When Emmy nominations were announced a few weeks ago, it was wonderful to see “Only Murders in the Building” nab three: one for Outstanding Comedy Series and two for its lead actors. Yes, actors. Don’t get me wrong, Martin Short and Steve Martin do fantastic work in the Hulu series’ debut season, but to not nominate the lone woman in the trinity, Selena Gomez as Mabel Mora, is weird. Part of what made Season 1 work was Mabel’s millennial cynicism in the face of Oliver’s (Martin Short) chronic wanderlust and Charles’ (Steve Martin) desire to be left alone. Mabel balanced everyone out.
Regardless of awards, Gomez brought Mabel into a new world with Season 2. Mabel doesn’t really know who she is and that derisive armor is starting to crack. Gomez still plays the character as tough and perceptive, but Mabel’s also still grieving a lot of the demons in her life, while also trying to solve a murder mystery and clear her name. It’s intense stuff.
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Here’s five reasons we’re loving Selena Gomez’s performance in Season 2.
1. The Growth
As a character Mabel’s come a long way from the hipster with headphones Oliver and Charles first met in the Arconia elevator. And considering Gomez is an executive producer on the series, it stands to reason she has greater flexibility in detailing where her character goes.
This season was all about Mabel trying to find a healthy balance between the podcast and her own life, and that thrust Gomez front and center into a lot of the narrative. Gomez showed us a woman grappling with who she is. She has the basic tenets of a (very expensive) home, food, and job. But who is Mabel Mora? Pairing Gomez opposite Cara Delevingne as art gallery owner, Alice, separated Mabel from the main trio and brought her into a world where she might feel comfortable. Gomez turns Mabel into a lighter, freer character in those scenes.
In the latest episode, “Flipping the Pieces,” the audience learned about Mabel’s father dying from cancer. Not only was it an emotionally powerful episode where Gomez gave a memorable performance, but it gave added weight to why Mabel is the way she is. She’s been hurt, she’s been abandoned, she’s lost people she loves. Mabel’s relationship with Oliver and Charles might be the closest human connection she has. Gomez has carried Mabel’s loneliness like a shawl around her last season and it looks like it’s finally coming off.
2. The Softness
The relationship with Alice has certainly come off like a massive red herring (and that’s probably because it is. Maybe.). But it’s also been an opportunity to transition Mabel into a solid relationship. That is, if you completely forget about her relationship with Oscar (Aaron Dominguez) from Season 1. But, regardless, Gomez has palpable chemistry with Delevingne. Sure, it’s easy to fall for the bad girl, and if Alice is Bunny’s killer it would give Mabel one more thing to bemoan in her life. However, Gomez plays Mabel as rather mature about everything, even when Alice is caught using Mabel’s apartment to recreate the “Bloody Mabel” murder scene. It’s been sweet watching the two actresses play off each other, with a teasing, romantic quality that makes us think Mabel might have a real relationship in future seasons.
3. The Inner Turmoil
Because Mabel is perceived to be Bunny’s killer it’s no surprise that she took point on the investigation. Whether she’s interrogating suspects or taking enemy Theo Dimas (James Caverly) to find the identity of Glitter Guy, Gomez turned Mabel into a fiery Nancy Drew this season.
But for all her attempts to solve the mystery, someone still had it out for her. Her subway attack forced Mabel to confront blackouts she suffered from due to excessive trauma and Gomez was able to get at the heart of the fear and confusion that comes from that. Gomez presents that Mabel isn’t just fighting to clear her name; she’s fighting for her mental sanity. It’s not enough for Mabel to be in a good place professionally, she needs to be in one mentally and right now that’s not happening.
4. The Balancing Act
Oliver, Charles, and Mabel have been a package deal, but it’s important to note why they work so well together. Where Short’s Oliver and Martin’s Charles are showy and over-the-top, Gomez is the grounding influence. She’s doesn’t rely on the typical millennial “I don’t know what that is” jokes (though there are those in abundance), but brings in a focus and structure that is needed to balance everything out. This season split the trio up far more than Season 1, leaving Oliver and Charles left out of Mabel’s world. At times, Mabel became the antagonist and Gomez had to puff up and push back against Oliver and Charles. But as the season has continued, Oliver, Charles, and Mabel understand that even if they’re at odds with each other, they need to be together. Gomez is a unifier.
5. The Looks (Of Course!)
Last season, Gomez brought Mabel Mora to prominence rocking a marigold outfit that, according to series costume designer Dana Covarrubias showed up on Instagrams and Halloween. Gomez herself is a beauty and fashion icon, so it’s no surprise that the outfits she’s wearing became loud artistic statements. Gomez used the clothes not only as a means of creating a facade for Mabel as she tries to break into the art world and become her own person, but also used them to present a stoic and dominate presence on the series. As Mabel is maturing, the costumes had to follow suit and thus Gomez turned to wearing darker colors and squarer cuts this season. But this newfound elegance in the character has led to some great Old Hollywood fashion, including the long white coat (evoking Hitchcock’s “Vertigo”) that Mabel wears when she’s attacked on the subway.
“Only Murders in the Building” streams every Tuesday on Hulu.
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