Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Steve Martin from Only Murders in the Building
Only Murders in the Building Takes a Ride to the Top
He'd had the idea for years, Steve Martin says, before finally sharing it one day over lunch: three New Yorkers with an interest in true crime stumble upon a murder in their building. With his longtime buddy Martin Short and new pal, Selena Gomez, a hit Hulu series took form.
When you do a Zoom call with Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez about Only Murders in the Building, you're practically obliged to ask questions about their evolving friendship and the keys to the show's success. And we'll get to all that.
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But right now, it's time to cut to the chase and address the big question: seeing that season one ended with Gomez's character covered in blood yet denying any involvement in the death of crusty co-op board president Bunny Folger, who actually murdered her?
Short: "You're not getting it from me. But, look, it's easy to get my contact information, if you want to send a check."
Gomez: "Brad Pitt did it."
Martin: "The truth is, we don't know. They keep that information from us. Seriously."
Short: "Steve, I know and Selena knows. You've been told, but you've just forgotten."
Sooooo, they're not much help. But in all seriousness, the whodunit factor is merely one reason their Hulu series absolutely kills. The elevator pitch is that it follows three melancholic residents of the prewar Arconia building on New York City's Upper West Side — former TV detective Charles (Martin), past-his-prime theater director Oliver (Short) and sardonic apartment renovator Mabel (Gomez) — who, well, meet in an elevator. After neighbor Tim Kono (Julian Cihi) is found dead, they start a podcast to investigate. But at the show's heart is a fanciful and slightly sinister comedy that explores unlikely friendships amid idiosyncratic urban living. The stars' crackling banter enhances all of the above.
"It's really hard to cut through all the content out there and go into the collective consciousness," says executive producer Dan Fogelman, who hit a similar zeitgeist in 2016 with the debut of NBC's This Is Us. "But if you put Steve and Marty and Selena together, you have a real opportunity to have an audience that will pay attention. And if you make something good on top of that great cast? You might really have something."
Like, say, a widely acclaimed smash. At its August 2021 debut, Only Murders in the Building generated Hulu's largest-ever audience for a comedy premiere and soon became the streamer's most-watched comedy, according to Hulu Originals president Craig Erwich. (That includes sitcom staples like The Golden Girls.) Reviews were so sterling that it sits at a rare 100 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. The Arconia — really the historic thirteen-floor The Belnord on West 86th Street — has become a tourist destination. Gomez boasts that fans dressed up as her character for Halloween, complete with a fuzzy orange coat and Beats headphones.
Perhaps most gratifying of all, Hulu execs renewed the series before viewers even found out who was responsible for Tim's death. (Spoiler: it wasn't fellow resident Sting!)
In season two, debuting June 28, fans can expect more of the same playful tone as well as crisp and entertaining storytelling across ten episodes (the first two will drop together, then one per week). And little will they suspect how much work went on behind the scenes to make it all look so effortless.
"It's a constant battle to push ourselves," Fogelman says. "The show is always going to be funny with the cast, but we want to take something that is great and make it better." John Hoffman, who created the series with Martin, adds, "It's a challenge to make a show feel fresh and yet still familiar enough that you can't wait to get back with these characters."
The solution? "We treated this season as a funny cautionary tale," Hoffman says. "These people got involved in things they should not have been touching too closely and bam, they find themselves in the middle of a situation they're not prepared for. So it's a little 'be careful what you wish for' — and also a fun ride of a show."
The stars are enjoying a late-afternoon production break when they check in from their respective adjacent trailers. They're on the Upper East Side on a Thursday, filming at a local diner that the crew has renamed and redecorated for the fifth episode of season two. Short, seventy-two, checks in first; he's followed by Martin, seventy-six, who keeps repositioning his laptop to find the right angle. "Try hanging your computer from the ceiling fan!" Short offers to his dear friend of nearly forty years. Gomez, twenty-nine, joins last, deadpanning, "I'm the most important one."
But when asked how shooting has been going so far, they're utterly sincere. "I'm personally thrilled with it," Gomez says. Martin concurs: "I think we are all very, very happy. Even today we shot a scene and got in the car and said, 'You know, that was really good.' We said that yesterday and the day before yesterday."
The story picks up where the finale left off, as the three amateur sleuths were hauled off in front of a phalanx of press, photographers and true-crime podcaster Cinda Canning (Tina Fey) for questioning in the death of their antagonist Bunny (Jayne Houdyshell).
"We're going to explore what it's like to be known in New York for good reasons and for more notorious reasons," Hoffman says. "Oliver and Charles had been out of the limelight for a while, but now there's a moment that happens to them that you wouldn't wish upon your friends." In terms of the investigation, he adds, "We see what happened in the days leading up to Bunny's death that could have made them targets."
A trio of familiar faces also join the proceedings. Cara Delevingne (Carnival Row) plays Alice Banks, who meets up with Mabel on the art scene and ties in to the case. ("I've known her since I was fifteen," Gomez notes.) Shirley MacLaine flew in from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to portray a "character who makes an unexpected entrance and has a great mystery about her," Hoffman says. And Amy Schumer, he notes, "lives in a world we've created in this New York building." That's cryptic writer talk for Schumer Plays Herself.
"They're all so brilliant," Hoffman adds. "And we're so fortunate in that this cast has become magnets for the greatest people in the world to guest-star."
The attraction is obvious. Forget for a second that Martin, Short and Gomez have a combined 140 years of show-biz experience and that their amiability appeals to people aged nine to ninety. (In the Emmy Awards department, Short has twelve nominations and two wins to Martin's ten noms and one win; Gomez awaits her first....) As executive producers, the trio is united in their goal to keep things loose on the set — and a perpetually masked crew filming during a pandemic for the past two years is no deterrent.
Want proof? Short has a tradition of starting the day by sitting down and reading the newspaper headlines. Then everyone riffs with their opinions. On the day we spoke, they sounded off on Russian politics, Covid data and the status of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian's marriage.
"You know, we have fun doing this," Short says. "I mean, that's an obvious thing to say, but I've always felt that when you do anything — whether it's a movie or a play — the obligation is to have fun. Because you don't know how it's going to turn out. There's never a guarantee that anything will be a hit."
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This article originally appeared in its entirety in emmy magazine, Issue No. 5, under the title, "Elevator Pitch."
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