‘Only Murders in the Building’ Is Back to Lift Your Spirits With a Star-Studded Season 2

·5 min read
Barbara Nitke/Hulu
Barbara Nitke/Hulu

According to absurd theater director-turned-murder podcaster Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), memory is equal parts objective reality and subjective perception, and the great second season of Only Murders in the Building (June 28) proves that both can be relied upon to assess Short and Steve Martin’s hit Hulu series. As clever, charming and funny as anything on television, the duo’s sophomore outing—spearheaded by co-creator/director John Hoffman, and co-starring Selena Gomez—isn’t as playfully meta as its predecessor. Yet in every other way, it’s as mysterious and witty as before. A fast-paced whodunit that captures the spirit of New York City and its colorful denizens and diverse communities, it’s a pure delight, led by a Short performance that reconfirms his standing as the funniest person alive.

Last year’s finale concluded on a cliffhanger with Oliver, former TV actor Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) and aspiring artist Mabel Mora (Gomez) having solved the slaying of Mabel’s long-time friend Tim Kona and become national podcasting celebrities in the process, only to then find themselves in hot water when, during a night of celebration, Charles and Oliver discovered a blood-soaked Mabel kneeling over the corpse of Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), the president of their Arconia apartment building’s housing board. That’s precisely where this second go-round picks up, with the trio questioned by Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and her new partner Detective Kreps (Michael Rappaport) about their involvement in yet another death. Fortunately, there’s no evidence definitively pinning the crime on our heroes, and they’re allowed to walk free—albeit not before Kreps makes clear that he hates their “Only Murders in the Building” podcast, preferring the raunchy stylings of old-school Howard Stern broadcasts.

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Charles, Oliver and Mabel are thus tasked with clearing their names by figuring out who’s trying to frame them for Bunny’s murder. Their sleuthing immediately leads to a host of clues, the first of which is a pornographic painting owned by Bunny that goes missing—and, weirder still, features the nude image of Charles’ father, who we subsequently learn was taken away in handcuffs from the Arconia when Charles was a young boy. This oil-on-canvas work turns out to be wanted by more than just the amateur detectives, as Bunny’s imperious and cutting mother (Shirley MacLaine) and new Arconia resident Amy Schumer—who’s taken over the penthouse from prior inhabitant Sting—vie for possession of the piece. For the latter, however, the real prize are the rights to the “Only Murders in the Building” podcast, which she wants Oliver to sign over to her so she can adapt it into a 10-part dramatic miniseries focused on first-season killer Jan (Amy Ryan), whom she plans to play.

Schumer’s designs are the most cheerily self-referential element of Only Murders in the Building’s return engagement, which also continues to poke loving fun at podcasting via the efforts of Cindy Canning (Tina Fey) to make a podcast about Charles, Oliver and Mabel’s current murderous predicament, and the trio’s attempt to counter that damning show with their own exculpatory audio series. Still, Hoffman’s episodes don’t mirror and toy with podcasting structures and devices as heavily as they did in the first season; this time around, the action expends most of its energy simply tying its main characters in knots courtesy of various developments that complicate their search for answers regarding Bunny’s demise.

The ensuing investigation results in encounters with familiar faces like cat-lover Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton), Bunny’s grumpy friend Uma (Jackie Hoffman) and dip mogul/grave-robber Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane) and his deaf son Theo (James Caverly), as well as novel potential suspects like Bunny’s board-president successor Nina Lin (Christine Ko) and art collective leader Alice (Cara Delevingne), with whom Mable falls into a romance. The gang of die-hard “Only Murders in the Building” fans additionally factor into the equation, as does Charles’ teenage stepdaughter Lucy (Zoe Colletti), begetting a bustling and vibrant narrative populated by all sorts of idiosyncratic New Yorkers with the types of gripes, dreams, motives and attitudes that make the city a uniquely lively place. That’s most true of Bunny, an Upper West Side lifer who knows everyone and grumbles about everything, and whom Houdyshell compassionately embodies as more than just the caricature she initially appears to be.

There are consistent twists, cameos and jaw-dropping bombshells strewn throughout Only Murders in the Building, whose rat-a-tat-tat pacing is jaunty without ever being frantic. The true draw of the series, however, remains the peerless interplay between Martin and Short, the former doling out droll remarks as nominal straight man Charles, and the latter turning the gleefully narcissistic, dip-loving Oliver into a fount of uproarious one-liners. Martin gets tremendous mileage out of a variety of hair styles (including those employed for his ridiculous new acting gig on the reboot of Brazzos!) and subtle reaction shots and gestures, the best of which finds him responding to a knock on the door by yelling that he’s putting on a sweater—and then pretending to do so, even though no one can see him. Short, meanwhile, elicits more audible laughs than would seem possible in a half hour, whether he’s referring to the painted testicles of Charles’ father as “your dad’s Jiminy sack” (and then wondering, “Did I just make that up?”), or seriously referring to sex with the word “penetrata.”

Considering the assured naturalness of Martin and Short’s rapport, it’s amazing Gomez fits seamlessly into their back-and-forths, electrifying the proceedings’ central dynamic with a dose of sarcasm, skepticism, and eye-rolling generational tension. Only Murders in the Building knows its numerous players so well that it can segue on a dime between Agatha Christie-style snooping, jokes about TikTok, flashbacks to 1970s card games, and jabs at New York Knicks owner James Dolan without ever feeling scatterbrained. Martin and Short’s comedy is a love letter to its urban milieu and its beloved homicidal genre that doubles as an infectious showcase for its leads’ first-class chemistry. They may uncover a culprit by the conclusion of their latest odyssey, but given how wonderful it is to spend time in their bickering-and-bantering company, one hopes Martin and Short’s nonprofessional Sherlock Holmeses have many more mysteries to solve in the future.

“Only Murders in the Building” Season 2 streams on Hulu from June 28.

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