Only Murders in the Building repeatedly tears itself apart in Season 2.
The quartet of superfans who were introduced in Hulu’s first season are back again as a sort of Greek chorus, commenting on the events of the story so far. The version they know is, of course, derived from what they hear on the show’s eponymous in-universe podcast. But they might as well be exaggeratedly winking into the camera after every line, because it sure feels like they’re talking about the Hulu series itself, too.
The superfans are a much more critical bunch this time around. “Finally some story progress,” one member quietly mutters to the group midway through the fifth episode. The comment instantly sets off a round of mutual grousing about pacing and dangling plot threads. They may as well have been reading the words off my digital notepad, because I share their concerns.
OMITB‘s second season is chaos.
Season 2 is a messy time, but it’s a messy GOOD time, thanks in large part to the shared chemistry of its three stars.
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu
The first eight episodes provided for review, out of 10 total, develop the season’s central mystery at a glacial pace. That mystery should need no introduction if you watched Season 1 in full: OMITB (vocalized as “omit-b” by the real fans) podcast hosts Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), Charles Haden-Savage (Steve Martin), and Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) are on the hook for the murder of Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), the Arconia’s foul-mouthed and ill-tempered board president.
The fallout from Bunny’s death looms over every moment of Season 2 to some extent, but a newly zoomed-out view of the world widens our understanding of the characters inhabiting it. That’s not a totally unwelcome development, but it does speak to the struggles that I and the “superfan chorus” both have had with the season.
For reasons that still aren’t clear eight episodes in, it feels like there’s too much going on. Plot threads that seem important in the moment are left dangling like pointless, time-wasting red herrings as subsequent episodes pivot and swerve in other directions. Themes that seem central to the story being told in one moment have faded far into the background by the time the next chapter begins.
It’s utter chaos, even if the recurring detours into character exposition aren’t inherently bad.
It’s utter chaos, even if the recurring detours into character exposition aren’t inherently bad. Bunny herself is the focus of an entire early episode, and it’s one of the season’s best so far. We come to understand how the nastiness she flings at her less-than-favorite Arconia residents is just one piece of a complex personality. Bunny, it turns out, is hardly the one-dimensional meanie we met in Season 1.
That’s good, revealing context about a key character, and one who factors directly into Season 2’s ongoing mystery. In a less cluttered season, it would be a perfectly fitting temporary diversion from the present-day plot. But our dive into Bunny’s history is an exception, as every other episode jarringly leaps between subplots piled on subplots, many of which focus on characters who still seem divorced from the central mystery after eight episodes.
Only Murders feels fundamentally messier in Season 2. We’re learning more about the OMITB hosts; we’re learning about their various neighbors; and we’re getting to know a number of new arrivals alongside the rest. It’s great stuff from a people perspective. But too often, that character-forward approach leaves the mystery, and by extension the whodunit puzzle we try to solve at home, to languish.
More Arconia residents get the spotlight.
Bunny met her untimely end in the Season 1 finale, and the mystery surrounding what happened is a focus of Season 2.
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu
It’s not an issue with the performances. The main trio of true crime-loving podcast hosts is just as delightful as they were in Season 1, as you’d expect. Martin and Short are… well, Martin and Short, and Gomez continues to effortlessly thread into the spaces between her two comedy legend co-stars’ yuk-worthy granddad jokes as a young and sharp-tongued foil who playfully, lovingly shreds them for being corny and out of touch.
The other familiar faces from Season 1 are also a welcome sight. I’ve already talked about Houdyshell, who has much more juicy material to work with this time around, even though her character is dead. Michael Cyril Creighton’s overzealous cat-lover Howard Morris is also a Season 2 MVP thanks to a late-arriving subplot involving a new neighbor and yodeling along to a 1960s pop music classic.
Those two are hardly the only examples of returning favorites getting more time in the spotlight, and they’re joined by newcomers like Alice (Cara Delevingne). A modern bohemian artist and major player in the NYC art scene, Alice is a big fan of the OMITB podcast who has taken a keen interest in Mabel. It seems at first like she’s poised to play a major role in the story; then she largely fades into the background.
It’s tough to talk about any of these people in detail at this point since I can’t differentiate between innocuous character quirks and potential spoilers. Much of Season 2 is still shrouded in secrecy, to the point that I couldn’t find an actor credit for at least one significant player in the story because their presence is apparently meant to be a surprise.
I wouldn’t say the central mystery is a total no-show. Every episode is fundamentally driven by Mabel, Charles, and Oliver as they search for clues and evidence that might clear them of being “persons of interest” in Bunny’s murder and help them find the actual murderer. The heavy focus on subplots and side characters does tend to revolve around the main trio’s discoveries in some form or another at every step, but there’s very little that connects in any coherent way.
Can Only Murders bring order to chaos?
Season 1 did NOT leave the beloved OMITB hosts in a promising spot.
Credit: Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu – Composite by Mashable
That’s the main reason Season 2 feels so scattered. The first episode opens with a reminder of OMITB’s popularity as a podcast, and the life-altering fame it’s brought to our three stars. Charles and Oliver are both seeing newfound success in careers that had sputtered out when we first met them. And fame is what leads Mabel to Alice and the professional and personal fortunes Alice represents (no spoilers).
That starting point creates the sense that Only Murders is using Season 2 to present its whodunit against the thematic backdrop of celebrity being a double-edged sword. Especially with podcasting superstar Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) back and on a mission to prove the OMITB hosts are behind Bunny’s murder, whether or not it’s true. But thematic and narrative intent both become increasingly muddled as new episodes explore other ideas.
Is the narrative mess the point? That’s what ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 2 seems to hint at.
I’ve spent a lot of time pondering why the season is such a narrative mess, and it’s led to an unexpected realization: That might be the point.
The criticisms leveled by the superfans are too on the nose. While it’s entirely possible their dialogue is the product of a bored writer’s room and creative team that didn’t necessarily see the need to continue the first season’s story beyond getting another paycheck, it’s a read that doesn’t actually match up with reality.
Season 1 clearly set us up for more. It’s not even a question. But throughout this second batch of episodes, the show repeatedly uses the device of the superfans’ Greek chorus to point a judgmentally wagging finger at the inherent challenges of following up a great, popular, beloved story. Yes, they’re technically talking about the podcast. But the double meaning is unmistakable.
Martin and co-creator John Hoffman will have to really plant the landing to make this whole thing work in the end, but they’ve more than earned the benefit of the doubt. The stellar first season speaks for itself, and Season 2’s recurring conscious acknowledgment of its own apparent shortcomings is obvious to the point of being suspicious.
Only Murders in the Building is up to something in its second season, that much is clear. It’s messier and more scattered than before. I’m still having a hard time pinning down where the central mystery is headed and what it’s trying to say. But I am, without a doubt, completely entertained and on the hook for more. So regardless of what’s actually going on here, it’s definitely working.
Only Murders in the Building Season 2 starts streaming June 28 on Hulu with two episodes. A new episode arrives every Tuesday after that.