Only Murders in the Building was a surprise triumph last year — a comedy whose lovable, understated wit gained strength as the first season progressed. With fine work by Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez at its heart, this came together in a portrait of disaffected and alienated people.
In its second edition, Only Murders no longer has any element of surprise: we know what it can do. But that’s the only thing this show lost. With its rococo details of life in a New York gatehouse overlaid on a careful and meticulous construction, the Hulu crime comedy is as strong as ever in its second installment.
The series follows up on the mystery uncovered in the final moments of season one: the murder of cranky Co-op CEO Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell). As the season progresses we get real insight into Bunny’s life and delve deeper into the backstories of the trio of leads – who all live in the same building, the Arconia, and record a podcast about the violence that seems to erupt there frequently. The gestures toward the aesthetics and concerns of classic New Yorker editions on Only Murders aren’t just pretentious; Individual episodes that explore the psyche and history of our characters have a clear short story air to them.
And this structure, in which character stories are isolated into carefully constructed episodes, is something that Gomez particularly benefits from. As a performer, Gomez has an unconventional charisma that’s elusive: It can feel like she’s depriving the audience of something, like an interpretation of the character she doesn’t want to share. It fits a show whose real point is the isolation of its characters: Gomez’ Mabel Mora is distant even from herself. And this season dedicates to further investigating why, with Gomez doing the best work of her career in a monologue that describes Mabel’s confusion about her own behavior.
Like any good crime novel, Only Murders in the Building deals not just with the “who” – in this case, who killed Bunny – but with the “why”. Gomez’s work is the most dramatic of the three main characters, but Martin and Short as Charles-Haden Savage and Oliver Putnam are also explored. You begin to understand why they are so relentlessly funny.
And the jokes still work. Charles and Oliver’s shared delusion that they’re the most interesting people in their field of vision inspires both the deliciousness of the pomposity and the satisfaction of finally seeing them pierced by Mabel. (A highlight of the season is Charles and Oliver’s argument over who has a clearer memory of the Iran-Contra affair, which may sound ridiculous but flies away with an escalating series of happily employed 1980s names.) The World Beyond Three Leading man he continues to be richly dressed, with particularly sweet moments this season for Michael Cyril Creighton’s shy neighbor Howard.
The Arconia universe is also growing, and includes a hilarious cameo from Amy Schumer, who plays an oversized version of herself residing in the building, and an expanded role for Tina Fey as true crime podcast pioneer Mabel and her operation doubts. (If the actual podcast element of “Only Murders in the Building” seems to have fallen off a bit, with less commonly seen characters, it’s offset by a show that feels richer and deeper elsewhere.)
Critics weren’t provided with the final two episodes of the season, meaning it would be impossible to judge how well the Only Murders mystery connected. But this is a show that’s on all cylinders – one that skirts the slump in sophomore while balancing tight character work with a lovingly drawn world. The first season, which is coming right now, can certainly garner several important Emmy nominations, this second season is an argument for the staying power of the series.
The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Building will air Tuesday, June 28 on Hulu, with additional episodes coming weekly.
https://variety.com/2022/tv/reviews/only-murders-in-the-building-season-2-review-hulu-1235302592/ ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 2 Recap: Hulu’s Mystery Shines