Only Murders in the Building season two review – a brilliant layer cake of meta-murder fun

This clever, arch comedy whodunnit crams in way more than ever before as it returns for its second season. Its fantastic guest roster alone – Shirley MacLaine! Amy Schumer! – is to die for

It makes sense that Only Murders in the Building (Disney+) would have had the decency to end its first season with a good old-fashioned cliffhanger. The meta murder mystery was an elegant charmer that combined a meaty crime plot, New York’s crotchety appeal, good physical comedy – watching Steve Martin roll around in a lift for half an hour is a total delight – and a sly self-awareness, all of which made for a classy debut. Sure, Charles, Oliver and Mabel solved the key mysteries of season one, and got a hit podcast out of it, but there were, as Mabel pointed out, “still a couple of loose ends” left to tie up.

This second season, not as finely balanced as the first but still a lot of fun, pulls at those loose ends until they unravel, then unravels them more. We now know who killed Tim Kono, but as the trio celebrated saving the Arconia, Mabel was found holding a knitting needle and covered in blood, hovering over the body of poor “cranky old bitch” and outgoing Arconia building president Bunny Folger. Naturally, the police are strict about the fact that as “persons of interest” in Bunny’s murder, they absolutely must not make a podcast about it. But murder is their hobby – not like that, obviously – and they have a taste for true crime, so it isn’t long before they go in as the Hardy Boys, round two.

There is a lot more going on here than in the first season, which is saying something. Only Murders is a many-layered cake, a Bake Off finale showstopper, and this second season adds tier after tier. Now Charles, Oliver and Mabel are investigating a murder in which one of them is implicated. Mabel becomes internet-famous and is nicknamed Bloody Mabel, which leads to some interesting riffs on notoriety (and reminded me of the much-missed Search Party).

At the same time, Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) is back, making a podcast about the podcasters, called Only Murderers in the Building. Then Amy Schumer takes on Sting’s old apartment, and dangles the possibility of a small-screen dramatisation of the original podcast. “I wanna go full prestige,” she tells Oliver. Her pitch isn’t the only TV show within a TV show. There are flashbacks and period episodes, and still, there is room for slapstick involving a knife. As I said, a lot is happening.

Outside all the clever moments and the arch meta-ness of it all, the plot thickens in other ways. Our core trio are given lives and relationships away from each other and outside the Arconia. Charles returns to his acting career and we find out more about his family, past and present. Martin Short continues to preen as the fabulously narcissistic Oliver, but we get more of his family, too. And Mabel (who knew Selena Gomez was so deadpan, and so good?) becomes embroiled in the Bushwick art scene, and a possible relationship with a posh English poseur, played with aplomb by Cara Delevingne.

Its guest stars remain as impressive as always. Fey is brilliant as Cinda Canning, as is Schumer as Schumer. There’s also room for the legendary Shirley MacLaine, who turns up with a very specific cocktail order and wearing Iris Apfel-style specs, and plenty of other top-drawer actors whose appearances are so often a surprise that to say who they play would spoil the fun.

The best episode of the six I have seen focuses on Bunny Folger’s final day, and it is also the simplest plot-wise, and requires the least amount of dashing around. Putting the art world into the story makes for an easy target when it comes to satire, and as with Only Murders’ generation-gap comedy, it can be ever so slightly obvious.

Sometimes, though, obvious is all you need: Charles’s attempts to dictate a text from his own phone had me laughing out loud, as did his attempts to decipher two people under 30 talking to one another. “It’s like I’m watching Squid Games without subtitles,” he grumbles. The brilliance of this show is that you want to solve the mystery as if it were a thriller, but you get all the pleasure of it being a comedy, too. “Second seasons are tough,” says Oliver, early in the run, talking about the podcast. If he’s offering a preemptive apology, he doesn’t need to. I’d bet a crate of Gut Milk that Only Murders will keep its grip on viewers until the very end.


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
I Think You Should Leave season two review: uncomfortable, ridiculous – and totally brilliant
From a bizarre case of road rage to offbeat toilet humour, Tim Robinson’s superb sketch show returns to Netflix, taking the less-travelled path to laughter

Ellen E Jones

06, Jul, 2021 @12:00 PM

Article image
Only Murders in the Building review – Steve Martin’s hit-and-miss whodunnit
The actor stars with Martin Short and Selena Gomez as true crime aficionados in a mildly entertaining murder mystery with the lull of podcast voice

Adrian Horton

31, Aug, 2021 @6:02 AM

Article image
Moors Murders: The Witness review – these heinous crimes have nothing more to teach us
This three-part documentary which hangs on ‘never before seen’ letters and an interview with Myra Hindley’s brother-in-law is a thinly veiled ratings-chaser with little value

Lucy Mangan

21, Feb, 2022 @10:00 PM

Article image
Building Britain’s Biggest Nuclear Power Station review – so boring it’s a masterpiece!
There’s a scene more dull than watching paint dry ... and yet somehow, this BBC documentary on a new nuclear reactor is a staggering, bravura-filled feat

Stuart Jeffries

02, Jun, 2021 @9:00 PM

Article image
Atypical season four review – warm autism comedy comes of age
Netflix’s sitcom about an autistic teenager’s road to independence reaches its final season, dealing with big themes in a way that is sweet but not saccharine

Rebecca Nicholson

09, Jul, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Maxine review – a show about the Soham murders that is both pointless and dangerous
By focusing on Maxine Carr, this drama skates perilously close to lumping her in with her murderous lover Ian Huntley. Why isn’t it about the police failing to stop him instead?

Lucy Mangan

10, Oct, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Two Daughters review – a raw, devastating account of the murders of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman
Stacey Dooley spends a year with the family of the two women for a documentary that’s an astonishingly frank portrayal of their grief, and the awful failings of the police

Rebecca Nicholson

29, May, 2022 @9:00 PM

Article image
Stuck review – you’ll want to smash your face into Dylan Moran’s delicious sitcom like it’s cake
This sitcom about a long-term relationship is vintage Moran, and unerringly captures the compromise needed to survive coupledom. I’ve never felt so seen

Lucy Mangan

26, Sep, 2022 @9:15 PM

Article image
Showtrial review – will this schlocky murder drama really grip the nation?
Class tension, sex and politics are laid on thick in this five-parter about a high-profile court case, but the risk of an overbaked, overstuffed dud is high

Rebecca Nicholson

31, Oct, 2021 @10:00 PM

Article image
Euphoria season two review – far too much nudity, sex and violence
The relentlessly explicit drama seems to have taken one look at its former self and thought: not shocking enough, try this instead! Can it get its heart back?

Rebecca Nicholson

10, Jan, 2022 @11:10 PM