The first two episodes of Only Murders in the Building Season 2 are now streaming on Hulu, with one new episode coming out each Tuesday.
Only Murders in the Building left us with one hell of a cliffhanger last season. With the mystery of who was behind Tim Kono’s death seemingly solved, finding Mabel with the freshly murdered president of The Arconia’s board raised important questions, like “has Mabel been a psycho killer this whole time?” With Bunny Folger’s blood still drying on Mabel’s floor, the Only Murders team must put their newfound “expertise” to the test to solve yet another mystery and exonerate one of their own. The first eight episodes leave much of what made the first season a success intact, but its reach tends to exceed its grasp as Only Murders adds more cases to solve and characters to the mix.
Only Murders in the Building’s greatest mystery continues to be “how did we go this long without getting Selena Gomez teamed up with Steve Martin and Martin Short?” The lovable and irresistible chemistry of the show’s three leads was the highlight of the first season, and that carries through here. Short and Martin’s barbs at each other — fueled by the actors’ longstanding friendship — are consistently inventive and sharp, with Gomez’s dry, modern wit contrasting well with their bickering. While the trio is as funny as ever, things are a little less reliable on the dramatic front for Mabel, Charles, and Oliver. Mabel’s spotty recollection of the night of Bunny’s murder ties into emotional trauma she’s dealing with, and Only Murders finds smart ways to fold that into the texture of the show, like how Mabel perceives these struggles as pieces of a flipped-over puzzle. That goes double for how Only Murders illustrates Oliver’s penchant for deduction, with a stylish sequence dipping back and forth between Oliver’s imagination and an impromptu interrogation that gives Short the chance to channel brilliance and buffoonery at the same time. But Charles’ storyline(s), including a Brazzos reboot, a reunion with his sort-of stepdaughter Lucy, and his lingering feelings for Jan (Amy Ryan) despite her attempt to murder him last season, prove to be too much for any one of them to be especially interesting. The Jan subplot feels particularly frustrating — while it’s clear the writers want us to sympathize with Charles’ loneliness, their relationship isn’t colored with enough nuance to make the idea of Charles going back to her at all believable.
As a reaction to the exploding popularity of true crime podcasts, Only Murders in the Building’s first season mined successful series like Serial for both inside jokes and dramatic structure. The second season continues that trend, but to diminishing returns. The first few “second season” jokes the second season of Only Murders makes land, but the meta bit tires quickly after that. And like what’s happened with some true crime podcasts, the second season’s structure just can’t capture the magic of what came before. Threads set up in early episodes — like Amy Schumer (Amy Schumer)’s interest in optioning Only Murders into a TV show (metameta!) — are largely ignored through the middle of the season, the strong likelihood being that these languishing elements will be woven back into the last two episodes when they premiere later this summer. The question of who killed Bunny Folger remains the most interesting and imperative. With Mabel on the hook for the crime, it’s the only thing going on that all three have a shared emotional stake in.
Only Murders cedes more time to returning and new supporting characters this time around, a choice which proves to be a double-edged sword. Episode 3, “The Last Day of Bunny Folger,” is the easy standout of the first eight episodes, a touching portrait of the late Board President’s toughness and dignity, and a showcase for Jayne Houdyshell that effectively syncs both character and audience sympathy for a woman we realized was too good for this world too late. Bunny’s death does bring her mother Leonora into the mix, and while Shirley MacLaine has only featured in one episode so far, it’ll come as no surprise that she’s an absolute scene-stealer. MacLaine’s deadpan summation of Charles’ beloved Brazzos as “an excellent show to have on in the background while you’re dying” should give you a good idea of what to expect and, given how closely the Folgers seem to be tied to the greater Arconia history mystery, the stage is set for MacLaine to return to lend the story’s climax some gravitas.
Leonora Folger aside, most of the other new characters fail to make a strong impression. Cara Delevingne’s gallery owner Alice is introduced as a potential love interest for Mabel, but Delevigne’s arch delivery undercuts the tension of how (or whether) she factors into Bunny’s death. The same goes for Michael Rapaport’s Detective Kreps, a questionably competent NYPD detective whose motives are frustratingly opaque. While the Only Murders crew had an outsized number of red herrings to sort through last season — partially down to their own inexperience as investigators — this time, the curveballs feel less organic and connected to the plot.