Opportunity binge

Only Murders In The Building co-creator on that killer season finale

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Martin Short and Selena Gomez in Only Murders In The Building

Martin Short and Selena Gomez in Only Murders In The Building
Photo: Barbara Nitke/Hulu

This article contains spoilers for Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building, which wrapped its first season on Tuesday.


Hulu’s Only Murders In The Building solved one case just to open another in the final moments of the season closer, “Open And Shut.” The core trio of this dramedy—Charles (Steve Martin), Mabel (Selena Gomez), and Oliver (Martin Short)—successfully deduced the identity of Tim Kono’s (Julian Cihi) killer. But it wasn’t long before they found themselves wrapped up in another true-crime mystery. Only this time, they won’t be podcasting from the sidelines.

As Charles noted, “Every true-crime story is true for someone.” Now it’s his turn (and Mabel’s and Oliver’s) to be under the microscope. How will the three leads handle being the subject of a true-crime podcast? Series co-creator John Hoffman knows, though he’s hardly giving away the plot for season two, which he says is about a month out from filming. The A.V. Club spoke with Hoffman about the killer’s identity, the Easter eggs in the credits, fan theories, and what we can expect from the second season.


The A.V. Club: Your show has some gorgeous and intricate credits that you filled with clues early on. Were you worried that in this binge era, people would skip past them?

John Hoffman: Early on in the development of the show, I was with Dan Fogelman and Jess Rosenthal, who runs Dan’s development company. Jess and I were talking late at night and saying, “Before we even dive in, don’t you want to see a really great opening credits sequence? I was like, “Yes, that’s all I dream about. I want to make a great opening credits sequence for our show.” He’s like, “We should think about it right now before everything and think what do we want that to feel and look like and how to we want to shape it,” because it’s usually the thing that you do at the end.

We hired this brilliant company, Elastic. They were unbelievable partners—everyone there, but in particular this artist, Lisa Bolan, who got what we were trying to do and how we wanted to feel New York, feel the mystery and comedy. Just something elegant. Siddhartha Khosla penned this amazing theme. It was all separate pieces, so it all came together. Jess was particularly driven; he loves the clues and secrets within every opening sequence. There’s a tip of the hat to Ozark and Game Of Thrones and all those ways in which a little shift happens. You go, “Oh, I’m teased for the episode to come.”

I just loved the credits for the tone they set. I love that we put them in deeper into the episodes, so that you hang with it. A lot of people say to me, “I never fast-forward through that. It’s fun.” Every second you get someone’s attention for a television show, I feel like you owe them something a little bit unique. That’s what we were trying to do there.

AVC: The opening credits have all these great Easter eggs: a bee, a hula girl dashboard doll, the two hats in Charles’ background the week that we meet his stunt double. Then for “The Boy From 6B,” which is mostly silent, there are the scrabble tiles in Mabel’s window that spell out silence. What have I missed?

JH: They’re in every episode. It’s easy to miss, I will tell you. Sometimes I’m like, “Wait a minute, what was that one?” I’m still forgetting some of them. You’ve covered most of the ones that I thought. Jess and I were very specific. We thought, “Give [the audience] a little work to do.”

Here’s one you missed: In episode eight, the one with the superfans, as we go up the building and we hit the roof, before we drop down into the courtyard, there’s something on the roof that is not in any other episode. They are three industrial air conditioning fans that are turning—so, the fans. In episode one, when you pull back through the main titles, at the very, very end of them, we back through the archway and the gate closes and above that archway in the last image, there’s a marble design that’s just always in over the archway. That design is notably a painted Easter egg. Literally, an Easter Egg. It’s the first thing to let you know there are going to be Easter eggs in this thing.

Episode two, I believe that’s the one where we explore Mabel’s past with Tim Kono. They had this whole sequence where they used flashlights, coming into their apartment in play investigators. As we pull down into the courtyard on the back of our trio, standing in the courtyard in the main titles, you see two flashlight beams that are sweeping across the building. That’s not in the others. My favorite, I have to say, is the one you brought up. I love the Scrabble tiles in Mabel’s window.

AVC: It’s a well-made mystery, of course, a lot of people enjoyed the show because it’s not just about the whodunnit. Did you guys have any guidelines in terms of how to balance the mystery element with other aspects of the story and character development? 

JH: We are really juggling a lot of balls with tone and with storylines—the comedy, the characters, the connection, the themes of connection, New York, all of it all at once. That was really the challenge, but it was also the thrill. It was the question whether people would embrace something that had a lot going on tonally.

For me, I’ve always said the show is tonally New York. You can walk 10 blocks in New York and you’ll see something beautiful and elegant architecturally next to something very modern. Then there’s something classic next to something modern. Then you can see something on the street that really intrigues you or scares you. Something that makes you roar laughing. Then there’s a Broadway show promoting its latest show in the middle of the street. It’s all happening all at once when you’re in New York.

That vibe was what I was aiming towards, but also really grounded for me in these three lonely characters, all under the same roof but with common interests. The way in which a true-crime podcast or something like that can build a community. The way the show builds the same kind of community around its mystery and creates dialogues between us and can connect us. All of that plays a part and all of that hopefully is reflected by the end of the season. While you’re carrying out the mystery and whodunnit of it all, the bigger things are the connection that’s been made between these three people and even the murder victim.

Amy Ryan and Steve Martin

Amy Ryan and Steve Martin
Photo: Barbara Nitke/Hulu

AVC: Now that the finale is out, we can talk about the identity of the killer. Did you know all along that it was going to be Jan, or did you have some other potential murderers in the building?

JH: We were in the writers’ room, sorting through it. We did have other potentials. What we’ve been learning and realizing in breaking this season and season two, which we’re deep in now, is that you have to create many viable murder narratives for everyone you’re going to throw into the mix to keep them really alive as best you can through the whole season. To keep people guessing and picking who it could be. We did have to craft real reasons as to how this could happen.

Ultimately, Jan won the day because she was closest to our theme. When we realized it’s Tim Kono who has to narrate episode 10, that he’s going to have his moment to tell his own story—of course, he can’t. It’s an imaginative leap we’re taking. When Tim Kono’s narration comes around in episode 10, you see it’s actually Charles who is giving what Oliver says is the best performance he’s ever given. It is the case because you’re seeing Tim Kono and Charles are kindred spirits in the fact that they were with the same…

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