‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 2 Opens a New Mystery With Crackling Charm

The second season of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” understands that a good mystery needs enticing details and characters we care about. We get a new murder to solve that still links to last season’s antics, but it’s the trio that headline this show keeping us enthralled. Steve Martin and Martin Short bring their vast comedic experience once more, while Selena Gomez delivers what amounts to a career-best performance.  Wisely enough, the characters are expanded farther than the murders. We get to see different sides to them, even as the quirks and slapstick laughs remain hilariously intact. Coupled with the plot, this is all a good lesson in how you can keep what works without putting the plot on repeat.

We’re back in the New York City Upper West Side apartment, the Arconia. Beginning right where the last season ended, neighbors turned podcasters Charles (Martin), Oliver (Short) and Mabel (Gomez) are in shock after finding the corpse of board president Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell). You may recall Mabel was standing above the corpse, her clothes stained in blood. The police have arrived and the three are taken in as prime suspects. After a lengthy interrogation, Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) determines there’s nothing to charge them with. The three are let go but decide to make a sequel to their first podcast. What else can they do? The three are all over the news and have gained fresh notoriety. Even a new neighbor, Amy Schumer, who is moving into the apartment formerly owned by Sting, approaches Oliver about turning their podcast into (of course) an eight-part limited series.

Simply put, “Only Murders in the Building” has a specific secret to its appeal: It is fun. Martin and co-creator John Hoffman turn every episode into a combo of engaging vignettes while connecting to the bigger case. Last season’s cliffhanger becomes the perfect excuse to keep the three friends eternally linked. Mabel tries to refocus on her desires to be an artist, yet can’t resist going on another podcast adventure with Charles and Oliver because they need to prove their innocence. New clues have a classic sleuth feel, like Bunny’s parrot, Mrs. Gambolini, which keeps making ominous statements that suggest it witnessed something vital. Now the trio needs to try and make it reveal a little more. We even get a rather heartbreaking third episode where we follow Bunny on her final day as Arconia board president, feeling old as she seems to get shoved aside by Nina Lin (Christine Ko), a pregnant, no-sense tenant who should be running for political office instead. For Mabel, a major new character is Alice (Cara Delevingne), an artist who lives in the building and pushes Mabel to reconnect with true, visceral inspiration for her art. When Mabel visits Alice’s apartment and lets her frustrations out on a piece of sculpture, they start making out and so begins a new, romantic chapter in Mable’s journey.

Along with Nina, there are other new characters that expand the roster in very fun ways. We meet Bunny’s mother, Leonora (Shirley MacLaine), who arrives to collect an expensive painting Bunny owned. Oh, but the painting is no mere piece of decoration. It has a possible link to Charles’s father, a ladies’ man and schemer who used to bring young Charles around the Arcadia while engaging in his own intrigues. Leonora nonchalant reveals she was one of Charles Sr.’s lovers, which means the actors’ connection to Bunny might run deeper than just inhabiting the same apartment. MacLaine is scandalously entertaining as Leonora, brushing off the shocks her revelations inspire. Amy Schumer is a total riot as herself, satirizing every ambitious producer who wants to take a hot property and spin it into TV. She wants to turn the podcast into a show focusing on last season’s culprit, Jan (Amy Ryan). Tina Fey is all cockiness and envy as Cinda Canning, who has her own podcast, “Only Murderers in the Building?”

The deeper charm of “Only Murders in the Building” is how it also continues to explore the theme of age. Growing older doesn’t have to mean growing less active. It can instead mean a change in perceptions about one’s life. Charles’s discoveries about his father cast a whole new light on his childhood. He also gets the news that his hit show “Brazzos” from years ago is getting a reboot, with him now reduced to playing an “uncle” in a wheelchair. Mabel the millennial gets her own cute lesson in the passage of time when she meets Charles’s stepdaughter and can’t quite decipher some of her Gen Z lingo. This season is the best work Gomez has ever done. She’s funny, sharp and also melancholy. These are moods difficult to balance when you’re doing comedy and Gomez shows off her capacity for it with crackling chemistry.

This is a mystery show and strewn with the other developments are plenty of clues, some small, some big shockers. We learn more about Bunny’s links to the Arconia through the story of her grandfather, Archibald Carter, who was both the architect behind the building and a peeping tom. A hidden elevator Archibald installed to spy on women could now be a clue as to what happened to Bunny. Such details are great comic relief when the story shifts from Charles’s professional disappointment or Oliver being a terrible father to his grown son, who is trying to launch a stage production but can’t keep his dad on the phone long enough for meaningful advice. Oliver also has to worry about Teddy (Nathan Lane), who just got out of prison and threatens to “fuck” him hard for getting him caught last season. Because it’s Short and Lane together in the scene we could watch them violently banter for hours. “Only Murders in the Building” now has a new criminal act to solve, so well executed that we enjoy the investigation more than the payoff. 

Only Murders in the Building” season two begins streaming June 28 with new episodes premiering Tuesdays on Hulu.