Why the ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Ensemble Is to Die For

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Photo Source: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu

As we prepare for the 29th Screen Actors Guild Awards, Backstage is breaking down this year’s film and television ensemble nominees for your consideration.

Main Cast: Cara Delevingne, Aaron Dominguez, Selena Gomez, Nathan Lane, Steve Martin, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Michael Rapaport, Martin Short 
Casting by: Tiffany Little Canfield, Destiny Lilly, and Bernard Telsey 
Created by: John Hoffman and Steve Martin 
Distributed by: Hulu

It’s hard to think of a current show with more star power than “Only Murders in the Building.” Season 1, for example, featured appearances from big names like Sting, Tina Fey, and Nathan Lane; the second season added Shirley MacLaine, Michael Rapaport, and Amy Schumer to the call sheet. The ensemble also includes masterful actors who might not be as recognizable to TV viewers—such as Tony winner Jayne Houdyshell, who plays this season’s murder victim, Bunny Folger. 

The actors on “Only Murders” have the tricky task of treating a serious subject (namely, homicide) comedically. They must strike a careful tonal balance, both individually and as a collective. As Broadway director Oliver Putnam, Martin Short is a steady source of laughs, no matter how bloody or brutal a scene may be. Michael Cyril Creighton’s Howard Morris and Da’Vine Joy Randolph’s Detective Williams also serve as comic relief. Steve Martin’s Charles Haden-Savage, Gomez’s Mabel Mora, and Lane’s Teddy Dimas alternate between playing straight men and foils. Meanwhile, Cara Delevingne and Fey provide such grounded performances as Alice Banks and Cinda Canning, respectively, that the humor comes from how seriously their characters take themselves.

Cara DelevingneCraig Blankenhorn/Hulu

As silly as John Hoffman and Martin’s whodunit is, it’s also a tender, revealing exploration of trauma and what it means to show up for loved ones. This season sees the central trio of amateur sleuths digging into their own psyches: While Mabel delves into her relationship with her late father, Charles and Oliver take a hard look at their parenting skills. 

Oliver is arguably the series’ silliest character, but Short brings enough heart and pathos to the role to inspire tears as much as laughter. As Mabel, Gomez is a perfect millennial foil to Short and Martin’s baby boomers; though she’s a confirmed loner, the audience never questions the love and trust she feels for these two guys. And as the clueless but well-meaning Charles, Martin swings between the tones of his co-stars; he’s the glue holding this unlikely threesome together. 

“Only Murders” is known for bringing in top-notch actors to co-star and guest. A few Season 1 favorites returned this year, including Amy Ryan as Jan Bellows and Jackie Hoffman as Uma Heller. Some new faces also showed up at the Arconia—including MacLaine, who plays a crucial part in solving the season’s the mystery. The Academy Award winner brings her signature salty, knowing persona to the series; her old-world glamour feels both timeless and modern. Playing a version of herself, Schumer recalls Sting’s self-aware, silly performance on Season 1. Meanwhile, Rapaport keeps the plot moving as the dogged Detective Kreps, alternately intriguing and repulsing viewers. 

Though the characters on “Only Murders” could read as caricatures—the aging actor, the failed producer, the annoying cat guy, the duplicitous detective—they never come off as one-dimensional. Because every role is layered and fully realized, we never question why a person is making a particular decision; their motivations are clear. It’s a testament to this ensemble’s stellar work.

Want more? Stay in the loop with everything you need to know this awards season right here!