It was certainly a surprise that one of the coziest and most joyous TV shows of 2021 was a New York City-set murder mystery starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. It was essentially a Mad Lib no one could have predicted that ended up bridging genre and generation gaps for a stellar opening season. It could have been its only season, too, but a finale twist and cliffhanger begged for more.
Hulu obliged, and now—less than a year later—the quirky, strangely whimsical Only Murders in the Building is returning for a second 10-episode outing. Like its first, the show is framed by its meta-podcast, but unlike the first season the group themselves have been framed: as killers. At the end of Season 1, after solving the murder of Tim Kono, the trio’s celebrations were cut short when Mabel (Gomez) returned to her condo unit only to find the Arconia’s board president, Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), stabbed to death with a knitting needle. Covered in blood and led out in cuffs, Mabel is not the only one implicated, though—her cohorts Charles (Martin) and Oliver (Short) are as well.
The new season picks up immediately, although given the lack of real evidence the three are ultimately released and encouraged to move on past the murders in this building (or elsewhere). But it seems clear that the real murderer is toying with them—and once podcast host Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) begins her own series that seeks to defame her pod-rivals, Mabel, Charles, and Oliver have no choice but to try and solve the murder to clear their names. Also, they’re just really good at solving crimes.
Without the need to introduce the leads and set up their podcast this time around, Only Murders can jump right in to the business of crime solving. And yet, it doesn’t. The three have other things going on that require their attention, including pasts that continue to haunt them, and the first few episodes take a couple of detours to introduce new players into their lives both in the building and outside of it. As such, the early episodes meander a little, but by Episode 4 we’re back to business; in the true meta-tradition of the first season, the group’s uber-fans comment on this in real time: “finally, some progress!”
One of the detours is particularly appreciated though, which is a full episode dedicated to the miserable Bunny herself. As Only Murders is very good at doing, we discover maybe Bunny wasn’t always so miserable, and in fact, maybe wasn’t even all that bad during her tenure as board president. But more importantly, it treats the victim of the crime with enough care to not make them a punchline; in this way and others, the series continues to walk an admirable tightrope that allows it to be both a compelling crime show and a fantastic comedy.
And the comedic elements, once again, absolutely sparkle with mirth and absurdity. Steve Martin remains the standout, using both broad physical humor and practiced pathos to deliver some of the new season’s most memorable lines. (Speaking of, Martin and Short excitedly riffing on their memories of watching the Iran-Contra hearings is an all-time favorite moment now.) The rapport among all three lead actors is better than ever this time around, and even more comfortable; they are always at their best when they are together. Season 2 also expands their personal stories a little more, especially Mabel’s new relationship with an artist (Cara Delevingne), but with rare exception, whenever a new person enters the scene it never works as well as when the core trio are investigating/bickering/hanging out on their own.
That said, while the new arrivals (who I will not spoil) are a little hit or miss, the show also brings back some familiar faces from Season 1 in surprising ways. Because of that and other small but notable connections, Only Murders’ second season feels more like a seamless continuation of its first rather than a whole new case, which—along with the show’s incredible sweaters, coats, and sports jackets—adds to the overall cozy and familiar feel. Essentially, everything you loved about the first season is still fully intact here, and while not perfect, it’s still a charm and a half.
Though Hulu provided the press with eight episodes to screen, I stopped after five. The weekly excitement of anticipating a new episode of Only Murders in the Building is not something I wanted to miss out on completely, review be damned. So while perhaps things somehow go off the rails in the few episodes I decided to save—or maybe it all reaches new comedic transcendence—I’m looking forward to waiting and finding out. “In real time! We did invent that format, right?” Oliver asks. Mabel replies, “The format where we drop a true crime podcast before we even have a story, an ending, or even a crime? Yeah, that’s all us.”
Only Murders in the Building premieres Tuesday, June 28th on Hulu.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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