Only Murders in the Building co-creator talks meta jokes, Martin Shorts approach to one-liners, and honoring victims in season 2

*This article contains spoilers for Only Murders in the Building season 1*

After successfully working out who killed Tim Kono, everyone’s favorite amateur sleuths found themselves in a sticky situation at the end of Only Murders in the Building season 1, when a blood-soaked Mabel was found leaning over the dead body of Arconia board president Bunny. Season 2, which releases on Hulu and Disney Plus on June 28, picks up right where the dramatic cliffhanger left off, with the meddling trio being questioned by the authorities.

All dubbed “persons of interest”, Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin) quickly set about solving the latest grisly crime to clear their names, but this one feels much more personal than the last. “Someone’s trying to frame us,” Oliver exclaims in an early episode – and that’s before murder weapons, and erotic paintings that were stolen from Bunny’s place, start bizarrely showing up in their apartments. 

The pressure is on in more ways than one, too. Their podcast on Tim Kono’s murder investigation was a smash hit, and their fans are desperate for more content. It doesn’t seem particularly wise to broadcast their findings as they go given that the killer is seemingly onto them, but the story is there for the taking. Will they be able to deliver the goods a second time around? 

It’s a question Only Murders showrunner John Hoffman, who created the series with Steve Martin, asked himself many times during the making of season two, too – or so he told us when we sat down with him recently ahead of the show’s return. During the chat, Hoffman also touched on the new chapter’s myriad of meta jokes, managing the abundance of stars clamoring to be in the show after season 1, and his need to honor victims of true crimes amongst all the chaos and wisecracks. Read on for our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Only Murders in the Building season 2

(Image credit: Disney)

Total Film: So, we obviously can’t talk about the murder at the center of this murder mystery, so let’s talk about all the meta jokes instead. In season 1, Charles, Oliver, and Mabel released a podcast that went on to be a big hit, and in season two, they’re constantly trying to live up to that with another podcast about another murder. Were you and the other writers using those knowing gags to exorcise your own worries?

John Hoffman: Absolutely. It just made perfect sense for us to reference our own challenges in that way. At the core of our show, hopefully, is a certain honesty, and the jokes play because they come from character and they come from a certain humanity. When we’re in the writers room, I know there’s no joke that connects more than when someone is telling an embarrassing, personal story. Something that is just true to them, or true to a situation that feels recognizable, and so all of those things felt like territory for us to explore for our show in its humour. 

So yeah, bringing in the personal expression of those of us tasked with writing the second season of a show that has come out of the gate in this lovely way was great. We had to check ourselves on it, though! We had to make sure we were only sprinkling in moments here and there.

That scene where Charles, Mabel, and Oliver are in the diner, and they’re discussing who could’ve killed Bunny, before they’re suddenly interrupted by their fan club at the very next table speaks to how the audience is always watching in such a funny way…

Exactly! That makes me so happy to hear that. I haven’t talked to anybody who has seen season two yet, so it’s so nice to have these conversations. It makes me so happy to know things like that are landing.

Season 2 feels a lot more playful than the first, particularly when it comes to the main trio. There seems to be more quips between Martin, Steve, and Selena. I wondered whether that was because they were more comfortable with one another this time around?

Getting to know all three of them during the process of writing season one definitely influenced the writing of their characters. These were three people in their very isolated worlds before they were drawn together. They didn’t necessarily make sense together at first, and I think the audience felt that too when those first posters went up for the show: “Why are those three people together?” Playing off of that and leaning into it and discovering how they work together in season one informed season two, for sure. Before we would shoot scenes, we’d all sit together and we’d watch the three of these wonderful actors banter back and forth. They love each other, you can see it, and they’re delightful together to watch. They’ve just grown in that way. 

But I also think it was important to challenge their relationship in season two. Can they really rely on each other? Can they really trust each other? And will they be there for each other when the going gets really tough as it does in these new episodes? But that inexplicable drawing toward each other? Yeah, it’s pure magic. I think that we all just go, “Thank goodness!” and it’s all a tribute to them.

Only Murders in the Building season 2

(Image credit: Disney/Hulu)

Martin Short’s character Oliver gets some brilliant one-liners in season 2. Is it ever hard to keep composure on set, or are things pretty professional once the cameras start rolling?

It’s literally like watching a six year old on Christmas morning, when all of them, but Marty especially, gears up for a joke he likes. It’s like they’re standing in front of the tree and there’s other packages there, but they know there’s one big one that they can’t wait to open. So, he’ll be, like, doing a little navigation towards the funny bit and he has it in his head and it’s a real treat to watch him work out how to land it. After a couple of trial and errors? Nothing is sweeter to me. But yes, that’s definitely the hope for season 2… Now that we know the characters, and the audience knows the characters pretty well, the laughs are bigger because we’re all feeling that kinship.

I wanted to ask you about pacing the season, because it’s ten episodes like the first, but obviously with that, you had to establish all of these characters and have them slowly bond and stuff, so it was a little slower towards the beginning. Season 2 really hits the ground running as it picks up where season 1 left off. Was it ever difficult to maintain that almost chaotic level of energy the whole way through?

It’s a balance, for sure. I knew that I like a good paced-up comedy and yet I know there are tricky elements of this show that are not expected for a straight-up comedy series. There’s a true crime element that I want to honour, and recognise that there’s a victim at every source of a true crime. We have three people who were lonely and came out of their apartments to redeem and find justice for a victim. I wanted to examine what that really means and touch on that. 

In season 2, there’s a lot of backstory, and the poignancy of their histories and how they confront that comes into play. We want them to continue that journey of stepping out into the world a little bit more, when they’ve been pretty much alone, together, before this. That, to me, was really interesting to play around with, but I think it’s also just something that’s built into the show organically.

The secondary characters get a lot of screen time, too, which is refreshing. They’re properly fleshed out, and you’ve got a few new additions to the cast as well. Can you talk a little about those?

There’s an episode in this season that devotes itself to our victim, which was the one thing I wanted to say from the previous question, too. It lets us understand, anew, who this person was and find the connection to our trio that leads them to get involved in the murder – a secret they’ve been keeping about what happened on the night that Bunny died. Once they come clean about that amongst themselves, they’re compelled to investigate more with perhaps more personal, emotional investment than the first time around. 

Now, with the newbies, that’s thrilling but you have to be careful with that as well because once season one dropped, and people knew the show, we had these lovely outreaches from the most incredible talents that said, “If there’s ever anything for me, I’d love to do it.” And you get very tempted, but you know you have to stick to your story and tell the story and bring the characters in that make sense for that first. Then you can delight in who you might be able to cast: Shirley MacLaine [as Bunny’s mother], Amy Schumer [as herself], Cara Delevingne [as Mabel’s morally ambiguous girlfriend Alice]. It really runs the gamut and that’s what I love about the show, too – it’s this intergenerational thing. If we get to do a third season, there’s this whole new influx of new characters that are very clear in my mind.

Only Murders in the Building season 2

(Image credit: Disney/Hulu)

I’ve just got time for one more, so I wanted to ask about the themes of this season. There’s a lot of dad-related stuff going on. Charles opens up about his father in a big way, and is grappling with being a father himself, to his stepdaughter Lucy. Mabel is very secretive about hers, and there’s some shock revelations about Oliver’s relationship with his son, Will. Where did all that stem from, and how will it play out further in season two? 

We just followed the stories that we were interested in, you know? In season one, Charles talks about his father in episode one, and you recognise a certain dimension of that is him also talking about his stepdaughter Lucy. So, you know, there’s his father and him putting himself in a father-figure position, and then there’s the relationship that’s developed between him and Mabel. 

Oliver had a storyline in season 1 with his own son that we were really intrigued by and we wanted to continue exploring that. Then, with Mabel, we learned about her mother. We will learn more as season 2 goes on, and about her father as well. So yes, there’s definitely a bit of a theme there. I actually just said to someone on the weekend, “If you’re asking about season 2, one of the things they might say is something like, “Oh mama, what a ride.” This is, “Oh papa, What a ride!” It just made sense to me with this trio. You’ve got these two gentlemen who are guiding this younger, modern woman and we can play off that in lovely, paternal ways.

Only Murders in the Building season 2 premieres on Hulu in the US and Disney Plus in the UK on June 28. While we wait, why not check out our roundup of the best TV shows of all time for some binge-watch inspiration.

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