Only Murders in the Building season 2 got off to a bit of a slow start. But it finally picked up speed when fan-favorite Theo Dimas got some *much-needed* camera time in episode 7, “Flipping the Pieces”.
Fans first fell in love with Theo, the Deaf son of Nathan Lane’s Teddy, in season 1. Unlike some of the other Deaf characters we see onscreen who tend to be one-dimension, Theo is clearly a much more nuanced character, and that’s mostly due to James Caverly, the actor who plays him.
In an interview with Salon, Caverly explained he worked closely with the series co-creator/writer John Hoffman and director Cherien Dabis “to figure out how to portray Theo authentically without feeling like a gimmick.”
“Aside from the dialogue changes, we talked about how a Deaf person views the world.”
By doing so, Theo provides viewers with rare character depth and a small taste of reality in a show applauded for its multi-generational reach and slapstick-meets-cringe comedy.
While Theo is certainly a more realistic Deaf character compared to others on TV, there are still a few things that are not 100% accurate: mainly, a Deaf person’s ability to lip-read.
In a Reddit AMA, Caverly explained,
“Scenes that required lip-reading were a challenge. I shared the reality of lip-reading: only 30% can be understood in a sentence. Cherien (the director) and Hoffman (the writer) had done their best to reduce the amount of lip-reading being done by Theo but still kept enough to move the story along.”
In general, it does seem like Hoffman took Caverly’s perspective into account. Although Caverly didn’t discuss the episode in particular, “Flipping the Pieces” features multiple scenes where there is a communication breakdown between two characters, Theo and Mabel, and it could very well have been added, or at least inspired, by Caverly’s efforts to spread awareness.
During the scenes, Theo keeps trying to use ASL (American Sign Language) to communicate with Mabel. Mabel then gets frustrated and keeps repeating that she doesn’t know sign language. When she tries to enunciate and have Theo read her lips, he explains that he can’t understand what she is trying to say.
Rather than dancing around the issue or acting like it’s common for friends, family members, and neighbors to know ASL, the show takes a moment to highlight what it feels to not be able to communicate. In that small second, the audience gets a glimpse into the reality of being deaf in a hearing world.
And isn’t that what representation is all about? Erasing the audience’s preconceived ideas of specific experiences and breaking down the barriers that prevent awareness, understanding, and empathy so you can stand in their shoes — however momentarily —and consider life from a perspective outside your own? James Caverly made it possible with Theo and likely introduced many viewers to a world they have never considered. I, for one, can’t wait to see where Theo’s storyline goes.
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