COMMENTARY

The "Only Murders in the Building" stunt double gag isn't just hilarious, it's subversive justice

Jane Lynch in a pork pie hat is all we wanted in Charles' double, including commentary about Hollywood sexism

By Kylie Cheung
Published October 13, 2021 5:00PM (EDT)
Jane Lynch as Saz and Steve Martin as Charles on "Only Murders in the Building" (Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)
Jane Lynch as Saz and Steve Martin as Charles on "Only Murders in the Building" (Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

Hulu's "Only Murders in the Building" already had a killer cast going for it, pairing industry veterans Steve Martin and Martin Short with Selena Gomez playing three nosy neighbors trying to solve a murder mystery in their luxury New York City apartment building. The show even boasts big names with its guest appearances, ranging from Tina Fey and Sting as himself to Twitter sensation and "Daily Show" correspondent Jaboukie Young-White as a podcast fan.

But the series outdoes itself with its latest familiar face: Jane Lynch. 

It's not just that Lynch is a fantastic comedian — which she is — but it's who she plays and how she plays them that elevates her always welcome presence into comedy gold. In the episode "Double Time," Charles Haden-Savage (Martin), who played a cop on the show "Brazzos" 30 years ago, reveals that he's still in touch with his stunt double who is, yep, played by none other than Jane Lynch.

Enter Saz (Lynch), who just happens to be wearing what could be considered classic Charles attire, down to the pork pie hat. When the two reunite, it's like looking into a funhouse mirror, with all the elements similar enough but just off. The series fully embraces the gag with multiple people — such as Charles' true crime podcast partners Oliver (Short) and Mabel (Gomez) — mistaking Saz for Charles initially, until seeing the two together.

"What is this, 'Face/Off'?!" wails Oliver after doing a double take.

The gag doesn't end there. Saz, an electric queer woman whose charisma is undeniable, reveals that doubling for Charles wasn't confined to stunt work. Apparently their build is so similar to each other's (and Tilda Swinton's!) that Saz also doubled for Charles' hot tub scenes and sex scenes . . . because his hip motions weren't "natural."


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The ultimate way that Saz replaced Charles? She stole his girlfriend Cookie back in the day. Ouch.

In this episode, the tensions and anxieties that often accompany murder mysteries are relieved by Lynch's comic relief and the joy of seeing a female stunt double for Charles. Despite the many ways that Saz has shown herself to be a better Charles than Charles himself, the two have a palpably warm and familiar chemistry.

While "Only Murders" doesn't wade into the politics of gender and stunt doubling — beyond Mabel calling the arrangement "pretty progressive for the early '90s" — we can't help but celebrate Saz's calling in the context of rampant sexism in Hollywood's stunt work industry. The Saz-Charles dynamic subverts a widespread problem among stunt work known as "wigging": male stuntmen donning wigs and women's clothes to perform stunts for actresses, even though female stunt workers are more than qualified to perform these jobs.

In 2017, a stuntwoman named Deven MacNair filed a lawsuit against a production company and the Screen Actors Guild to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after a wigging incident on set at "The Domestics" in 2016. MacNair had believed that she would be performing a car stunt for actor Kate Bosworth in the movie. Instead, stunt coordinator Nick Gillard, known for his work on the "Star Wars" prequels, put on a wig and women's clothes and did the stunt for her, citing safety reasons and how friends in the industry had told him he shouldn't let MacNair "anywhere near" a car stunt. 

Following MacNair's lawsuit, the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists launched an investigation into wigging cases, and concluded that wigging is "not acceptable and that this should not happen again." Still, despite progress from this lawsuit, Hollywood's four main stuntmen's organizations have long histories of excluding women, and don't even have female members. 

Only Murders in the BuildingJane Lynch as Saz and Martin Short as Oliver on "Only Murders in the Building" (Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

In "Only Murders in the Building," Saz and Charles reflect the opposite of this problem. Instead, Charles reveals that he'd wanted to get rid of Saz after she started dating his girlfriend, but that Saz had become too indispensable and popular on the set of "Brazzos." 

The two ultimately remained friends despite this conflict, as we see when Saz sits Charles down for a heart-to-heart. Charles' self-loathing has sparked his irrational fear that Saz will take his new girlfriend too — mostly because he doesn't believe he deserves to be happy.

"I know you, Charles. That's why gender never prevented me from doubling for you — even in the hot tub and the sex scenes," Saz says. "But one thing I could never get about you is how someone as wonderful as you could think so little of himself. I could never understand it."

In "Only Murders," through Saz and Charles' relationship, we see the problem doesn't lie in gender-bending in stunt double work. Rather, the controversy around wigging is about the prevalence of sexism and exclusion in stunt work, allowing male stunt workers to take work from equally qualified female stunt workers. Lynch as Saz has fun subverting this reality, reminding us real-life female stunt workers like Saz deserve all the opportunities in the world.

"Only Murders in the Building" releases new episodes Tuesdays on Hulu.


Kylie Cheung

Kylie Cheung is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She is also the author of "A Woman's Place," a collection of feminist essays. You can follow her work on Twitter @kylietcheung.

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