(Warning: This post contains spoilers for Episode 7 of Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.”)
“Only Murders in the Building” hit mute this week with an episode of the Hulu comedy that lacked spoken dialogue until its closing moments, relying instead on a combination of American Sign Language (ASL), subtitles, lip reading and poignant pauses. This wasn’t the easiest thing for the murder-mystery show to pull off, given that its leading characters — Charles (Steve Martin), Oliver (Martin Short) and Mabel (Selena Gomez) — all have plenty of reasons to be chattering constantly while solving their in-house true-crime problem while simultaneously podcasting the experience.
“It was a big leap we took. We took many big leaps in the show, as you know, and this was our biggest, just stylistically,” “Only Murders in the Building” co-creator John Hoffman, who developed the comedy with Martin, told TheWrap.
The idea began with the fact Episode 7 of “Only Murders in the Building,” titled “The Boy in 6B,” would be following Theo Dimas (played by James Caverly), the deaf son of Charles, Mabel and Oliver’s podcast sponsor, Teddy Dimas (Nathan Lane).
“In each episode, as you know, we have a different sort of point of view that guides us into the episode,” Hoffman said. “So with Theo as a main character in the supporting cast, I loved the idea of being able to sort of pull people forward and not anyone that you would know even, in this case, or expect to have suddenly being brought forward. And you understand why, as you progress in this particular episode, why he’s been brought forward. And when you do that with a deaf character, I thought, well, what is the stylistic choice we could make for the whole episode?”
The sound of silence was what Hoffman and Martin decided was the best course of action not just for Theo’s perspective in the episode but for the scenes with the hearing characters, like Charles, Mabel and Oliver, who are normally the focus of “Only Murders in the Building.”
“I thought it was interesting, when we looked at the storylines, for Mabel and Oliver in particular — going to a funeral parlor and investing further in that direction — having to be very quiet and unobserved in those moments,” the “Only Murders” showrunner said. “And then I looked at the date that Charles and Jan (Amy Ryan) were going to have and I thought, wouldn’t that be interesting to look at the date that you have with someone through only the moments that are unspoken?”
He continued: “You’re dealing with two classic comedic legends and there’s something about the way in which you can play in the Chaplinesque form, or very classic silent.”
Hoffman says this all “fed into” the goal to keep the 30-minute episode as speaking-free as possible, until he and Martin actually realized they didn’t need any lines at all beyond the final one of the episode, delivered by Charles when he manages to finally crack into the late Tim Kono’s (Julian Cihi) phone using the passcode “Theo,” texted to him by Charles and Mabel: “We did it!”
“There were times where there was more dialogue in the episode, and through editing, we thought, no, no, let’s really try to stick to it and take it all out until the last line of the episode,” Hoffman said. “And really, the only spoken line is the very last line. So it felt like an accomplishment, in a big way, by the time we realized, oh, we’ve actually really told the full story and we managed not to have dialogue.”
“Only Murders in the Building,” which has already been renewed for Season 2 at Hulu, has just three episodes left in its first season. Readers can catch Episode 8 when it drops on the streaming service next Tuesday and check back with TheWrap for a new post-mortem interview at that time.