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TV review: 'Only Murders' Season 2 hooks sleuthy viewers with new mystery

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TV review: 'Only Murders' Season 2 hooks sleuthy viewers with new mystery
Steve Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short return in "Only Murders in the Building" Season 2. Photo courtesy of Hulu

LOS ANGELES, June 21 (UPI) -- Only Murders in the Building, returning June 28 on Hulu, gets Season 2 off to a bit of an awkward start. By the end of the first episode, however, it has the viewer hooked on a new mystery.

The season premiere handles all of the business with the season finale cliffhanger right away. Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) are interrogated for the new murder they stumbled into after solving their first one.

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The show then moves the characters forward, perhaps a bit too quickly, but forward, nonetheless. The murder of Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell) still is a mystery, and it has bigger stakes because Mabel is implicated and Charles and Oliver are people of interest.

So much of the season premiere is about how murder podcasts struggle to find a second season worthy of the first that it risks going beyond meta. Fortunately, once the trio decides to take on the Bunny case themselves, the show justifies its continuation.

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Charles and Mabel try to resist becoming involved in another case, but the leads and clues are too tempting. Each subsequent episode continues to do a good job raising new questions about the clues discovered in the previous one.

Solving Bunny's murder has a bit of a different dynamic than the Season 1 mystery. For one, the trio is trying to clear Mabel of suspicion, which has greater consequences than simply finishing a podcast.

The whole trio now is working with, or against, the notoriety they gained from solving the first mystery before police did. Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) has also launched a rival podcast, so they not only have competition, but Cinda also hopes to implicate them in Bunny's murder.

Meanwhile, Charles, Oliver and Mabel's lives are changing, too. Charles gets a new career opportunity, thanks to the recognition from the podcast, and Mabel forms a new love interest.

Like Sting's Season 1 cameo, Amy Schumer plays herself in Season 2 and now recognizes Charles, Oliver and Mabel as those podcast hosts. So that creates a different dynamic for the celebrity cameos, too.

Schumer and the writers lean perhaps a bit too hard on the meta comedy of Schumer playing herself, at least in her first two episodes. Perhaps she'll become more of an organic character as the season goes on.

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Only Murders in the Building is a comedy-mystery, and Season 2 finds the magic chemistry again. Oliver remains the showman, Charles the neurotic, and Mabel is there to call them both out.

Physical capers ensue right away that involve all three leads, so Only Murders in the Building can always balance the crime with its charming characters. We'll see how the season plays out weekly, but so far, the show has taken just enough license to experiment with success without sacrificing the heart of the series.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001 and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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