This week’s episode is another outstanding showcase for James Caverly.
One of last season’s best episodes of “Only Murders in the Building” was “The Boy From 6B.” Said boy was Theo Dimas (James Caverly), the deaf son of podcast sponsor and dip entrepreneur Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane). Theo walked through the bustling world of New York not just as a deaf man, but as a man with a secret. Told like a silent movie, “The Boy From 6B” was heartfelt and incredibly authentic, especially if you’re a deaf or disabled person living with non-deaf parents. The relationship between Teddy and Theo is heavy, both with their own personal demons, but also an unspoken fear of disappointing the other.
We didn’t see much of the Dimases in Season 2, but this week’s episode “Flipping the Pieces” brings Theo Dimas back to the fold, pairing him with Mabel (Selena Gomez) as everyone continues to search for the killer. of Bunny. Right away, Caverly’s presence slows down the narrative – not in a negative way – but by giving the audience a chance to look at his relationship to himself and the other characters.
As showrunner John Hoffman told IndieWire in a recent phone interview, the goal was to bring Theo back and “put him now in the mix, again, with someone who would be the last person to hang out with. feel immediately at ease”. Mabel blamed Theo for pushing her friend Zoe (Olivia Reis) off the roof of Arconia and, with Teddy’s help, blamed it on her friend Oscar (Aaron Dominguez).
What makes Theo such a compelling character is his sense of guilt and regret. Sure, Oliver (Martin Short), Charles (Steve Martin), and Mabel all have that, but Theo escalates that due to his isolation. “He’s such a complex character caught between morality, loyalty and his father’s web of lies,” Caverly told IndieWire via email. He tells Mabel in the most recent episode that he can’t figure out if he pushed Zoe or if she fell, and it’s this lack of understanding that eats at him. “These nagging questions for any character are painful to navigate, and that’s what he recognizes in her. [Mabel]“, said Hoffman.
As “The Boy From 6B” explained, Teddy desperately loves his son but struggles to find a connection. It’s a gradual step forward that “Flipping the Pieces” takes Theo from being entirely alone and it’s him who must make a connection, this time with Mabel. “In Season 1, it felt pretty easy for me to tap into the feeling of being isolated from the outside world, maybe because of what I’ve been through as a deaf person,” Caverly said.
But this week’s episode of “Only Murders” was a chance to separate Theo from his father and show the character’s anger. In a landscape where deaf and disabled people are generally subjects of pity, watching Theo trying to figure out who he is estranged from his father, and just being angry, is refreshing. “I’ve found myself wondering sometimes how he feels because he’s a lost soul with no purpose,” Caverly said.
This is part of the reason Theo is the show’s MVP. It’s not just that he’s a deaf man navigating a city where he’s invisible, or that he’s struggling with feelings of guilt and regret. Despite all the humor and diversions of what happens with Oliver, Mabel and Charles, Theo feels grounded in reality. It forces the narrative to slow down and show the loneliness of living in a big city. It shows the toil of trying to find your place in life. Caverly brings a sensibility to Theo that is genuine as a person, not a character. Whether it’s seeing him play opposite Nathan Lane in “The Boy From 6B,” and witnessing his inner pain in the face of his father’s anguish, or trying to share his feelings with Mabel in “Flipping the Pieces” about what he did, he has a complex depth of emotion that is, at times, at odds with the heightened world espoused by our prospects.
Theo also shakes up a lot of tone-deaf tropes, in this particular episode. Here, Mabel and Theo attempt to solve a mystery together. Mabel points out that she can’t do sign language while Theo tells her that he can’t read lips. Communication is something that, when deaf people are on screen, isn’t usually seen as a problem when it is. In an article from the Boston University School of Public Health, it is said that although a deaf person can read lips, only 30-45% of what is said is actually understood. And although there are 70 million deaf people in the world, according to Human Rights Watch, sign language remains undertaught, leaving deaf people with few equal channels of communication.
It’s an opportunity for “Only Murders in the Building” to reflect a New York City that feels a little closer to reality. That’s not to say there isn’t a fantasy element. Wheelchair user Paulette (Ali Stroker) navigates barrier-free on the Arconia and Pickle Diner, despite only 25% of restaurants in New York City being wheelchair accessible according to a 2022 study.
But watching Caverly’s Theo navigate a world where people don’t see him and can’t communicate with him, in a city that’s already changing at a rapid pace, feels authentic to the experiences of the disabled and the deaf. “Part of being a Deaf actor is being an advocate for the disability community – that’s a badge I wear,” Caverly said. He explained that he is in constant communication with the writers to improve the character’s experiences so that they are authentic for deaf experiences.
It’s certainly an issue that continues to be present in film and television, despite “CODA” winning Best Picture at the Oscars earlier this year. Caverly said while representation of the deaf has improved from 10 or 15 years ago, it’s not fast enough. “There is still a vast untapped resource of Deaf and disabled writers, actors, directors and creators [who] are crying out to be portrayed on screen,” he said.
“Flipping the Pieces” should garner the same appreciation as “The Boy From 6B”, if only for the continued presence of James Caverly. It’s not strictly about how well the show does the portrayal (although there is that). But Caverly’s presence gives the show a grounded quality it needs when things get too intense. Not to mention, Caverly’s acting is so expressive, authentic, and memorable to behold when allowed to take center stage.
“Only the Murders in the Building” airs Tuesdays on Hulu.