This article contains spoilers for Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building, which wrapped its first season on Tuesday.
Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building solved one case just to open another in the final moments of the season closer, “Open And Shut.” The core trio of this dramedy—Charles (Steve Martin), Mabel (Selena Gomez), and Oliver (Martin Short)—successfully deduced the identity of Tim Kono’s (Julian Cihi) killer. But it wasn’t long before they found themselves wrapped up in another true-crime mystery. Only this time, they won’t be podcasting from the sidelines.
As Charles noted, “Every true-crime story is true for someone.” Now it’s his turn (and Mabel’s and Oliver’s) to be under the microscope. How will the three leads handle being the subject of a true-crime podcast? Series co-creator John Hoffman knows, though he’s hardly giving away the plot for season two, which he says is about a month out from filming. The A.V. Club spoke with Hoffman about the killer’s identity, the Easter eggs in the credits, fan theories, and what we can expect from the second season.
The A.V. Club: Your show has some gorgeous and intricate credits that you filled with clues early on. Were you worried that in this binge era, people would skip past them?
John Hoffman: Early on in the development of the show, I was with Dan Fogelman and Jess Rosenthal, who runs Dan’s development company. Jess and I were talking late at night and saying, “Before we even dive in, don’t you want to see a really great opening credits sequence? I was like, “Yes, that’s all I dream about. I want to make a great opening credits sequence for our show.” He’s like, “We should think about it right now before everything and think what do we want that to feel and look like and how to we want to shape it,” because it’s usually the thing that you do at the end.
We hired this brilliant company, Elastic. They were unbelievable partners—everyone there, but in particular this artist, Lisa Bolan, who got what we were trying to do and how we wanted to feel New York, feel the mystery and comedy. Just something elegant. Siddhartha Khosla penned this amazing theme. It was all separate pieces, so it all came together. Jess was particularly driven; he loves the clues and secrets within every opening sequence. There’s a tip of the hat to Ozark and Game Of Thrones and all those ways in which a little shift happens. You go, “Oh, I’m teased for the episode to come.”
I just loved the credits for the tone they set. I love that we put them in deeper into the episodes, so that you hang with it. A lot of people say to me, “I never fast-forward through that. It’s fun.” Every second you get someone’s attention for a television show, I feel like you owe them something a little bit unique. That’s what we were trying to do there.
AVC: The opening credits have all these great Easter eggs: a bee, a hula girl dashboard doll, the two hats in Charles’ background the week that we meet his stunt double. Then for “The Boy From 6B,” which is mostly silent, there are the scrabble tiles in Mabel’s window that spell out silence. What have I missed?
JH: They’re in every episode. It’s easy to miss, I will tell you. Sometimes I’m like, “Wait a minute, what was that one?” I’m still forgetting some of them. You’ve covered most of the ones that I thought. Jess and I were very specific. We thought, “Give [the audience] a little work to do.”
Here’s one you missed: In episode eight, the one with the superfans, as we go up the building and we hit the roof, before we drop down into the courtyard, there’s something on the roof that is not in any other episode. They are three industrial air conditioning fans that are turning—so, the fans. In episode one, when you pull back through the main titles, at the very, very end of them, we back through the archway and the gate closes and above that archway in the last image, there’s a marble design that’s just always in over the archway. That design is notably a painted Easter egg. Literally, an Easter Egg. It’s the first thing to let you know there are going to be Easter eggs in this thing.
Episode two, I believe that’s the one where we explore Mabel’s past with Tim Kono. They had this whole sequence where they used flashlights, coming into their apartment in play investigators. As we pull down into the courtyard on the back of our trio, standing in the courtyard in the main titles, you see two flashlight beams that are sweeping across the building. That’s not in the others. My favorite, I have to say, is the one you brought up. I love the Scrabble tiles in Mabel’s window.
AVC: It’s a well-made mystery, of course, a lot of people enjoyed the show because it’s not just about the whodunnit. Did you guys have any guidelines in terms of how to balance the mystery element with other aspects of the story and character development?
JH: We are really juggling a lot of balls with tone and with storylines—the comedy, the characters, the connection, the themes of connection, New York, all of it all at once. That was really the challenge, but it was also the thrill. It was the question whether people would embrace something that had a lot going on tonally.
For me, I’ve always said the show is tonally New York. You can walk 10 blocks in New York and you’ll see something beautiful and elegant architecturally next to something very modern. Then there’s something classic next to something modern. Then you can see something on the street that really intrigues you or scares you. Something that makes you roar laughing. Then there’s a Broadway show promoting its latest show in the middle of the street. It’s all happening all at once when you’re in New York.
That vibe was what I was aiming towards, but also really grounded for me in these three lonely characters, all under the same roof but with common interests. The way in which a true-crime podcast or something like that can build a community. The way the show builds the same kind of community around its mystery and creates dialogues between us and can connect us. All of that plays a part and all of that hopefully is reflected by the end of the season. While you’re carrying out the mystery and whodunnit of it all, the bigger things are the connection that’s been made between these three people and even the murder victim.
AVC: Now that the finale is out, we can talk about the identity of the killer. Did you know all along that it was going to be Jan, or did you have some other potential murderers in the building?
JH: We were in the writers’ room, sorting through it. We did have other potentials. What we’ve been learning and realizing in breaking this season and season two, which we’re deep in now, is that you have to create many viable murder narratives for everyone you’re going to throw into the mix to keep them really alive as best you can through the whole season. To keep people guessing and picking who it could be. We did have to craft real reasons as to how this could happen.
Ultimately, Jan won the day because she was closest to our theme. When we realized it’s Tim Kono who has to narrate episode 10, that he’s going to have his moment to tell his own story—of course, he can’t. It’s an imaginative leap we’re taking. When Tim Kono’s narration comes around in episode 10, you see it’s actually Charles who is giving what Oliver says is the best performance he’s ever given. It is the case because you’re seeing Tim Kono and Charles are kindred spirits in the fact that they were with the same woman. It was all born out of a certain loneliness and a compulsion just to connect for both of them, where to turn when they felt particularly lonely. There’s a symmetry there to our theme of connection and loneliness. Sometimes people don’t survive moves that are made out of some depression, some lack of connection.
Charles is able in some way to redeem that story a bit and that connection was made as Tim says as he’s standing at the mic at the end of episode 10. A lot of it was built that way for [Jan]. So much tied into the other part of it, which was her personality and her sociopathy, frankly. That was all about being second and never feeling first in someone’s life. That was something that had gotten out of hand for her.
AVC: There is that moment in the eighth episode, where Charles basically picks Oliver and Mabel over Jan. She was clearly always a little off.
JH: I love Amy [Ryan]. It’s one of my favorite things to watch the scene she and Steve have in episode 10, where they’re finding a rhythm together in solving the case as a couple. Yet there she is, having done it and there she is having poisoned him. It’s lunacy. It’s a wild ride for me and I think she and he play it perfectly. Anyway, I’m thrilled with the way that part came out. It was hopefully unexpected, but it has to feel intimate when you’re finding out who the murderer is in the show. So that’s where we went.
AVC: We never lose the romantic angle there. It just goes to show you will continue to learn things about your partner—hopefully not things that are this bad!—but you’re going to continue to be surprised.
JH: That’s right. It’s the narratives that they’re telling about themselves. This is the other podcast-y meta quality of the show. The narrative that she was hanging onto, which she tells people, it’s just the craziest thing. She’s telling people she’s first chair bassoon. She can’t bear to even admit that she’s not. It’s just the most terrible uncovering at the end of episode nine for her. It just has be managed.
AVC: The series opens with Mabel covered in blood, kneeling in front of a body, and the finale finally takes us back to that moment. Did you always know who the victim was there, or did you start with that really memorable opening scene and then figure it out down the road?
JH: We figured it out down the road. Again, like the murderer, we really wanted to keep ourselves open and make the twistiest, but-still-grounded-in-our-world version of who this could be. What sets up an interesting second season? All of those question were really heavily gone over in the room.
We came to who is in that tie-dyed hoodie below Mabel–it must have been fairly early on. But it was in development, for sure. So we could shape that relationship. Then we even started to break season two. Once you do that, you have to go, Okay, so what happened there? That’s a fun one to lean into, I’ll tell you. It’s really bizarre where we’re going in season two.
AVC: What can you tell us about the second season?
JH: There’s this amazing collection of stars that are already in the show. I think it’s looking very happily like we’re going to have many of them back again, but in fresh new ways. I don’t mean new characters. I’m saying their positions have altered clearly from the end of season one.
We will be inviting back a lot of them, in ways that are hopefully surprising. Also new people that will of course be freshening up the atmosphere around the new murder that they’re investigating. But also there’s the investigation and then there’s the telling of that story. That becomes one of the bigger themes of the show in season two: Who’s telling the true story? Which feels like a big American story in some ways.
AVC: You really put together such a great cast for this. In addition to Steve, Martin, and Selena, you had all these great theater performers: Jackie Hoffman, Zainab Jah, Russell G. Jones, Jeena Yi, Michael Cyril Creighton, Adina Verson, and Jayne Houdyshell.
JH: Jayne Houdyshell is a dear friend of mine. I was so happy. She’s a dear friend and a theater legend now in New York, a Tony-winning actress. Just a brilliant actress and one of my dear friends. Jayne is amazing. As you see with the victim—god, I hate even talking about that, but as with Tim Kono, just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you’re not in our show.
AVC: There are so many things in the show that speak to its “New York-ness,” aside from the cast. One of my favorite running gags were the names of Oliver’s fake musicals. How did those come about?
JH: For one of them, I was talking to Marty Short. We were going back and forth on this line in episode eight, where he says, “Like I told Paula Abdul when we did our production of Hedda Gabler, you got to think out the box here.” That was Marty and I going, “Who’s the perfect person to put in Hedda Gabler?”
That whole thing has been a dream, just to go there. The brilliant art production team put that together. I would love someday for a journalist or a fan to be able to walk through some of the amazing sets we have for the show. Marty’s apartment is filled with the posters for all of those shows. I couldn’t stop laughing when I got examples of them. I turned in a few of my own. They’re just genius. Newark, Newark! had to be huge because I was like, “This is my favorite thing and I want to shoot Newark, Newark!” There’s so many of them that are just fantastic on his walls.
I love dancing in that territory of the theater. The cast in the show is incredible. It was unfortunate in the grandest way that everyone was out of work last year, who should be working in the theater. On the other hand, it was this lovely opportunity, if they were willing and in that difficult moment that we shot it, to be able to come out of their house and play with an amazing group of people. I just feel so lucky that this incredible cast of theater royalty really. From Nathan Lane to Jayne to Jackie Hoffman, Vanessa Aspillaga as Ursula. These are all incredibly gifted people. Mandy Gonzalez, who plays Mabel’s mother, is playing in Hamilton every night. It’s crazy.
AVC: As the episodes rolled out, were you looking for people’s most outlandish theories?
JH: I’ve been so focused on season two. The writers, this brilliant writing team that helps to write this show, I couldn’t love any one of them more—they will be on the Reddit boards or on Twitter, whatever it is with the stuff that people are theorizing and finding. It was fascinating, absolutely fascinating. I will say we knew that was going to be happening. We wrote episode eight with that in mind, with the superfans. We tried to honor that as much as possible and yet the thing to remember is all those theories, they still may play a part. There’s a lot of open things by the end our season one. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten them. Certain things will come back still. Don’t despair if your theory didn’t play out. There’s aspects of it that may still be there.
AVC: What are you most excited to see your cast do in the second season? What kind of stress tests are they going to endure?
JH: There is a sort of unexpected success and opportunity that comes from this insane mess they’ve put themselves in at the end of season one. Navigating that while trying to get themselves out from under more pressing issues and the world having specific feelings about who they and stories being told about them. They’re also trying to tell their own story.
All of that provides great fodder for our show next season, that feels very alive and kicking. Plus all of their personal stories. They’ve thrown themselves deep in the soup, and we’re watching them swim around in that. But oh my god, sometimes the soup is actually tasty. Then it’s also we got to get out of the soup. [Laughs.] It’s that kind of thing that is exciting to see for all of them. Of course, deepening the connection they have towards each other through great travails.