The freshman season of Only Murders in the Building unexpectedly turned out to be one of the breakout streaming hits of 2021. The delightful comedy introduced us to three mismatched strangers – Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez), who all live in the same apartment building, the Arconia. When their neighbor is found murdered one night, the generationally divided trio – who have nothing in common except their true-crime obsession – decide to launch their own podcast to investigate the killing. The show’s charming debut worked as both a funny true-crime parody and an engrossing murder mystery, all the way through a wonderful finale that served up equal amounts of humor and suspense.
Anchored by the irresistible chemistry between its three leads, and a deft tonal balance between splendid comedy and melancholy character work, Only Murders in the Building was an utterly delightful watch. Thankfully, the show continues to be just as colorful in its highly anticipated return. Season two now turns the tables on the podcasters, with the trio themselves becoming suspects in the murder of their tenant board president Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell). Charles hilariously notes they have a rare opportunity to do a direct sequel to the original crime, where most true-crime podcasts “move on to a new case that never hits like the original.”
The podcast’s superfans, constantly following their heroes, debate whether the show within the show has gone downhill. Meanwhile, there’s new competition from our protagonists’ inspiration – celebrity podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) who is out to prove their guilt with a rival show called Only Murderers in the Building. As you can tell, this exceedingly meta season offers a plethora of self-aware jokes that doesn’t just deconstruct the genre, but delves into all the difficulties of crafting a second season for a hit show. Beyond the new mystery and added stakes of trying to exonerate themselves, Only Murders in the Building also wisely continues to explore the lives of our trio beyond their amateur sleuthing.
The show leans far more into its dramatic side in this sophomore season. It’s a pleasant surprise that showrunner John Hoffman and his creative team are able to take the inner lives of their characters, and many of the supporting characters, so seriously. In season two, Charles grapples with unexpected truths about his late father and tries to figure out the new parameters of his relationship with Lucy (Zoe Colletti), the teenage daughter of one of his exes. Oliver tries to make sure his reconciliation with his son Will (Ryan Broussard) sticks, and doesn’t drown in his own narcissism. And after Mabel is found kneeling over Bunny’s corpse, with an incomplete memory of what actually happened, she has to wrestle with other parts of her past she has blocked out, and whether she might actually be capable of such a heinous act.
That said, the comedic elements are where the show really sparkles with mirth and absurdity. Steve Martin remains a standout, using both broad physical humor and practiced pathos to deliver some of the new season’s most memorable lines. The rapport among all three lead actors is better than ever this time around, and even more comfortable; they are always at their best when they are together. In fact, the only major downside to this season – which introduces a myriad of new arrivals (played by big name celebrity guest stars) and gives plenty of screen time to each character’s individual issues – is that our main trio are kept apart far too often. The show is clearly at its best when Charles, Oliver and Mabel are investigating or bickering or hanging out on their own.
Despite a more messier mystery and some unneeded narrative detours (which the show acknowledges by having the podcast’s fans complain about filler episodes), Only Murders in the Building continues to be one of the quirkiest, coziest and most joyous TV shows streaming right now. Season two may not be as tightly wound as the first, but the collective chemistry of Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez – who are obviously having such a good time making this – remains the most effortlessly pleasurable experience on streaming right now.