is going to twist your brain or challenge your expectations. And maybe some will see Only Murders’ modest ambitions as a flaw, in an era when many expect TV to take the same creative risks as any other art form. But narrative formulas can be deeply satisfying when executed well—and none more so than that of the cozy mystery. Take an ensemble of eccentric suspects, a victim with lots of enemies, and a trail of distinctive clues, and you get Agatha Christie’s classic whodunits. You get the endless playable combinations of Clue. And you get Only Murders, which at this rate is sure to keep us entertained for seasons to come.

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