Only Murders in the Building could have ended with its superb first season.
The murder mystery series seemingly came out of nowhere last year, premiering on Hulu in late summer only to quickly win over both critics and casual viewers alike with its clever writing, intriguing whodunnit, and pitch-perfect central trio. Boosted by the undeniable comedic chemistry between its three leads, Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez, the show’s first season managed to tell a genuinely engrossing story, and it introduced viewers to a memorable location in the form of its central New York City apartment building, The Arconia.
The series’ combination of the unlikely chemistry of its three leads with its endless string of fun, lightly self-aware murder mystery twists proved to be a winning formula. But, as is always the case with dramedies like Only Murders in the Building, there was always a chance that any return trips to The Arconia would prove to be less fulfilling than the first.
The good news is that, based on its first eight episodes, it seems safe to say that Only Murders in the Building’s second season is, thankfully, shaping up to be a worthwhile adventure. While its new season isn’t quite as tightly plotted as its first, the playful murder mystery series still feels just as inventive, funny, and charming as it did last year. In fact, the show’s heavier focus on The Arconia in its second season allows it to expand its cast of characters and fictional world in ways that are, for the most part, extremely effective and rewarding.
Only Murders in the Building season 2 begins where its first left off, with Charles-Haden Savage (Steve Martin), Oliver Putnam (Martin Short), and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) all placed under arrest for the murder of Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), The Arconia’s tough-as-nails board president. However, after being questioned about Bunny’s murder by Detectives Williams (a returning Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Kreps (Michael Rapaport), the show’s central trio is quickly released from prison.
And that’s when the real fun of Only Murders in the Building season 2 begins. Not only do Mabel, Oliver, and Charles begin to use Bunny’s murder as the foundation of a new season of their hit true-crime podcast but they also begin to explore The Arconia itself in ways they hadn’t before. Their exploration of the building leads to them discovering tunnels, secret elevators, and residents that weren’t present in the show’s first season, and Oliver and Charles, in particular, are forced to start reckoning with their pasts in difficult and eye-opening ways.
If The Arconia wasn’t as cozy and unique of a location as it is, then these discoveries might seem lackluster or superfluous. Fortunately, Only Murders in the Building has always been good at filling out its charming, New Yorker version of New York City, and the series’ central apartment building has always been as important to it as its murders, which makes the show’s heightened focus on The Arconia throughout its second season feel like a natural path for it to take.
The series’ increased interest in The Arconia also allows it to further explore the building’s numerous quirky residents. Several of the first eight episodes of Only Murders in the Building season 2 are, for instance, narrated by characters outside of the show’s central trio, and one installment even follows Houdyshell’s Bunny in the hours leading up to her murder. To its credit, the series has always boasted an impressive ensemble of supporting players, but its second season goes out of its way to give many of them their own time in the spotlight.
The only downside to the expanded scope of Only Murders in the Building season 2 is that the show’s plotting takes a bit of a hit as a result. The season’s first eight episodes dig into the mystery of Bunny’s murder at an uneven — sometimes frustrating — pace, and the show often takes its foot off the gas in order to develop certain subplots and relationships that don’t, on the surface at least, appear to carry much of a greater significance. That fault is only exacerbated by the fact that season 2 adds several new players to the show’s existing ensemble, some of whom make for more compelling figures than others.
Shirley MacLaine shows up in one early episode and predictably steamrolls nearly everyone else in the show’s cast. Zoe Colletti, meanwhile, shines as Lucy, the figure behind much of Charles’ emotional baggage in the show’s first season. Her on-screen chemistry with Martin makes it clear why Charles was so upset about Lucy’s departure from his life, and her presence in Only Murders in the Building gives the show the chance to add some refreshing variations to the generational divides that already exist between many of its characters.
Unfortunately, several of the season’s other rookie characters prove to be less memorable. As Alice, an artist who quickly forms a romantic connection with Gomez’s Mabel, Cara Delevingne fails to stand out amidst the series’ other, livelier performers. Amy Schumer also fills the season’s Sting role by playing a heightened version of herself, one who doesn’t hesitate to express her interest in producing a Hollywood adaptation of Mabel, Oliver, and Charles’ podcast. While Schumer and Short have some strong comedic chemistry together, the former’s role isn’t substantial enough to justify how much time the series spends with her.
The good news is that for every mixed moment or lackluster supporting character Only Murders in the Building season 2 delivers, there are three or four other scenes that hit with considerable impact. The chemistry between Martin, Gomez, and Short is just as strong in the show’s new season as it was in its first, too, and the second season’s first eight episodes continue to give all three actors the chance to continue exploring Charles, Oliver, and Mabel in ways that are often profound and funny. Just as he did in the series’ first season, Short also continues to steal practically every scene he’s in.
All of which is to say that, even though it isn’t quite as strong as its debut run was last year, Only Murders in the Building is still shaping up to be one of the year’s most endlessly charming and funny series on television. To put it another way: While its blade may have dulled a little between seasons, fans can rest assured knowing that Only Murders in the Building is still sharp enough to make a lasting mark.
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