Steve Martin and John Hoffman’s zany, fourth-wall breaking comedy mystery successfully evades the sophomore slump
Starring Steve Martin, Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Cara Delevingne
Less than a year since its debut season, Only Murders in the Building is back for more in a fresh instalment that sees mismatched neighbours Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) solving another murder that has befallen the Arconia. Beautifully set up by the cliffhanger ending of the first season, Only Murders in the Building Season 2 sees Charles, Oliver and Mabel, fresh off of celebrating their successful solving of the murder of Tim Kono dragged into another investigation, as Mabel is the prime suspect in building busy-body Bunny’s (Jenny Houdyshell) bloody bump-off.
Created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman, Only Murders in the Building originally united the perfectly odd grouping of reclusive and abrasive actor Charles, exuberant and ostentatious theatre director Oliver and mysterious and insular artist Mabel over their shared love of true-crime podcasts, which spurred them to investigate the unusual murder of fellow Arconia resident Tim Kono. The first season was positively received critically for its comedic approach to crime fiction, as well as the winning dynamic between stars Martin, Short and Gomez, which made for comedic gold. Buried within the bumbling affable antics of the genial core three cast members is a genuinely compelling whodunit making for a show that successfully balances comedy with its most mysterious elements. Not only is the unfolding mystery reason enough to tune in, but so too is the brilliant tale of friendship that sees all of Charles, Oliver and Mabel learn to open up and lean upon each other, where previously their lives had been lonely and self-contained.
Originally debuting on Hulu, Only Murders in the Building airs on a weekly basis on Disney+ in the UK, though both seasons are available in their entirety on the streaming service at the time of writing. Only Murders’ second season continues to capitalise on what made its freshman instalment special: that brilliant tonal balance between comedy and mystery, with a cheeky nod towards the fourth wall. Expect many self-aware references to sequels being harder, and finales needing to ramp up the action. Truthfully, Charles, Oliver and Mabel could probably be doing little more than sitting around solving crosswords and I’m sure it would make for devilishly entertaining television regardless such is the magic of this group.
The mystery of Season 2 seems to be felt with more immediacy than the first, principally because Charles, Oliver and Mabel seem to be being framed by the shadowy killer. The stakes feel significantly higher as they need to prove their innocence, especially considering the success of the first season of their podcast Only Murders in the Building (see what I mean by meta?).
Unlike many streaming shows, Only Murders manages to craft episodes which are narratively satisfying in themselves, instead of only fully finding their footing when viewed as part of a collection. Each episode is constructed with brilliant levels of tension, generally with a cliffhanger to incentivise viewers to tune in for the next week (as if they wouldn’t!).
All three of the core stars shine here and principally it feels as if they are given greater depth than the first season. Charles and his relationship with his daughter Lucy (Zoe Colletti) is explored, similarly Oliver’s relationship with his son (Ryan Broussard) and his past with his wife. Gomez gets the meatiest material here, with the show beginning into delving into why her character is understated and the reasoning behind her self-imposed isolation. The new addition of Cara Delevingne to the cast as artist Alice brings out new shades in Mabel not previously seen and is wholly different to her relationship with Oscar, steeped as it was with traumatic history.
Season 2 also sees an expanded role for Tina Fey as rival true crime podcast host Cinda Canning, following what could generously be described as a cameo appearance in Season 1, and when has more Tina Fey ever been a bad thing? Consistently funny and an eminently watchable presence, here’s hoping that Season 2 is not the last of Fey’s relationship with the series.
Much like Season 1 before it, Season 2 sets up a mystery for an upcoming Season 3, wisely utilising a flash forward and a different location to the Arconia to avoid similarities with its first two murders. This premise for the third season seems rife with dramatic potential, and the flash forward allows for greater storytelling scope for the mysteries that have been created in the intervening time between seasons.
Only Murders in the Building is pure joy. With its amiable wit coupled with a genuinely intriguing mystery, Only Murders‘ greatest success is the interaction between its core cast. While its premise means that it is impossible to last forever, it is bound to be entertaining for as long as it retains its masterful tonal balance.
Only Murders in the Building Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on Disney+ now.