In the era of true crime podcasts and amateur YouTube sleuths solving a plethora of unsolved crimes, public fascination with murders, and those who enact them is potentially at an all-time high. That is why television series like Only Murders in the Building, which was originally released on Hulu at the end of August 2021, has managed to gain widespread mainstream appeal. Only Murders in the Building blends the classic elements of mysteries and crime fiction stories and infuses them with comedic elements, which makes sense considering who was cast in the show’s leading roles. Set in a building on the Upper West Side of New York, specifically one where many of the tenants have some kind of wealth to live there, three neighbors band together to start a podcast, inspired by a common favorite podcast between them after a neighbor is found dead.
The ten-episode first season was spearheaded by pop singer and actress Selena Gomez, comedian Martin Short, and fellow comedian, actor, and musician Steve Martin. Martin created the series along with John Hoffman (Northern Lights), and when the show was released, it became the most-watched premiere out of all Hulu’s comedy shows. The feedback for the show was overwhelmingly positive, so when the first season wrapped up, it was expected that the second season announcement came soon after. The show’s popularity only continued to grow as the episodes were released one by one, and a string of nominations and awards ensued.
While big names like Tina Fey and Nathan Lane graced the storylines during the first season, casting for the second season ramped up when Cara Delevingne, Michael Rapaport, and Amy Schumer were all slated to appear. Season two will consist of ten episodes, just like its predecessor. The entirety of the original main trio—Gomez, Short, and Martin—will be reprising their roles, ensuring that the beloved comedic timing of these three continues. Season one leaves off on quite the bit of a cliffhanger, so the first episode of the new season picks up right where the story left off: with its protagonists at a breaking point and now the prime suspects in a murder case.
A Deep Dive Into Backstories and Traumas
Audience expectations are high when pressing play, as they are already pretty aware of what to expect based on the first season alone. Too often comedy shows tend to fall into the same pit of repetitive jokes and their characters descend into archetypes that many have seen before, but Only Murders in the Building refuses to rehash old territory and stories. It instead chooses to go deeper into what makes these characters so special, and why the story needs them specifically to tell it properly. Before now, the viewers had an idea about the main trio and what their backgrounds are, but they have now become more fleshed out, adding depth and nuance to their decisions and personalities.
The first season ends with yet another murder, something that this affluent building seems to be pretty ripe with. This time the co-op president, Bunny, is the victim and now the show offers a glimpse into why she is the way she is with her backstory. Only Murders in the Building shifts its gears with new content, now creating something that steps away from the more straightforward comedy elements to make a fairly complicated show. And that is what good comedy may be at the end of the day: it needs to be challenging, but through investigating what it means to be human, and why someone who comes across as pompous and humorous is the way they are, it offers both critical lessons and relief on collective experiences.
However, this method allows the magic that made the first season to get lost in the chaos that unfolds. As the perspective shifts less away from the main trio and towards the side characters who inhabit this world, it creates a distinct sense of story building that may leave fans of the original first season a little unsatisfied when it comes to the new episodes. Certain plot points are built upon, such as their rival celebrity podcaster (portrayed by Tina Fey) creating a podcast called Only Murderers in the Building to attract and surpass their initial fanbase. Others, like the podcast, tend to fall to the back burner to push more of the show’s themes more directly.
Was this step back necessary? It may depend on who is being asked. Diehard fans of the show might find this new method of storytelling to be too slow or unnecessary, and they may want the plot to speed up a tiny bit quicker to get to the action. Like how Mabel’s story tied into the one victim’s story in season one, season two shows that Charles’ story connects to this murder. Only Murders in the Building decides to take its story a new route, choosing to preach about compassion and kindness when it comes to tragic events like murder—or even being accused of murder. In the era of true crime television that tries to understand the perspective of both murderers and victims, it is kindness that viewers, writers, and directors need to keep in mind. Whether the character is fictional or not, these are real people existing in the world that they are depicted and living inside.
An Excellent Cast Holds It All Together
Without the thread of the podcast to keep it all together, the show feels a bit disjointed at times, like it is simply a series of vignettes strung together with some common themes to try and bring it together. It is in these moments it begins to feel less like a show that started as a somewhat light-hearted comedy—as close as light-hearted as one can get when it starts and bases itself around murder—and more like it is dramatically taking its characters and going deeper into their struggles to try and make a broader statement. That statement is about humanizing the people in the murders instead of sensationalizing the act of violence, discovering who and what they were before tragedy struck.
As seen previously, Gomez, Martin, and Short have a unique sense of chemistry that feeds off of each other, and this streak continues in season two. Their podcast may have fallen to the side a bit, and that time is now used to fill in the gaps through narrative-based stories on a character’s past. Gomez’s character, Mabel, particularly shines during this season as she balances her two counterparts’ attitudes and provides a reality check. Even in the first season of the show, she is still an outsider in this community, living inside an apartment that is not her own, and when she is found kneeling over Bunny’s body with no memory of what has happened, it marks her even more as someone to watch. In season two, she provides the voice of reason.
It seems fitting that this kind of story is being told on the Upper West Side of New York City. As many of its characters feel alone and are isolated by society or family, mocked by the people around them who do not know who they are, the juxtaposition of being in a wealthy building, where one has to have made it financially or successfully to live there, in a city with a population of eight million makes this story of finding kinship in others even more special. Without Martin, Short, and Gomez, this show may have looked completely different, but its mash-up of genres and themes makes it worth watching, and their teamwork only enhances it.
The entire cast as a whole works well together, even, to create this universe that the show exists within. There is not a performance that distinguishes itself poorly, and the characters added during this season all have their moments to shine. Some good things are not meant to last and it is extremely difficult to keep the momentum of something great going, but the series still manages to keep itself entertaining. It may have lost some of its initial charms, but it would be hard to top the first season. It comes together like a mismatched puzzle, but it still manages to be rewarding.
The first two episodes of the second season of Only Murders in the Building are now available to stream on Hulu as of June 28, 2022. Episodes will be released weekly until the final episode is released on August 23, 2022.