THE PERFORMER | Steve Martin
THE SHOW | Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building
THE EPISODE | “Open and Shut” (Oct. 19, 2021)
THE PERFORMANCE | As Only Murders drew to a close, we expected a rise in dramatic tension, sure. But along the way, Martin slayed us with a downright hysterical and quite physical performance by his 70something self, giving us the big laughs we really needed this week.
Prior to the elastic-bodied hijinks, Martin engaged us in an entirely different way. As Charles sat with Jan in his apartment (after catching her in a bassoon-related lie), you sensed that a “switch” was about to be flipped — that, forced into a corner, Jan would reveal her true, murderous self. But it was Charles who first caught us off-guard, by revealing that he had only been taking “stage sips” of what he presumed to be a poisoned drink. From there, Martin slipped into a cooler, more calculating version of the character we had not yet seen, as Charles recounted clues and held guilty Jan’s feet to the fire.
But then, just as Charles laid out the proverbial smoking gun — Jan’s distinctive Js — his world got wobbly, as the poison she had administered via handkerchief tugged him to the floor, flat on his back. After Jan delivered a Talking Killer speech and exited stage left, Martin’s performance kicked into an entirely new and completely hilarious gear, as Charles struggled (greatly!) to muster up some motor skills and fetch the iPhone that had recorded their encounter. When Charles mumbled, “I don’t feel so good” and a mistaken Siri cued up Sting’s “Fields of Gold” to score what followed… well from there we were off to the races.
Charles had no command of language nor limbs, and yet Martin, through his mastery of physical comedy, made him an incredibly active player in the murder mystery’s climactic moments. When Charles wriggled across a hallway into the building elevator, Martin evoked his 1984 body-swap comedy, All of Me. Splayed across the lift’s floor (and thus dismissed by neighbors as soused), he labored to communicate yet only managed the occasional “gah” or “meow.” Eventually found by Mabel and Oliver — prone, between oscillating elevator doors — Charles was ingloriously strapped onto a dog stroller and wheeled to the basement, where his podcast co-hosts foiled Jan’s grand plan. But when Jan got the drop on the gang, Charles heroically busted out of his bindings, rose to his feet and delivered a rousing speech… though in reality, it was just more slurred words (yet enough to distract Jan and set up her capture).
Capping Martin’s showcase was a sweet sequence (in which Charles reached out to his ex-girlfriend’s daughter via text)… the character’s fine narration of the podcast’s own closing moments… and a zingy back-and-forth with Martin Short’s Oliver. Fitting for a murder mystery, it was a killer performance.
HONORABLE MENTION | How is that, 23 seasons in, Mariska Hargitay is giving as gripping a Law & Order: SVU performance as she was on Day 1? Hargitay’s considerable skill was the focal point of the NBC procedural’s 500th episode, as Olivia Benson came to an awful realization about her former fiancé. The Emmy winner wowed us over and over throughout the milestone hour, but we were particularly taken aback by how she showed resilient Liv’s vulnerability as Benson confronted her ex about a sexual assault in their distant past. The hurt that Hargitay conveyed! And the hard-won wisdom with which she steeped Olivia’s every word! We bow down.
HONORABLE MENTION | Y: The Last Man‘s cult leader got the origin story treatment in Episode 8, turning everything we knew about Roxanne on its head. Missi Pyle rose to the challenge, exploring her character’s rise to power through flashbacks, showing how lies and gaslighting helped her control followers. In the past, Roxanne was a demure retail worker whose husband bailed following her mastectomy, and whose employer refused to deter sexual assault. Pyle in turn embodied two distinct characters in one, highlighting the experience of being used, abused and forced to reinvent oneself under horrific circumstances. As Roxanne built up her walls, Pyle altered her body language, gait and diction, giving us a roadmap of how a person can go from oppression to depravity. It’s exhilarating performances like this that have us hoping the series finds a new home and offers up more, equally compelling work.
HONORABLE MENTION | Love Quinn’s parents were right on the money when they named their baby girl, as there’s a lot to appreciate about Victoria Pedretti‘s endlessly complex character, even when she’s trying to murder half of her quiet suburban town. Hell, especially when she’s trying to murder half of her quiet suburban town. Pedretti played out her character’s delicate balancing act to perfection all throughout YOU‘s third season, but it was her performance in the finale, appropriately titled “What Is Love?,” that absolutely broke our hearts. Without spoiling too much (we’ll let you binge at your own pace), the climactic hour found Love at the end of her rope with nothing left to lose. By giving herself over to her most unhinged impulses, she served up some of the character’s meatiest material yet — and Pedretti absolutely devoured it.
Which performance(s) knocked your socks off this week? Tell us in Comments!