“Second seasons are tough, you know?” Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) quips during the, yes, second-season premiere of Only Murders In The Building. It’s good to know the Hulu comedy’s affinity for being meta remains intact. Plus, he’s not wrong: A sophomore slump is tough to avoid if a show’s debut has garnered as much attention and acclaim as OMITB. The pressure is real. But if the two-part premiere is any evidence, John Hoffman and Steve Martin’s series doesn’t let up on being absolutely charming. It still prods and pokes fun at the true-crime podcast obsession, while once again crafting a fascinating puzzle-box mystery of its own. This particular suspense was teased all the way back in the opening moments of the pilot when Oliver and Charles (Martin) rush into Mabel’s (Selena Gomez) apartment to find her hunched over a dead body.
The show’s almost instant success after it arrived last summer can be credited to Short, Martin, and Gomez’s crackling chemistry. As neighbors in an iconic Upper West Side building called the Arconia, their characters bond while trying to figure out who killed Tim Kono (Julian Cihi) through their own podcast. OMITB continues to capitalize on their connection, which only grows stronger since they’re prime suspects in the murder of Arconia’s audacious board president Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell), a.k.a. the dead body Mabel was staring at in her apartment. Even though Detective Williams (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) lets them go after interrogations, urging them to find a new hobby, the damage is already done. They’re now famous podcasters and infamous perpetrators on the quest to solve yet another case. Hooray.
It’s clear that OMITB is sticking to its winning formula of letting the three leads disarm us with their banter. Their terrific performances make even the slow-paced red herrings, à la an Agatha Christie novel, seem like fun—whether it’s Amy Schumer playing a shady version of herself, or the discovery of Bunny’s sassy talking parrot, Mrs. Gambolini. The first episode, “Persons Of Interest,” is mostly a noteworthy setup for why Oliver, Charles, and Mabel—or Olimabel, the Charles is silent—should make a sequel to their podcast. As if there was ever another way? It takes some convincing on Oliver’s part, but hey, how else will they prove their innocence? So what if they have to compete with
Sarah Koenig Cinda Canning’s (Tina Fey) Only Murderers In The Building?
“Persons Of Interest” sows the seeds for exciting individual storylines, such as Charles possibly playing Uncle Brazzos in a reboot of his formerly popular show. I think the bigger question is whether Jane Lynch’s Sazz Pataki will return as his stunt double? Oliver finds a potential work partner in Schumer, who moves into Sting’s apartment. She wants the rights to their podcast to turn it into a TV show on season one’s killer, Jan (Amy Ryan). Mabel wants to pursue her career as an artist away from her dark past. She needs to move on from the deaths of Zoe, Tim, and Bunny, but even she’s pulled back into the podcast because she needs to clear her name. All of them do if they want to achieve the professional goals this episode wisely sets up for them, thus establishing distinct motivations beyond “Hey, come join us, we love this true-crime shit!”
However, the bigger twists related to Bunny’s death arrive in the second episode, “Framed.” I’m not sure how much in advance the creators planned for Bunny to be the victim, but she becomes an excellent gateway for OMITB to explore Arconia’s history and tie it with personal arcs for all the protagonists. It’s yet another rewarding path for the show, one that hopefully pays off over the next eight episodes. As it turns out, Bunny was in possession of a million-dollar erotic painting by artist Rose Cooper that’s now missing from her apartment. It later turns up on a wall in Charles’ living room, only for him to reveal the man in the portrait is his father.
If season one fleshed out Mabel’s traumatic upbringing, season two digs into how Charles was raised by a scheming dad who spent several years in and out of jail. Flashbacks depict how, akin to Mabel, he’s been around the Arconia pretty much since he was a kid. It’s also a good callback to Charles and Mabel’s conversation about his father in the series premiere (incidentally, they were trying to break into Bunny’s house during this talk). The trio meets Bunny’s mother, Leonora (Shirley MacLaine), who wants to collect the expensive painting. Each scene with MacLaine is priceless, and the actor delivers a biting performance. Leonora only needs to sniff Oliver, Charles, and Mabel to discover they didn’t kill her daughter. (If only it were that easy, huh?) She also drops a major bomb; she slept with Charles Sr. years ago. Does it mean Bunny is potentially Charles’ step-sister?
And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the biggest mindblower of them all. Archibald Carter, a.k.a. Bunny’s grandfather and the building’s architect, was a grade-A perv who installed a hidden elevator in his apartment, using it to spy on women and doing who knows what else. Bunny obviously had to have known of its existence and she possibly misused it too, but who else did? Much like the connecting tunnels within Arconia, the elevator could be a major clue. Although how no one wondered where the door near the trash cans (where the elevator stops) leads to is anyone’s guess. The first two episodes have already laid out impressive agenda for Oliver, Charles, and Mabel. There are also multiple suspects, from cat lover Howard (how did he really get that bruise on his face?) to Nina Lin (Christine Ko), Bunny’s eager replacement.
All the suspense-building feels familiar compared to season one so far, but that’s not a bad thing. We already know the formula works, so why not embrace it? In fact, the deep dive into Arconia’s past is just a smart way to enhance how the show thrives in subverting true-crime expectations without necessarily mocking them. Well, except we now have a talking parrot who ends “Framed” by saying “I know who did it.” Could Mrs. Gambolini’s knowledge send the investigation in a whole new direction? We’ll find out next week.
- We’re all glad Michael Rapaport’s cop was only in that opening scene (for now), right? On the plus side, at least Mabel got to throw a few digs at him. My favorite: “Do you think it makes you look tough saying fuck so much?”
- Why is Mabel cleaning up Bunny’s pool of blood on her apartment floor? Is that not something crime scene technicians would do?
- Oliver’s “Like your Beats?” callback was cute even if Mabel and Charles didn’t care for it.
- Costume designer Dana Covarrubias has done it again. Mabel’s wardrobe is perfectly eccentric and brilliant, from her grandmother’s orange dress she wears to the art gallery to the assortment of comfy sweaters she dons.
- Speaking of, who else got a jump scare (the good kind) when the New Girl lofts were shown as the outside of the art gallery?
- What’s the consensus on Cara Delevingne and Selena Gomez’s romantic chemistry on a scale of one to 10? It’s only been two episodes but they’ve already kissed and the show has dispersed off Oscar (Aaron Dominguez), so it looks like Alice is here to stay.
- Apologies in advance, but this earnest exchange genuinely got a laugh out of me:
Oliver: “I loved [Sting] before he was even in the Police.”
Amy Schumer: “Sting’s in law enforcement?”
- And finally, welcome to the Only Murders In The Building season-two recaps at The A.V. Club. I’m certain it’s going to be a delirious ride.