In any media, there’s something known as the “sophomore slump.” This is when a great first entry, including music and television, paves the way into a lackluster second season. It can affect the greatest of television and, depending on who one asks, could be the reason people stop watching or engaging with certain media. Thankfully, the upcoming season season of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building does not fall into this trap and delivers a delightful second season full of laughs. Season two also features “season two” jokes about their podcast, especially in the first episode, that are self-referential and extremely meta as they comment on how “second seasons are hard,” according to Oliver.
In the final moments of the first season’s finale, Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin) and Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) walk into their podcast co-host, Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), apartment and find her standing over the dead body of the building manager, Bunny, covered in blood. Those final moments are the catalyst for the second season, pushing the trio into another murder mystery as they find themselves being persons of interest in the case. The season begins with the trio being individually questioned by Detective Williams (a wonderful Da’Vine Joy Randolph) and Detective Kreps (Michael Rapaport) to find out how they all ended up in the same apartment as a dead woman. This opening serves as a nice reintroduction to the characters: Mabel is snarky and confident, Charles thinks he knows everything about detective work because of the detective series he used to star in, and Oliver is a nervous wreck that will say anything he can to get freed. After they’re let go, Detective Williams informs the trio that they cannot keep podcasting, specifically about the murder of Bunny. The season really finds its footing after these scenes when the trio is reunited and, unbeknownst to Detective Williams, starts investigating and theorizing about Bunny’s murder.
There cannot be enough said about this cast and how well they operate together. The main trio of Martin, Short and Gomez fit together like an easy puzzle, bouncing ideas and jokes off each other as the season moves forward. Gomez delivers her lines with a cool sarcasm that eviscerates anyone she’s speaking to while also adding even more layers to Mabel. Steve Martin and Martin Short have a few key scenes where it’s just the pair and they are magic, having an organic rapport that makes the characters’ relationship feel all the more real. All three of the leads together makes for a rapid back-and-forth that the actors seem to revel in, combining the personalities of the three and upping the ante with more hilarious antics. Gomez, in particular, gets a more interesting storyline that dives deeper into Mabel’s past that she excels at portraying.
The main trio aren’t the only ones delivering the laughs, though, with a stand-out cast and guest stars including Tina Fey, Cara Delevigne and Amy Schumer that are all great. Fey is as funny as ever, Schumer does what she can with limited screen time and makes it funny, and Delevigne is an interesting character that forges a bond with Mabel. Delevigne is doing her best work yet in this season of Only Murders, giving her an opportunity to play a character that is entranced by art and the world around her. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is a stand-out as Detective Williams, both inquisitive and hilarious in her performance.
The characters of Only Murders are so specific, each with distinct personality traits that make them feel more real. Mabel is known for having a smart mouth, Charles is still attempting to live life without his hit tv show Brazzos, and Oliver is mostly interested in recording the podcast to keep their fame going. There are certain lines that work so well with the characters and are made real by their actors, including Charles saying to partygoers, “I’m nervous to talk to people ‘cause I can come off creepy.” The actors clearly understand these characters and are only made better by their line deliveries. Each character also has their past to confront, which is what this season does so well. By allowing different narrators in each episode, the central mystery comes more into focus as each character unpacks their life, the decisions they’ve made, and who could be involved in the killing of Bunny Folger. The changing of narrators allows the audience more context in who the characters are and what they’ve been through, which can make the whodunnit aspect even more difficult to figure out as fingers are pointed at different people through the season. In the eight episodes (out of ten for the season) given to critics for review, the mystery takes several turns that the audience might not be expecting as the clues keep piling up and pointing the trio to different suspects.
There is something to be said about how the series keeps the audience guessing throughout the season while injecting humor into the story, which makes for a pleasing viewing experience. The season gives specific coverage of the night Bunny was murdered that adds to the mystery while absolving others of the crime. The further the audience gets into the season, the more the focus pulls into other people’s points-of-view of what happened and what could have happened. Bunny’s life is examined in an episode mostly ripe with flashback sequences that also bring more context to the current life of the main trio, especially Charles. There’s added drama by bringing in other parts of the trio’s lives, investigating who they are at their cores while thoughtfully examining their families’ pasts. The flashbacks never feel out of place or unnecessary, but perfectly suited for the episodes they are put in.
The second season of Only Murders in the Building builds on the character work from the first season by providing the audience more history that could help them figure out the case from their couches. The entire cast is putting in great work, making this a great second outing for the show while not falling into the trappings of a sophomore slump. While the focus shifts from character to character as the mystery comes closer to being solved, it never feels out of place or takes too much away from the main trio. For anyone seeking true crime that provides a salve with comedy, Only Murders’s second season was made for you.
Season two of Only Murders in the Building premieres June 28 only on Hulu.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu