Subtle details in costume design, hairstyling and even production design showed the growth and progression of Selena Gomez’s Mabel in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.” Season 2 begins where the first left off — Mabel is the prime suspect after being found by the side of the dead body of Bunny, who lives in the same building as Mabel, Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin).
When audiences were first introduced to Mabel in Season 1, she’s someone who is trying to protect herself. Costume designer Dana Covarrubias says, “I put her in chunky- soled boots and big puffy coats and jackets that create this sense of a protective armor around her.”
As the season progresses and she begins to connect with Oliver and Charles, she softens up. Solving a murder and being implicated in a murder brings the podcasting trio closer together.
Since no time lapses between the end of Season 1 and the beginning of Season 2, Covarrubias couldn’t change Mabel too drastically. So she looked at how to show change, and was inspired in part by costume designer Edith Head and director Alfred Hitchcock (Head worked a lot with Hitchcock from the 1950s on). Mabel also starts to explore the art scene in New York, allowing Covarrubias to “inject more color” into her wardrobe.
For the Hitchcock influence, Covarrubias used black and white, like a checkered cardigan and a sweater. “I loved how Hitchcock used shadow and light. So having her in black and white was showing what’s going on inside her mind,” she says. “She’s been blacking out, so I played on this notion of is she a good person or a bad person? Does she go to the dark or light… or is she both?”
Covarrubias threaded that throughout Mabel’s arc, but also the other characters. “Anyone you see wearing black and white is my little Easter egg that hints at a duality this character might have.”
At the end of the season, Mabel dons a gown for a play, in a scene that sets up what’s to come in Season 3. Covarrubias wanted to show “a maturity, and there’s a femininity to her that we see.”
Hair department head Betsy Reyes aimed to show maturity through a new look.
The first episode sees Mabel with a short bob. “She goes through something, and her hair is cut short,” says Reyes. “When I worked in a salon, when something happens — whether negative or positive — there has to be a change in the hair, so that was our change.”
Later, Mabel embarks on a relationship with the mysterious artist Alice (Cara Delevingne). To reflect that in Mabel’s hair, Reyes says, “it became more flirty, more textured, half up, and it wasn’t so structured.”
By the end (and after a time jump), Reyes cut bangs and put Gomez’s hair in a French twist for the end of Season 2; that showed how she had evolved.
Production designer Patrick Howe worked closely with Covarrubias when building his sets. Mabel’s environments were largely neutral, and it was a dream palette for any costume designer. “No matter what color Dana put Mabel in, it would work because it’s offset against this neutral palette,” says Howe. “When Mabel is presented in bright yellows and greens, those would pop in that apartment. And so would the black and white.”
The mural wall established in Season 1 was painted over by the end of Season 2. Howe says it was symbolic of Mabel moving on. Like his other collaborators, he didn’t want to create a drastic change by adding dimensions such as a bookcase. Rather, he wanted keep the wall flat in a nod to the mural.
“I found a tone-on-tone graphic wallpaper with a building that looks similar to the Arconia,” he says, referring to the building that the characters dwell in. “I put a gold frame around it to say the wallpaper within this frame is very important.”