‘Only Murders’ delivers a model second season: More of the same, but different

‘Only Murders’ delivers a model second season: More of the same, but different

When last we saw our heroes — Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin) — they were being led away by the police from the Arconia, their Upper West Side New York apartment building, Mabel having been found covered in blood with the body of abrasive board president Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell). This came hot on the heels of the trio’s having solved two murders, an adventure they detailed in Season 1 in the ramshackle podcast for which the series is named. In a flash, they go from tabloid famous to tabloid infamous — which is good enough for Oliver, who lives for any kind of recognition.

“They were wrong — Oliver Putnam can get arrested in this town,” Oliver, a theater director of mostly negative distinction, crows from the police station steps, as the three are conveniently released, uncharged, as persons of interest. “And oh, baby, does that feel wonderful.”

Premiering Tuesday on Hulu, it is in many ways a model second season, giving you more of the same, but different, making use of all the resources established in the excellent first to create something even richer in character and emotion. Because the bond between Mabel, Charles and Oliver is already well established, there is space for them to strike off in their own side plots. (Brazzos, the police detective Charles played in his relative youth, may be back from the dead.) The mystery itself feels convoluted and somewhat obscure — was the point to murder Bunny, or to frame our heroes? (Evidence keeps turning up in their apartments.) Though suspects are duly produced, the case also feels less crucial, as does the podcast itself, which the three revive in order to counter the narrative being promulgated by superstar podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) on her “Only Murderers in the Building,” targeting them and developed, like “Only Murders in the Building,” in “real time.”

The Hulu comedy, in which true crime-obsessed neighbors team up to solve a murder, pokes fun at the genre’s excesses without dismissing its appeal.

Oliver: “She’s stealing our format — we did invent that format, right?”

Mabel: “The format where we drop a true crime podcast before we even have a story, an ending or even a crime? Yeah, that’s all us.”

With the exception of Aaron Dominguez’s Oscar, whose notable absence is dismissed in a line of dialogue, all the major and many minor characters find their way back into the new season, some surprisingly so. And with the exception of Canning, a villainess pure and simple, they are made more dimensional. In a flashback episode, set on the day of her death, we get a new, more complicated view of Bunny. The somewhat annoying Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton), whose cat was poisoned in Season 1, is granted a potential love interest and the ability to yodel; and Theo (James Caverly), the deaf son of Nathan Lane’s grave-robbing deli king Teddy Dimas, is allowed some positive action, almost as if in apology for the terribly sad storyline with which the first season saddled him.

Shirley MacLaine delivers a brilliant, quietly funny guest turn in Season 2 of “Only Murders in the Building.”
(Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu)

Indeed, parents and children form an ongoing, comparatively serious theme. (The show is funny enough that it can afford not to be funny all the time.) Lucy (Zoe Colletti), Charles’ virtual stepdaughter from a former relationship, previously unseen but significant in her absence — he daily makes omelets in her honor, but makes contact only at the end of the first season — shows up in person; we get a glimpse of his father, too, in flashback scenes, as we will of Mabel’s dad. Besides helping him out with an elementary school production of “The Wizard of Oz,” Oliver will have potentially life-changing business with his son Will (Ryan Broussard). (We witness Oliver’s substantial baby-handling skills as well.) Even the late Bunny gets a mother — Shirley MacLaine in a brilliant, quietly funny turn — who knows a thing or two not only about the building’s past, but of Charles’ as well. As before, ancient history plays a part in the present-day story, though the history is a little more ancient this time, and includes that of the Arconia itself — not exactly a character, but an influence on all the characters within her, and whose architectural secrets contribute to this season’s action.

Also new to the series are Cara Delevingne as an artist with whom Mabel becomes involved; Christine Ko as Bunny’s intense, pregnant, possibly scheming successor as board president; Michael Rapaport as an absurdly aggressive detective (the great Da’vine Joy Randolph is back, as sympathetic but continually exasperated Det. Williams); and a foul-mouthed bird.

And there is Amy Schumer, as Amy Schumer, taking over the role of self-parodying celebrity from Sting, and taking over his apartment as well. (There’s a nice blink-and-you’ll-miss-it visual joke, a package being loaded out labeled “Sting’s rainsticks.”) Schumer runs into Oliver in the elevator and, after declaring herself a fan of his podcast (“So raw, all of you, and not afraid of bombing, really wasting people’s time”), asks, “Would you ever consider selling me the rights to the podcast so I could turn it into an eight- to 10-episode streaming series with exclusive internet content leading to gamification?”

Above all, “Only Murders,” co-created by Martin and John Hoffman, continues to be a great, sharply written, perfectly executed comedy. One feels grateful for this example of septuagenarian comic actors working energetically at the top of their game, in a successful show that plays to their strengths — Martin’s cracked sweetness, Short’s hyperkinetic self-regard — not just for what it means for show business, but the world at large. Once again Gomez, dry and deadpan and funny in her own right, is the perfect foil, and provides the balance that helps make the show — notwithstanding the old-guy jokes, including Charles and Oliver finding out the same doctor worked on their knees — feel ageless, a series for everyone. Youthfulness knows no demographic.

‘Only Murders in the Building’

Where: Hulu

When: Any time

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)

This content was originally published here.

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