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'Only Murders in the Building' Delivers Yet Another Delightful and Bloody Romp

By Alison Lanier | TV | August 30, 2022 |

By Alison Lanier | TV | August 30, 2022 |


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Only Murders gets at what makes true crime so addictive—the sense of human connection in the context of a really consequential mystery. This season, (and yes, from here on out it’s spoiler time), that foundational mystery was the death of Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), who we got to know last season as the mean old board president of the Arconia, the palatial upscale New York City apartment building of the title. Murder with a hefty helping of whimsy, comedy, and emotive earnestness turns Only Murders into a terrific perennial gem that shows every sign that it plans to keep on giving.

Season two kicks up right where season one began: with Bunny’s murder, although—like many details of season one—we don’t quite know what we’re seeing the first time around, as Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short), and Mabel (Selena Gomez) embark on their investigation of Bunny’s death—which they are, incidentally, being thoroughly framed for.

Looping scenes replayed and re-remembered—as well as a whiplash-inducing number of red herrings thrown in, in true true-crime-podcast style—give a slippery sense to the truth, just as our sense of each character becomes more slippery and nuanced as the season progresses. Howard (Michael Cyril Creighton), the lonely cat-owning librarian who was the butt of jokes in the first season becomes a ridiculous delight with his romantic ambitions and his barbershop quartet that involves…yodeling? Our villains from last season, Theo (James Caverly) and Teddy (Nathan Lane), reappear wearing tracking anklets and with a heavy and effectively endearing storyline. Even Jan (Amy Ryan), last season’s big bad, gets her humanizing and hilarious re-appearance.

The show also delivers on true crime’s dark side—the exploitive fascination with other people’s trauma, all while taking the story out of the hands of the people who lived it. As the central trio of podcasters find themselves the subject of another true crime podcast, Mabel particularly finds herself made into a character entirely beyond her control, at the mercy of vengeful ex-harassers eager to go on record and the popular imagination of a million listeners.

It’s the little things in Only Murders that really get you. The fact that Mabel can’t stop signing “glitter” in ASL every time she says the word after Theo teaches it to her. Detective Williams’ (Da’Vine Joy Randolph) belting Chorus Line performance on her way out the door of Charles’ apartment. Oliver’s obsession with dip. Overworked and hero-worshipping personal assistant Poppy’s (Adina Verson) absurd sandwich choices. These are a handful of the wholly unnecessary but amazingly effective touches that transform a good TV mystery into endearing and emotional comedy.

Only Murders is also one of the few really intergenerational casts of its kind on TV: Martin Short, Steve Martin, and Selena Gomez have far more comedic chemistry than they have a right to. They make a stellar foundation for the ensemble delight of a cast built around them—from Tina Fey’s narcissistic podcaster-par-excellence Cinda Canning, to Amy Schumer as her dumpster-diving self, to Jane Lynch as Charles’ uncannily seductive stunt double. Cara Delevingne appears as Alice, an incredibly hot artist with a somewhat loose hold on personal boundaries in her work. Shirley MacLaine waltzes in with a tremendous double-role and a mean-streak obsession with a strangely specific martini. The celebrity influx could feel trite and overbearing if it didn’t pay off so well, with the additionally slippery narrative trick that only the celebrity occupying the Arconia’s penthouse (last season Sting, this season Amy) consistently plays themselves.

The show also has an element of the deliberately cartoonish. Its characters are very much New York figures drawn from central casting—the bored and aimless millennial artist, the ex-actor always looking to make a comeback, the theater aficionado with a flair for egotism as well as disaster. But there’s nothing flat about them on screen.

Generally, it’s hard to find anything to complain about: the show got more intricate, emotional, puzzling, and queer all in one fell swoop of a season. Its tongue-in-cheek smarts make its moments of unapologetic earnestness that much more effective. Like Ted Lasso, the rendering of difficult emotions in conjunction with laugh-out-loud humor gives character depth neither side of the equation could manage on its own. The show took the strong bones it already had and fleshed out, with the ridiculous aplomb of comedians who know their craft.

I won’t specifically spoil the last few minutes of the season, but just like season two, we’re being set up for a new murder most foul with our intrepid heroes at the center. I can’t wait.