‘Only Murders in the Building’: Satisfying series returns with Short, Martin and Gomez now the suspects

Someone’s trying to frame the three New York podcasters in Season 2 of the sharply written Hulu show.

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Oliver (Martin Short, from left), Mabel (Selena Gomez) and Charles (Steve Martin) are suspected of killing the condo board president as “Only Murders in the Building” returns.

Hulu

In the premiere episode of Season 2 of Hulu’s slyly funny, weirdly warm (or is it warmly weird?) and reliably entertaining “Only Murders in the Building,” Martin Short’s wonderfully pompous onetime Broadway producer Oliver Putnam finds himself in the elevator of the Arconia apartment building with Amy Schumer, who is playing Amy Schumer. She recognizes Oliver as one of the tri-hosts of the popular “Only Murders in the Building” podcast and says:

“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 game-ification?”

Beat. Oliver replies: “This is a thought you JUST had?”

‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 2

Untitled

Premiering with two episodes Tuesday on Hulu, followed by a new episode each Tuesday through Aug. 23.

And … scene. This is the kind of (we’re going to say it) meta humor that runs throughout the multiple storylines in this increasingly farcical, sometimes maddeningly unfocused but mostly satisfying second go-round for a series that thrives on the strength of the clever writing, the cinematic production values, the Agatha Christie-esque twists and turns — but most of all, the no-longer-surprising but still thrilling chemistry between comedic legends Steve Martin (co-creator of the show with John Hoffman) and Martin Short and pop star/actress Selena Gomez. They are … the Three Amigos! Wait, that’s already been taken, but at this point I’d rather see Martin and Short mix it up comedically and dramatically with Selena Gomez than Chevy Chase, and there’s a sentence neither you nor I would have expected to see even a few years ago, right?

Season 2 picks up with us hanging on the cliff of the Season 1 finale, with Mabel Mora (Gomez), Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) and Oliver Putnam (Short) hauled in for questioning after the irascible condo board president Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) was found murdered in Mabel’s apartment, stabbed to death with a knitting needle! Da’Vine Joy Randolph returns as the always exasperated Detective Williams, now partnered with Michael Rapaport’s Detective Kreps, who acts and talks like he stepped out of an old cop TV show (perhaps a show like “Brazzos,” the long-running detective series on which Charles once starred). “I don’t do podcasts,” growls Kreps as he questions Mabel. “I like Howard Stern. Old Stern before he started doing therapy and got all gentrified and s---.”

Suspicious circumstances notwithstanding, there’s not enough evidence to hold the trio, so they’re released, with Oliver proclaiming to the assembled media on the courthouse steps: “They were wrong! Oliver Putnam CAN get arrested in this town! I’m not signing [autographs], please, I’m just like you.” After some hemming and hawing about doing another podcast — Oliver notes that second seasons are always tricky to pull off — they decide the best way to clear their names and find Bunny’s killer is to dust off the microphone and get to work. Someone keeps planting incriminating evidence in the respective apartments of Mabel, Oliver and Charles, who are further distracted by developments in each of their pasts — developments dark and complicated and family-related. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to a new batch of characters, including Cara Delevingne as an art gallery owner who takes an interest in Mabel’s work; Christine Ko as the new board president, the pregnant and no-nonsense Nina Lin, and Shirley MacLaine in a role we’ll leave spoiler-free.

One of the true delights in Season 2 is a flashback arc focusing on events from last season as filtered through Bunny’s point of view. The brilliant Jayne Houdyshell, a Tony award winner, has the opportunity to expand Bunny beyond the villainous caricature we thought her to be, and her scenes are just gloriously, sometimes heartbreakingly effective. The series nimbly toggles between scenes of pathos with sharply funny if sometimes broad comedy, as when Charles is cast in a reboot of “Brazzos,” only this time around he’s “Uncle Brazzos,” a recurring character and not the lead, or when we learn Bunny had a gossipy parrot and Oliver says to the bird, “You are the most difficult animal I have ever directed, and I did a production of ‘The Elephant Man’ with a real elephant.”

With so many flashbacks and side detours taking place, the pursuit of Bunny’s killer takes a backseat in a few of the middle episodes (I’ve seen eight of the 10-episode run), to the point where even one of the “Murders” podcast groupies exclaims, Finally, some progress! when the investigation (and the attendant podcast) gets back on track. Not every subplot works — there’s a storyline involving Charles that makes him seem naïve, even for a self-involved TV actor — but each episode of Season 2 has at least a couple of scenes that are pure comedic gold, thanks to that sharp writing and memorable triple-threat of Martin, Short and Gomez. “Only Murders” can easily go for another two or three seasons. After all, the Arconia is quite the sizable old structure, and surely there are more murders to be had in the building.

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