'Only Murders in the Building' boss breaks down Season 2 - Los Angeles Times

2022-07-05 13:13:56 By : Mr. Ares Chan

While viewers of “Only Murders in the Building,” Hulu’s murder-mystery romp, gleefully played along last season as the show’s central trio banded together to investigate a death in their Upper West Side complex, co-creator and showrunner John Hoffman was trying to solve another case: how to make a second season as charming, compelling and clever as its first.

“In my mind, kicking off Season 2 was more of a challenge than crafting a satisfying close to the first season,” said Hoffman, who at the time of our interview was in the process of completing the season finale. “Once the show gets out to the world, people know it and it’s the slow realization of: ‘Oh, OK, let’s see how they’re reacting, what kind of things are hitting, what kind of things are bringing up questions, and then how do we approach this going forward?’ Enough so that we’re being true to the big hook in, which is, boy, they really stepped into it, and in poking this beast of true crime that they love they found themselves in this rather challenging predicament.”

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The first season concluded with everyone’s favorite crime-investigating podcasters — former TV star Charles (Steve Martin), struggling Broadway director Oliver (Martin Short) and troubled artist Mabel (Selena Gomez) — solving the murder of Tim Kono, a fellow resident, while also introducing a new crime. This time, their cantankerous co-op board president, Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell), is the victim, and our oddball heroes are prime suspects.

Hoffman is careful not to spoil the fun, but he offered this clue as to what’s ahead: “Season 2 is partnered in certain ways with Season 1.”

Here’s what Hoffman had to say about crafting the season.

Times TV critic Robert Lloyd, in his review of the new season, posed the question: Was the point to murder Bunny, or to frame the protagonists?

I can’t say too much. But I do think there are times that question, both sides of that question, certainly, form the reasons and the motivation for “Why Bunny?”

It felt like all three of them having very different feelings about being splashed on the front page of the paper was interesting. They had stepped out enough in Season 1 that they were feeling in their heels a little bit, buoyed by having stepped out. And so this slap back makes them all react very differently. And I think the idea of one of the other things to explore right off the bat was this idea [of] “New York famous.” Put yourself on the front page and there will be real reverberations that are negative, real reverberations that are positive. How do you navigate that? It felt like that was a funny approach, if you came from Oliver’s sense of like, “Oh, my God, I’m gonna take advantage of all of this” and Charles being a little more heady about it, and then Mabel retreating. This is such a particular situation they’re all in and they are the only three that know this thing they’re going through. So they kind of have to cling on to each other. But I think even through Season 1, we know they don’t know each other that well. And that’s also one of the other things that we’re able to do here in Season 2, is continue to peel back those layers of each of them, and have them learning about each other and whether they can really trust and hold as a trio.

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez are having exactly as much fun as it looks like they’re having on Hulu’s true crime comedy.

Last season, Bunny Folger had little time for things like murder when there were more important matters to tend to as the Arconia’s no-nonsense board president. This season, she’s dead. Hoffman says that arriving at the decision to kill Bunny and landing on the culprit didn’t come hand in hand. Hoffman told Houdyshell from the beginning, when discussing the role of Bunny, that she would be the show’s next victim.

She made perfect sense for the story, because of everything that was set up to make them look bad and be framed. So, that all felt right. I also recognized that when we talked about it toward the end of the season, I said, “Jayne, just because you’re the victim here at the end of Season 1, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to be working a whole lot for us in Season 2. And she’s in “Music Man” right now with Hugh Jackman and was just nominated for a Tony so it was more challenging to grab time with her, but I love that we can sort of humanize and bring new perspectives on our victims.

Figuring out who Bunny’s killer would be took a little bit more time — three weeks after wrapping the debut season, to be exact.

It was very helpful for the writers room to be able to go in and say, “OK, here’s the killer. How does this happen? And how can we twist our way backward and hide that and make sense of it?” That’s the trick of this show, with the mystery that we tell: You have to keep it light and entertaining and all of the things as we are trying to keep all these balls in the air and truthfully hiding everything — but while hiding everything, making perfect sense of the truth of what we’ll be sharing with the audience come the end of it so that you can go back through saying, “Oh my God, oh my God, there it was.”

The parent-child relationship is a critical theme this season. Oliver’s dynamic with his son Will (Ryan Broussard) faces a life-altering turn; Lucy (Zoe Colletti), the daughter of Charles’ ex-girlfriend who he became close to, comes back into his life just as Charles is having revelations about his own father; and Bunny’s curious relationship with her mother, played by Shirley MacLaine, comes into view. It was “a bigger theme than I expected it to be,” Hoffman said.

When we started talking about looking to explore the Arconia itself more, and tie Bunny’s personal history into the Arconia through her grandfather, who was the architect, [and] the fact that she spent every day of her life in that building — that all felt very legacy-oriented. There’s a line that I love, which is a bit of narration: “Coming back to a place and it feeling haunted, maybe it always was haunted, you just didn’t recognize ghosts until you were closer to being one yourself.” I think that’s very evocative. I think that lands psychologically, for all of our characters. We’re all driven by the ways in which we’re haunted by certain things in our pasts — familial upbringings and the understanding of who our parents were and having to reframe. That was the other sort of theme: Within the framing comes the reframe — when you’re trying to get out from being framed, you are actually forcing yourself to confront things that make you and reframe certain things about your childhood, your upbringing, your parents.

Hulu’s acclaimed riff on true crime offers an even richer glimpse of our heroes — and supporting characters — in a satisfying, still-funny Season 2.

The Arconia, the stately Upper West Side co-op where Charles, Oliver and Mabel live, has been a pivotal part of the show’s narrative wonder from the start, with the neighbors becoming unlikely friends and coming together to solve a murder that took place in the building. This season, it not only gets a backstory within Bunny’s, but Charles, Oliver and Mabel are able to stealthily move through building via hidden passages, both in search of clues and on the run.

It’s such a cliche to say that the building is a character — an inanimate object is of character in the piece — but this is a little different because it’s an apartment building and lives were led there, time was spent and you feel history in a way when you’re in one. People in New York, particularly, will have very complex, sometimes romantic views of the places they lived in. All of that felt too good to not dive into; plus, we knew we could make it, physically, an interesting exploration just on the investigative side as well. Secrets of the building to explore seemed really fun.

A few new faces join the whodunit circus this season: Amy Schumer plays a heightened version of herself as the tenant taking over Sting’s unit; Cara Delevingne is Alice, a cool gallery owner trying to get close to Mabel; and Shirley MacLaine is Leonora Folger, Bunny’s glamorous and cocotini-loving mother. There’s also the return of some of last season’s standout players to deepen the intrigue and list of suspects. Hoffman admits it was a challenge introducing starry new characters while maintaining the curiosity (and suspicions) around familiar ones.

Ultimately, it’s the narrative that guides you. You have to say, “OK, is this a part for someone known?” It’s the luckiest thing in the world to have the magnet of your stars be so huge, with the most talented people coming toward us now to say, “We’d love to be in that.” And so it’s very tempting to cast the most famous people who have asked about it. But the reality of the show has to be kept up. And there’s a reality that famous people are in the building. But there is also the balance that has to be kept.

Landing a screen veteran like MacLaine, known for roles like “The Apartment,” “Terms of Endearment” and “Steel Magnolias,” to play against the comedic dance of Martin, Short and Gomez is a highlight of this season’s early episodes. MacLaine and Hoffman developed a friendship nearly a decade ago, while trying to get a film project developed.

When the show came around, she was intrigued. We were in the middle of a pandemic. She’s in the middle of New Mexico on her ranch alone through most of the pandemic, God love her, at 86. And so I thought, “Well, I’ll give it a try.” And I said, “Shirley, would you ever consider coming to New York and shooting? We have an idea that you’d be perfect for.” And she jumped right in, which I just so admire and [she] just changed the tenor of the set the minute she walked in. I have to say, it was just bliss working with her. And Steve really was kind of blown away. He said, “There’s so few people I could point to that I would have a chance to work with who I knew growing up, and admired growing up, that I get to work with now. I’m working with Shirley MacLaine.” And they worked beautifully together. I will just give a big “hang tight” for what’s ahead.

All art is subjective. But in this mystery comedy, a piece of art is revealed in the second episode that is so brilliantly weird and inexplicably captivating that it deserves a national museum display. Stolen from Bunny’s apartment and (we think) a key piece of evidence, it has ties to Charles — it’s his father in the artwork, posing in the buff alongside a woman who isn’t Charles’ mother. We learn early in the season that the woman is the artist, Rose Cooper, Charles’ father’s lover — and that Leonora, who had also been having an affair with Charles’ dad, wants the painting for herself.

But, uh, how did they land on that hilariously perplexing imagery?

I just like an awkward, messy laugh. I just like the most awkward situation possible: looking at your father in a beautiful painting and he’s naked and maybe there’s parts of his testicles showing and he’s clearly in flagrante with a woman who is not your mother. So, all of that felt delightfully embarrassing for Charles.”

Hoffman was so keen on it, in fact, that he wasn’t afraid to do the hard work to help the art department make his vision for the painting’s imagery come to life.

I was like, “OK, I’m posing for it. I’m posing in his position.” I felt bad for Hope [Ardizzone], one of our people in the art directing team. I had to ask her like 10 times if I could grab her leg like that as they took the picture of us. I was like, I’m going to get sued if HR hears about this. I was fully dressed!

It was all a very complicated process with the artist, many versions of that painting, to make it feel, I think it’s Alice [Cara Delevingne’s character] who describes Rose Cooper, the [fictional] artist, as being classically subversive, which the painting feels like a little bit. There’s a sort of Pietà look to it a little bit, that the woman is in control in that relationship. And he looks very strange, leaning into her — all of those things are very confusing and don’t favor a good impression of Charles regarding his father, and that just feels like one more rough go for him in his feelings about his father.

So, where is the painting now?

I’ve never really understood this part of it, but our line producer said, “FYI, when we’re finished with this painting, it has to be destroyed. It can go nowhere.” I don’t know if that’s happened. But apparently some day.

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Yvonne Villarreal covers television for the Los Angeles Times.