[This story includes major spoilers from the Only Murders in the Building season three finale.]
Season three of Only Murders in the Building ended with another, well, murder. But this time, the victim will hit close to home for the starring trio, especially for Charles (Steve Martin).
The final moments of the season three finale, “Opening Night,” saw Sazz (Jane Lynch) fall to the floor of Charles’ kitchen after being shot in the chest through the window. It’s probably safe to assume next season’s murderer hoped to take down Martin’s character, but confused the long-time stunt double. Before the screen cuts to black, Sazz is seen attempting to write something on Charles’ colorful floor with blood from her chest.
While fans will have to wait until Only Murders in the Building season four — which was announced Tuesday morning — to see who wants to kill Charles and why, showrunner John Hoffman teased what audiences can expect in the Hulu dramedy’s next installment.
“I think the idea of what you create is a thing you put out to the world, and sometimes you can’t be prepared for the repercussions of what potentially the world does with your thing, and how they feel about it,” Hoffman tells The Hollywood Reporter after the news broke mid-interview that the show would be returning for season four. “The podcast and everything else that’s happened, and what it all means, and what it could have been meaning all along, that’s a really interesting world to look at for these three who stepped in that way.”
The season three finale also revealed that Death Razzle Dazzle producer Cliff (Wesley Taylor) murdered Paul Rudd’s Ben Glenroy, but only after his fellow producer and mother Donna (Linda Edmond) tried to poison Ben ahead of the show’s opening night.
“I like that the producers Donna and Cliff are first presented in our season as rather larger-than-life, ridiculous characters — the kiss is very strange,” the showrunner explains about this season’s murderers. “But then being able to sort of really deepen that and go into our theme mothers and then surprise hopefully that there is a lot more underneath this connection that they have and was never intended to be murderous — either one of them.”
In the conversation with THR below, Hoffman also opens up about approaching Lynch with the news her character would be the next victim, intentionally foreshadowing more this season about the murderers and how losing his mother subconsciously made its way into the scripts.
To start us off…poor Sazz!
I know, that’s gonna be the first thing everybody says. It’s a big turn.
Did you always know you wanted to go in that direction with Sazz being the next murder in the building?
It came up at some point. It was a suggestion of one of our fantastic executive producers, one of my partners in the show, Jess Rosenthal. And he said, “What if?” I have to say, immediately upon hearing it, I thought, “That’s awful, and that’s perfect.” Because I immediately, it’s the thing of like, if we get a chance to go more, it’ll be the thing that it just started exploding ideas in my head. So, that was thrilling. And then the second part of that was actually talking to Jane Lynch about it and saying, “This is what we’re thinking.” We had to do that pretty early, too, and that was very sweet. She was like, “I love it.” I was like, “Wow. I wasn’t expecting love, but that’s great.”
She was trying to write something at the end with her fingers. I know you can’t tell me exactly what, but what do you think it is?
That is the big bit of discussion, and we had a lot of discussion as to how long to hold that shot, and how long to have her finger moving, what letter starts this off and all that. We thought to keep it as oblique as possible for now, just to keep our options open for the next season, but it feels very in her character to send a message. She’s been trying to do it to Charles throughout the season. She’s hinting to him in episode five that she’s picking up some ham radio chatter, certainly, right when she arrives in the finale, she’s saying, “Can I grab you for a few minutes? It’s a little sensitive.” So, there’s something on her mind and something she may know but to be found out.
Why would someone want to kill Charles?
That’s a great question. There’s a lot of exploring to do down that road. If anything, it’s very helpful for our show, because a 10-episode mystery is a lot, you have to sort of really meter it out. So, the more personal you can make the victim to one of our trio, or the murderer to one of our trio, the better. The tying of Ben Glenroy to the show; the tying in of Bunny to our three, who had all had conflict with her and made it look like they were all sort of responsible; Tim Kono in season one for Mabel, having that close tie. It felt like a perfect opportunity to let Charles have this connection and explore more of that connection. It’s one of the great characters. We’ve loved writing Sazz so much, and that’s the beauty of the show is, you get a lot more time with the victims. They’re not gone when some ill fate happens to them. And that’s, I think, also why Jane said she was excited because it’s a good opportunity to go deeper with Sazz and find out what the whole big life and everything else was with her and the world of stunt doubling.
I was excited to see so much of Paul Rudd this season in flashbacks, even though he died in the first episode.
What a feast he made of it. I thought he was so fantastic, and it was nice to see, and I was reading some nice things about [him]. Really, he was so deserving. I thought he was beautiful in the last couple of episodes, particularly, of season three, and it was great that he was able and available. This a hard thing to balance, too. These people who want to do the show are amazing, and then they twist and turn to make those schedules work for us in ways that like I can’t even. We’re very fortunate over here.
I loved the episode where we found out that he had all the women he would meet up to sew with every week. It was sweet and unexpected.
The five whores he sews with. (Laughs.) It was so sweet. Actually, last night, I get nervous, weirdly when the episodes air because there’s nothing I can do about them. They’re just what they are, and I’m a nervous wreck in the couple of hours before they drop. I don’t know why. It just feels weird. You’re a bit vulnerable and exposed in some way. I went out to dinner with a friend, and lo and behold, Marylouise Burke shows up in the restaurant, who is Trixie in the sewing circle, who said, “I used to be a whore.” She’s one of the greats. She’s a theatre legend. I just love her so much, and so, I was like, “Marylouise, you’re here!” And she’s like, “Oh my gosh!” So, it was very sweet to check in with her, and she said, “I have been getting so many nice things from so many friends from last week’s episode,” and it was very sweet.
Last time we spoke for Only Murders in the Building season two, we talked about how this season was going to focus on Oliver’s life on Broadway. What made you want to explore it from his perspective?
There were a couple of reasons. I think, as most writers are, when you’re sort of tasked with something to start with, and then you’re in this case, leading a room of brilliant people — thank God for them who like really create everything and support — I need to feel like some personal connection to a theme or a season each time to feel confidence to go back and write it. My mother passed away last year, and so underneath this very splashy Broadway thing are the themes of mothers and sons. And so I honestly did not realize this until way late in the process that this was going on, and I was like, “Oh, duh!” But I think underneath it, it felt very comfortable to go in those territories and with the nanny in the play and everything else. I love folding narratives together. It suits a mystery story really well.
Hopefully, in the finale to your question, the Broadway world works best for me when there are moments that are transcendent in storytelling that are lifted up by music. Puzzling together a mystery story and the personal stories, and Oliver particularly is just one of the most fun characters I’ve ever written — all of us, I think. I feel like I know him in my bones, having been a theater kid. So, this felt like a great playground for me personally but also to really play with that toolbox of what the theater can do at its best. Hopefully, by the end episode, when the threat of what actually happened to Ben in that elevator is being married with choreography that was meant to be a Death Razzle Dazzle, and that whole sort of scenario with Cliff imagining Ben as opposed to Oliver onstage and bringing Paul back to have a duet with Meryl, it all felt like some theatrical bit of transcendence for me in the hopes, and that I think probably ties into also just underneath it all of the emotional feelings around everyone’s mother.
The big reveal this season was that the producers, Donna (Linda Emond) and Cliff (Wesley Taylor) were the ones who killed Ben. And there were appearances from The Producers’ Matthew Broderick and Mel Brooks. How did that pan out?
It certainly hung it up, and then it was a matter of whether Nathan Lane should be in this season. I wanted to pass out. First of all, I was hopeful about Matthew because I’ve worked with Matthew before, and he’s absolutely terrific. He knows everyone in the cast, and he makes perfect sense for the show, and I love him. Then, I was hoping he would be OK with playing a version of himself. He did ask me when I first was on the phone with him saying if he could come do this, he was like, “Well, am I playing myself? How awful am I?” And I was like, “No, no, you’re not awful.” You’re just a little annoying, kind of really annoying.” He’s like, “Oh, I like that.” So, that was nice. He played so beautifully in that. And then The Producers angle for that storyline, Mel Brooks was like the biggest pipe dream ever. I never really thought that could happen, and then we were told it couldn’t happen, and then suddenly it could, and it was a miracle. The show has a lot of that going on around it, just like the things you don’t think you’re gonna get, and suddenly you [do].
There used to be a thing in New York called the Night of 100 Stars, where they used to have an evening at Radio City Music Hall and the most famous people in the world showed up for this special. I feel you gotta be careful not to tip over into the Night of 100 Stars, but it seems so organic for who these people know, who these people are, and yes, a little wink to The Producers, for sure, and a little wink towards our season itself in the mystery narrative for sure. How far would a producer go?
It’s always so interesting to me to see people make these brilliant leaps and get things really fast or then wonder and then twist it around and then come up with outlandish ideas, and everyone does that as you’re watching. It’s like wait a minute, what if? What if? What if? But I think the good part is it’s only the way we get to shape and say how it happened. I like that the producers Donna and Cliff are first presented in our season as rather larger-than-life, ridiculous characters — the kiss is very strange — but then being able to sort of really deepen that and go into our theme mothers and then surprise hopefully that there is a lot more underneath this connection that they have and was never intended to be murderous — either one of them. So that was interesting to me, and yet it was also comedic too.
This season there was more foreshadowing of who the killers were than there has been in other seasons. Was that intentional? Why add more breadcrumbs this time around?
Definitely. More breadcrumbs because each season wants to feel different. I love a big swing. I love saying, “OK, we’re going to Broadway theater. There’s going to be a musical going on at the same time as we’re doing our mystery.” That changes everything for the way the season plays out, and I don’t like to repeat. So, in the case of this with the narrative of telling the mystery and dropping clues, last year we had a mystery that really unspooled fast at the end of the season. You had the Becky Butler reveal that Poppy was Becky Butler from the original podcast, and then boom, boom, boom, these like crazy fast things that were happening in the last episode. I love it, and I was so thrilled to do it, but that’s its own thing. Some of that felt like, “Well, how can we know that? How could we have ever figured that out from the audience?” So, in this one, I thought, “Well, let’s drop a lot of things.” And drop the thing that happened and drop all of that. So, if they’re on it, they’re on it, and they get the payoff of like, “I knew it!” That’s a balancing act to do, but I like changing it up a little bit, so it feels accessible. It’s there. The key is you may not know how it plays out.
I was really delighted because the cookie thing, that’s the funniest take, I hope it’s the cookie that he’s talking to if you’ve got it early. But then when you come around to the scene and see the way it’s played, and what happens in that scene, it turns heartbreaking and so internally self-loathing in a painful way I think people can register. That to me is where the nice surprise comes. It’s the manner in which the thing happened, you may not have been able to predict, but you still have the feeling of like, “Oh, I got it.” “Oh, I didn’t see it that way.” Then, it goes in a different direction there. So, that’s the kind of thing I mean, just changing those things up is important to me in the storytelling. We keep it fresh and keep you on your toes a little bit and make you wonder, “Are they really laying that out as obviously as we think they are?” Maybe. And that’s OK, too.
I thought the murderer was going to be Meryl Streep. I think I just wanted to see Meryl Streep as a murderer because that seems so out of character.
I kept feeling like I should make her the murderer. It’s Meryl Streep, let’s give her the best scenes at the end. She kept on saying to me, “Am I the murderer?” And I couldn’t tell anyone for a while who the murderer was. I thought, well, “Maybe it’ll be too obvious if that were the case.” I think also, landing on that early is really helpful in the storytelling for sure, so we know where we’re going. The actors I just love: Linda Edmond and Wesley Taylor. Talk about a literal murderer’s row on our show. But you cannot go wrong with anyone playing any of these parts and knowing that they can land scenes like they do in the finale. Those are very difficult scenes as you’re saying.
The foreshadowing scenes of Donna and Loretta in the bathroom in [episode eight] “Sitzprobe.” It has to signal that something is off. Something is suspicious here but quietly, and it has to serve as more than anything where we’re going with Donna and Cliff. But more importantly, in that episode, it had to service what Loretta is thinking about what she may have to do for her own son. Those scenes, you need consummate actors to pull off. The moment you know when Donna is presented with the hanky, and it all sinks in, and she has to sort of say, “I did it.” And underneath that is what’s going on. Her head is spinning a mile a minute, and she can’t give it up. It’s a beautiful scene, and I feel so lucky when I watch incredible actors come and play.
Please, God, let the SAG negotiators have success soon, so we’re all back because we need everybody all in. But just to say I stand in full support for the best damn contract they get because when I see things like that on a set, it’s wow. That is making everyone’s life to watch that moment happen in that way that she did that, and Wesley during the scene with Paul at the elevator, just fabulous. I mean just really exciting.
How did Meryl Streep’s casting come to be?
It’s so crazy. I still can’t believe it, truthfully. Every time I look at the show, and I’m like, that’s [Meryl], OK.” That was a fortuitous moment of we kind of got wind that she wanted to talk to Marty and Steve, just to say, “Hey.” She knows both of them well. She loves them. I think it was her headspace of wanting to have fun and hang but also just see if there was something they could do together. She called them up, and that was the case. They said, “Well, you know, we have a show,” and she was like, “I know. I love it. I love that show.” He’s like, “Well, why don’t you come to that?” And she’s like, “I’m in.” It was like, “Wait a minute.” So, I had to write Dan Fogelman I’m like, “Hey, this Meryl Streep thing. They’re telling me she’s in.” And Dan was like, “Yeah, John, good luck with that. That’s never gonna happen.” And I’m like, “I know. But what do we do? Can we try? I think we have to try, right?” He’s like, “Well sure. See what happens, but there’s so many ways in which that won’t happen.”
She just was ready and game and was in New York and wanted to be in it. That was the amazing part for me. I called her the lighthouse of the season at the wrap party, but it really felt that way. We all stepped up the game. Everybody stepped up, and we’re so thrilled, but what was more thrilling than anything was the way in which she folded her right in to the ensemble of our cast and felt like a part of it. That’s her brilliance either way, whatever she’s doing. She’s very clever, smart and perfectly done. I knew we had to fulfill for her and give her things that she would be happy with. So, my panic was profound, and then directing her in the first two… the whole thing is insane. I learned so much. I felt very, very grateful to have that experience. I think everyone on set did, and I can’t wait for more. I hope for more because it was the greatest time, and she’s a great gal and just the best to work with.
When we spoke last season, you mentioned you didn’t want to say who your dream cameo was because it might happen. Did it happen? Who was it?
It was her! I think that’s what we were talking about. There was another time that Shirley MacLaine was what we were talking about. There are times like that where it’s like, “Who is that person?” And it’s like, “Well, hang tight. She’s on her way.” But we’ve had a couple she’s on her way moments that are crazy, and, you know, hang tight for her to come, too. I don’t know.
Congratulations! The news just broke that Only Murders has been renewed for a fourth season. How many more seasons would you and Steve want to do?
There are rare moments in your career that you can look at a job and think, “I don’t foresee anything sort of topping this in certain ways,” and you’re very lucky if you have that because I love everyone involved on the show. I love doing it. They love doing it. Until we don’t, I can imagine, there’s plenty of ways to play with this title too and how deep it goes. We’re on a path. Our writers room opens Monday. We didn’t get the official [renewal] till very, very recently, and the writers strike was happening, so it was a mix of things, but we are very excited to get started. It’s easy to imagine going on and on with this group. That’s what I know and writing it is very challenging for sure.
This is not a typical half-hour comedy. And then we make it more challenging for ourselves to up the ante in certain ways, but I think we learn things about it as we go along. We find other ways to sort of dimensionalize, and it always comes back to the trio of Selena and Marty and Steve, holding the center of the show in the way they do that nobody else could do. That to me is lightning in a bottle that you just don’t walk away from until it feels for all of you going. This will tell it, and so we’ll know, but I could imagine going a bit longer.
What can you tell about season four so far?
I think the idea of what you create is a thing you put out to the world, and sometimes you can’t be prepared for the repercussions of what potentially the world does with your thing, and how they feel about it. That’s a challenging line to walk, and sometimes you have to face it in that way. So, the podcast and everything else that’s happened, and what it all means, and what it could have been meaning all along. That’s a really interesting world to look at for these three who stepped in that way.
Do you think we’ll see Loretta and Tobert again?
There is no greater hope for me. I love them both, Jesse and Meryl, everyone. I mean, for God’s sakes, I would bring Paul back if we can. Listen, I would bring everyone back, and that might happen. Victims, killers, they’re all able to play in the landscape within this sort of certain narrative ways we can tell our stories.