How many murders can there be in this building? Well, at least two so far.
Hulu's generation-spanning comedic delight "Only Murders in the Building" (streaming Tuesdays, ★★★½ out of four) doesn't betray its location-specific title in Season 2: The series offers a new murder in the same Manhattan apartment building for Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez's characters to solve. The mystery series also remains faithful to the uniquely whimsical-yet-suspenseful tone established last year when the hit show debuted.
Combining the talents of Martin, Short and Gomez was a weird but welcome formula, and they remain a winsome trio in Season 2. It's still a dull and dreary New York winter in the world of "Only Murders," but this singularly congenial show has an uncanny ability to lift your spirits even as it deals with death and mayhem.
Picking up just where the Season 1 cliffhanger left us, the new episodes find former TV star Charles (Martin), struggling Broadway producer Oliver (Short) and artist Mabel (Gomez) as persons of interest in the murder of the Arconia apartment building's board president Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), whom Mabel found in her apartment, stabbed with a knitting needle.
Seeking to clear their names even as they try to move on with their lives, Mabel, Oliver and Charles resurrect their true-crime podcast for a new season and look into what happened to Bunny. The investigation takes surprising turns that reveal big secrets from their pasts, from the dalliances of Charles' father to Mabel's alleged history of violence. Also helping the podcasters is Lucy (Zoe Colletti), the teen daughter of one of Charles' old girlfriends he's reconnected with, who is eager to join the crime-solving team.
There isn't much newness to the new season, other than the murder. The scripts are a bit more self-referential and winking; Cara Delevingne joins the cast as Mabel's new love interest Alice; Shirley MacLaine also makes a delightful cameo; and Amy Schumer plays herself much as Sting did in Season 1. The central trio is more adept in comedic timing, but the new episodes feel more like a continuation than a new chapter. There's a comforting sameness to its reliable and fortified humor, much like rewatching an old ’90s film.
As in Season 1, one episode takes a big swing, messing with format and expectations. Last year, it was the nearly silent "The Boy From 6B," which mimicked the way Theo Dimas (James Caverly) experienced the world as a deaf person. This time, late-season episode "Hello Darkness" widens the lens to include other residents of the Arconia, illuminating the inner lives of more characters, some potential suspects and others just living their very ordinary days in a building that attracts true-crime fanatics.
One of the most welcome additions is Lucy, who helps freshen the series' generational humor. Gomez gets her own dose of feeling old when confronted with the Generation Z teen. (As a millennial in my 30s, I appreciate Mabel's panicked expression at Lucy's discussion of TikTok trends, among other young people things I no longer understand).
If the very best shows get better with each passing season, just beneath them are shows that glory in consistency: predictably, reassuringly offering something just as good as what came before, with great skill. As Oliver and other characters constantly comment during the self-referential episodes, second seasons tend to disappoint. That's often true of podcasts as well as television shows, but thankfully, "Only Murders" successfully avoids a sophomore slump.
But seriously, just how many people can get murdered in this building before perhaps it's time to investigate for hauntings or conspiracies or gas leaks or all three? Maybe some of those residents might consider moving.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Only Murders in the Building' Season 2 review: More magic