Hulu’s hit mystery series expands its scope in its second season and hits a darker pattern to its true-crime pastiche.
With the first season of Only Murders in the Building, creators Steve Martin and John Hoffman found success through a tricky balance — between young and old, between thriller and comedy, between murder and levity. With Selena Gomez and Martin Short returning to join Martin as the unlikely podcasting trio, the Hulu series leans on the chemistry of its three stars. The resulting second season overachieves, brimming with confidence, comedy, scares, and a balanced tone.
As in the first season, Short gives the biggest performance, gesturing and yelling through each conversation; Martin follows along, remaining the emotional heart of the series; and Gomez’s deadpan, out-of-the-way performance clears the way for the two comedy legends to toss one-liners back and forth.
Investigating the murder of building board president Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell), the Arconia residents race through the city (and their building’s halls) to catch a killer framing them for a crime they didn’t commit. With each passing clue, the show keeps its audience guessing, structured like the murder podcasts Martin and Hoffman are both praising and satirizing.
Guest stars abound with comedians around every corner, as Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Shirley MacLaine, and Michael Rapaport pop up to inject different energies into the series. Like the episodes that the Only Murders team records, the show often feels improvisational, unscripted, and full of moments that show the actors’ collective comedic skill. And the cast seems to be having a blast with each other — flashing a group dynamic established in season one that only enhances in season two.
Only Murders in the Building settles into a darker pattern, a more thrilling tone than its first installment. The murderer terrifies as they stalk the halls of the Arconia, which have become more haunted than hallowed. The side plots reveal the personal difficulties existing in the lives of Charles, Mabel, and Oliver, as each of them juggles love, family, and the ever-increasing feeling that the past is catching up to them. A blackout in the middle of the season even makes this darkness more than just a metaphor, as the Upper West Side gets plunged into upper-middle-class chaos.
The show adheres closer to the murder podcasts infiltrating pop culture on a weekly basis, throwing red herrings, prime suspects, and damning evidence into the fray. Even with all of the quips from its main characters, the series shades on the melancholic side, with Charles dealing with loneliness, Mabel confronting her own childhood demons, and Oliver uncertain about his relationship with his son. The murder remains top priority, but the B and C plots swirl around, casting both sympathy and doubt on the heroic podcasters.
The episodes become character capsules, opportunities for the supporting cast to take control of the reins. This shifting point of view allows for veteran actors to shine for a quarter of an hour, and for the building’s residents to take on larger roles in this story. The writers spend time in new apartments, in places unseen within the Arconia, in art galleries and podcast studios and upstate jails. The world of Only Murders expands in season two (even musically, with Siddhartha Khosla’s inimitable score), almost always for the better.
Still, Only Murders in the Building thrives when Martin, Gomez, and Short pace in a single apartment, scurry along the streets of New York or hug one another like the found family they’ve become. And that’s the root of the second season — a family formed first out of proximity, then by murder, and now by a sense of protective love. It’s easy to dismiss that familial comfort in favor of the quick laughs, the extended bits, and the genuine scares of the murder investigation. But it’s this comfort that makes the second season so remarkable, so enjoyable, and so watchable.
Eight episodes of the second season were screened for critics.
Only Murders in the Building is currently streaming on Hulu, with new episodes airing weekly.