‘Only Murders in the Building’ Co-Creator John Hoffman On Season 2, a Hardy Boys Spin-off, and That Finale

When you live in the Arconia, the murders, apparently, never cease. The season finale of Only Murders in the Building hit Hulu on October 19, revealing that yet another unexpected victim had met an untimely death inside the walls of the glamorous Upper West Side apartment building.

To dissect the delicious finale—and the cliffhanger it ended on—ELLE invited co-creator John Hoffman for a Twitter Spaces event on October 20. Before an audience of eager fans, he discussed the peculiar magic of the show, in which Steve Martin, Selena Gomez, and Martin Short star, as well as questions surrounding season 2 and potential spin-offs.

Find the full interview revisited below.


Amy Ryan, who plays Jan, has said that she knew she was the murderer from the moment she signed on for the show. When did you decide Jan would be the murderer, and why her?

Before I spoke to Amy, we had decided in the writer’s room with my brilliant group of writers that Jan made the most sense. Where we were going with the story, [it made sense] to have someone who could hide a bit longer. This whole show begins with three very lonely, isolated people struggling to connect, and they find a way to connect through this personal passion of true-crime podcasting. Charles’ character and Tim Kono’s character, they were both very lonely people and found the possibility of a connection with the same woman. So all of that made thematic sense for the whole season.

I’m curious about the flash-forward in the first episode, where we see Mabel huddled over the dead body. What was the impetus to include that scene so early on? Was it meant to mislead us?

It was, in a certain way. I mean, it misled all the writers—because the pilot was written first. But I always had a sense about where it might go enough to write it in the pilot. Oscar was going to be this person who was going up the stairs during the fire alarm, in a tie-dyed hoodie. And we’d place a tie-dyed hoodie on [the dead body]. How do we not suspect that that’s Oscar when we get to know him in the season? But then, of course, the big twist preceding the final reveal is that Oliver starts selling merch around the Arconia that are these tie-dyed hoodies.

It opens up the possibility that there’s [many] people who could be [the dead body] underneath Mabel. And many [viewers], I think, didn’t even remember that opening scene from the first episode. I hoped those who didn’t would have this sort of deja-vu shock.

Speaking of that shock, there were photos of Selena Gomez in that blood-stained sweater that were released way back in April of this year. Were you nervous about spoilers getting out, with all the press attention around this show?

Definitely. I felt pretty safe about that shot getting out there. [I felt] it could remain pretty misunderstood for the viewer. That I was comfortable about, but as far as other certain things, we definitely set up a few different scenarios regarding the shot where Jan is getting arrested and going into the police car. We had a few people get arrested and go into the police car—because paparazzi were all around. If by chance that stuff got out, we wanted to have a few other alternatives.

selena gomez in only murders in the building

Selena Gomez in Only Murders in the Building.

Hulu

If you’ll allow me to deviate from the finale for a moment, I’d love to know about the decision-making around episode 7, “The Boy From 6B.” That was a much-talked about episode, given the way it was filmed in near-total silence. How did that come together?

It was such an exciting decision—risky for a first season, risky in any case, but exciting in that way. What we came to learn about the show is that, when we take big leaps, it works; it can work, and it just makes everyone step up to play their best game. In the early development of [that episode], within the writing I realized we could switch perspectives from episode to episode through the lens of our podcast narration. And it became really intriguing to see different characters around the murder case.

That whole idea of making an episode from [Theo’s] perspective is what started us down the road of, Could we make it dialogue-free except for one line? We’re making a show about true-crime podcasts, so the idea of removing all sound, or removing all dialogue, felt really intriguing as a flip on that.

The first few moments when I was watching it, I thought there was something wrong with my computer. “Why is my sounds not working?” Then I realized, “This is intentional. This is fascinating.”

I knew it was going to be a bit of a challenge because, I thought, people multitask when they’re watching anything. They can’t do that here! Are they going to actually sit up and invest and really read and watch and pick up on the clues? It’s thrilling to see our audience [care]. That’s very gratifying because we really did our very best to lay out those plans and make a dense show, unexpectedly, hopefully.

And speaking of laying out these dense plans, I’m going to jump finally to the finale cliffhanger. I love how the episode is called “Open and Shut” because it’s such a misnomer. We feel as though everything’s tidied up, and then we end suddenly with Mabel next to Bunny’s dead body. How did you decide that was where you wanted to end? Did you always want it to end that way?

I did. It’s weird. I pitched the entire show to Hulu when we first were selling it, and the end of the pitch way back when was that, basically, our trio of amateur investigators were now going to be the prime suspects in a new murder—and the subjects of a podcast that might come from their mentor and hero. And the title—I agree with you about the misnomer part of it, but it’s also, when I saw the episode, it delighted me because they did such great work with those elevators. There’s constant opening and shutting of elevators. So it has a little bit of a double meaning.

We already know that season 2 is on its way. Do you already have a solid plot outlined for the next chapter? Or are you waiting to see where things go?

We do have a good solid track for season 2. We actually start shooting in a month. It’s going to be very exciting as the actors start arriving and everything else. We have been working with the writers for a few months now. With this show, you have to sort of build the mystery backwards to forward and twist our way to the resolve. So you have to know everything at the end first and hide things and twist your way there. That’s what we’ve been doing, and now we’re speeding our way through the scripts, and we’re about halfway through.

With a title like Only Murders in the Building, ostensibly, there can only be so many murders in one building,

Before everyone moves out.

Exactly. Before everyone’s like, Okay, I’m done with this building. With that in mind, do you see this show lasting beyond two seasons?

I sure hope so. I think everybody involved is so happy doing it. We have three stars in this show who have big lives, so it feels like it’s a nice pocket of work and time commitment that allows more of a life. I think all would love it to continue.

I think what’s going to be interesting in season 2—not to tip off too much—but there’s a bit of an expansion to all their stories. In New York, it doesn’t take long for an interesting story to take headlines. So there is an expansion happening around everything in their lives and in the podcast. I think there’s something in there that might help us expand the show, maybe beyond the building, in future seasons.

This is getting into spoiler territory, but I have to ask. In the finale, Mabel, Oliver and Charles are all handcuffed and viewed as suspects for Bonnie’s murder. I’d imagine Oliver and Charles, since they weren’t there for Bunny’s death, will probably be found not guilty. But do we have any inkling whether Mabel will get off free and rejoin their podcasting team?

It’s a real question, right? [Laughs.] It’s an awful way to say it. It is a real question. They’re all in the hot seat. They’ve all stepped in it, and Mabel is certainly even a bit more in the spotlight. The opportunity that might come from that is what’s intriguing to us as we go into a season two. Mabel’s life is going to get a little bit bigger in season 2.

only murders in the building    true crime   episode 101    upper west side neighbors charles, oliver  mabel bond over a shared love of true crime when a fellow resident dies in their building, the trio determine to solve the mystery and record an accompanying podcast mabel selena gomez, oliver martin short and charles steve martin, shown photo by craig blankenhornhulu

Craig Blankenhorn

We’ve got some questions here from the audience. Janie, do you have a question?

Janie: Has it been a challenge to get these three very busy actors on board for a lot of seasons? Or were they all really excited about the idea?

Hoffman: They were very excited about the idea. Right from the beginning, I knew Selena had been a true crime-interested person herself. There’s something about the part that’s such a great fit on all of them. And we all understand this rare moment of something that’s caught on in the way that it seems [our show has]. So I think everybody is bubbling to remain a part of it as long as we can.

We’ve got Gab here. Do you have a question for John?

Gab: I just want to say that I loved the first season so much. My question is, can you tell us something about the new characters of season 2?

Hoffman: Thank you very, very much. As far as new characters in season 2, yes. There will also be some revisiting of characters. We may be seeing a little bit more of Cindy Canning and, even though Teddy Dimas and Theo are in a boatload of trouble, we may see them again.

There will also be some new characters and new suspects and new people around the world of Bunny, and new people around the world of the building that will factor into the case around Bunny.

We have another question lined up.

Fan: Congrats on the success of the series. It was a blast. I want to know if you ever thought of a spinoff or maybe an episode focused on the Hardy Boys.

Hoffman: I’m so happy to hear that question. I find it so fascinating to know [fans are getting attached] to these brilliant actors. We all have mysteries in our lives, and this whole show was born out of something that happened to me. It was a Steve Martin idea, but one of the things I brought to it was a personal situation I was going through at the time that had me sort of doing an investigation—in a very personal way—into something I couldn’t understand regarding a friend’s death. Walking through that opened up a lot of past memories for me regarding this friend. That feels like a fabric of the show that is really critical, and that will continue in season 2 as well. So I haven’t thought of a spinoff, but I love that you loved that group of Zoe, Oscar, Tim, and Mabel, the Hardy Boys. I’m happy to know you were intrigued by that because it’s an [important] part of the show and should be going forward.

We have time to squeeze in one last question from Katherine.

Katherine: Hey there, John, thank you so much for doing this. Can you speak to balancing the character’s sheltered loneliness—and their own personal issues—with the creation of a very bold, exciting New York show?

Hoffman: Ah, what a great question. I have a romantic love of New York. I’ve told people this for 10, 15 years, maybe longer, that my dream is to be able to make a television show in New York City. So here we go with a slam-bam love letter to New York. And yet I think, when you’re dealing with the mysteries of New York City, one of the mysteries to me is, I look around at all the buildings and the windows around me and I think, God, how many of us are isolated? What I kept on bumping up against—as everyone did in New York and in the world—was, this is a show about connection and the challenges to it both personally and in general. The near notion, that you could step outside your apartment door and the person next door could harm you, became very real in some senses for everyone in the world in the last year and a half.

Ultimately, I found the greatest triumph for the spirit of the show was the characters breaking out of their isolation to connect with each other and to engage in New York. I can’t believe we were able to pull it off at the time in the way we did. I’m happy you recognize [that spirit]. It’s the part that makes me the most happy—if [the show] makes people feel good in this time, after what we’ve all been through.

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