“Disabilities” and TV Portrayals- the sequel

I had written awhile back regarding the two up and coming TV shows at that time, Parenthood and Switched at Birth (see here), they have both been on screen for awhile. Parenthood has now been on for a total of three seasons, it also seems to have gained quite a few followers. Switched at Birth, has been on for only one season, with a promise of at least 22 more episodes according to ABC. Quite a few people tune in every week for this show as well.

Admittedly, Parenthood has fallen into disfavor with me. It became more soap opera like than drama. There was so much that they could have done with it, and they ended up with so much angst that was, to me, not needed. I still have 6 episodes in my Hulu queue. I just haven’t been able to have any excitement regarding this last season. So, I’d love to hear what other people think about it! Please comment on what you see regarding the Bavermans’ and how they are living with Max, the son who has Asperger’s syndrome.

Regarding Switched at Birth, I am still watching this one. But, once again, there is annoyance for me. Teenage soap drama anyone? First of all, I don’t think we need so many shows that have teenagers in and out of each other’s beds. Yea for Bay not jumping in the sack with Emmett!! Boo on Emmett sleeping with Simone because he was mad at the world!! (messing up not only Emmett’s relationship with Bay, but Emmett’s relationship to Daphne, the REST of the Kennishs and Regina (give it time), as well as messing up the relationship between Simone and her BF Toby Kennish)

But, I keep watching because: They are showing some wonderfully hard issues in this tv series. First and foremost- deafness. One of the main characters is DEAF. Not a side character- (though thanks to showing Carlton, a school for the Deaf, we see a lot of interaction between hearing and those who live in the Deaf culture). Travis, who is a newer character, is the perfect foil for Daphne who has embraced the hearing world in many ways, by straddling participation in two schools, and Emmett who is dating a hearing girl. Travis lives in a home that is revealed to have a mother who refused to learn ASL (American Sign Language) to talk with her son. We also get to witness Travis’ frustration and anger towards those who can hear, as well as gaining the sad knowledge that those who hear have treated him with great disrespect.

Then you have the issue  of actually being switched at birth and all the emotional issues that arise out of that. You also have the Cultural Divide being played out. How white collar- picket fence-White American lives beside lower middle class- hard working- single mother- Hispanic American who from the White American perspective came from a rough neighborhood. Not to mention Angelo who is Italian.

So, I am still watching Switched at Birth because there it is still a wonderful show that is playing out many difficult problems/issues with a good handle on what might actually happen. And like I’ve said before- they put Katie Leclerc, who actually has the disability (deafness) as one of the main characters which is wonderful. Huge points on my tally sheet!

Now onto the next show that has caught my attention. Only out for 3 episodes so far with 13 episodes promised, Touch is one of Fox’s newest shows. A Kiefer Sutherland show (which probably caused a lot of people to tune in), I admit that I was eager to watch it but cautious as well- after the first season of 24, I lost my joy of saving the world in 24 hours. The reason I watched it though, was because who Martin Bohm’s (Kiefer’s) son in the show was, Jake Bohm, a child who is mute.

Jake is a child who is considered gifted. We don’t know exactly what Jake has, only that he hasn’t said a word in all of his eleven years. Jake narrates the show, but never speaks to his father. Martin Bohm is constantly trying to communicate with his son. But Jake doesn’t like to be touched (unless he initiates the contact, which is rare), he rarely if ever looks at someone in the eye, and he is constantly writing down numbers. Martin realizes that numbers are the way Jake communicates. He just has to find the decoder.

As the show progresses, Sutherland does what he does best- run. His character realizes that the numbers represent people in some way: a phone number, an address, a time- something. These people all interact with one another in some way. They may be across the world, but their life still collides with that other person. Jake, through the act of writing down his numbers, tosses Martin into the role of bringing these people together in some way.

It’s a fascinating show, complicated and beautifully touching. I’m eager to see where they go with it as well as how the world interacts with Jake’s own personal world.

They’ve done a good job so far in showing the desperate need Martin Bohm has to communicate with his son. I believe there might be the strong possibility of some form of Autism that will be later revealed, but we will wait to see. Right now, Martin cannot touch his son, cannot talk to him, and he is desperately seeking that close relationship with him. We learn that Mrs. Bohm died in 9/11, and I think that grief and other emotional baggage with such a tragic death will later be played out as Martin continues to connect with his son.

Jake, being institutionalized due to his escaping and climbing to seriously high points, is another issue. So we have a glimpse into what a government ran institution might be like for children who are ‘specially gifted,’ as the show puts it. As well as what that might be like to be the father who loses his son, when he is doing the best he can.

There are many things in this show that I am eager to see where they go. I love that producers are finally hitting some of the topics that they have ignored or only dabbled in. I love the fact that the often ignored lives of some remarkable people are finally getting a light shined on them. I hope that they stay true in honoring those with disabilities, by showing respect and giving them their due in regards to their dignity.

Eagerly awaiting the next episode… 

Love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment and let’s discuss!

“Disabilities” and the TV portrayals

As someone who has been involved in the trappings that come with the label of disability, I have desired to see more ‘true’ life examples of disabilities being played out in the entertainment field of TV.

I remember growing up watching Life Goes On (1989-1993) where one of the main characters (Corky) a high school boy had Down syndrome. At that time I didn’t think much beyond the show as I was too young to understand the nuances that were being portrayed regarding a family with a child of Down syndrome. Now looking back I realized how amazing it was that this show actually had a main character who was disabled- visibly. Plus, with something that cannot be faked, as perhaps an actor being wheel chaired bound could (see Glee). At the time, the producers of Life Goes On were light years ahead in the dealing with some major issues. Even today, it is hard to find a show where someone with any form of disabilities –that’s acknowledged and discussed on the show, is  a main reoccurring character. But, I am eager to see where two new shows will take the disability issue.

One of them, Parenthood, is dealing with the realities of having a child with Asperger’s syndrome , an autism spectrum disorder. Now, while the child (Max) is not a true main character, his struggles are a side focus for the producers, with it coming into the forefront when dealing with a particularly thorny situation where the Asperger’s is the main focus. But, the actor does not truly have Asperger’s. So even though they have at least two consultants (behavioral psychologists) to help Max react correctly to a situation, does it help the audience realize what actually goes on in a mind that has to deal with the difficulties of the syndrome? I don’t think so. As with most shows that has a disability ‘issue’ it is about ‘normal’ people looking in and wanting to fix the issue, not about the person who has to deal with the ignorance of the ‘normal’ person. I have watched NBC’s Parenthood for the last two seasons because they are actually attempting to bring the issue of Asperger’s into the realm of the audience and hopefully create understanding as well as acceptance for those who have the disorder. It’s a TV show that is trying it’s best, but they can never get it exactly right, though I applaud the producers for taking on the subject.

 ~~To see Parenthood, (which is dealing with a lot more than just the Asperger’s syndrome issue)   www.nbc.com/parenthood/

~~To learn more about Asperger’s Syndrome along with other Autism spectrum disorders, a good place for medical information is: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/aspergers-syndrome/DS00551

The one other show is Switched at Birth, which has just premiered a week ago. While, once again, the disability is not the main focus of the show, it is a major issue. I hope that they do a good job with dealing with the intricacies of the Deaf community. As someone who took Sign Language from a Deaf teacher, I had an extremely small peek into the community that has been built around a common disability. Due to the stigma that has clung to those with deafness in ages past, they have gathered together, building schools as well as whole communities where they can just be themselves.

I am excited to see that the producers have actually employed actors who with varying degrees of hearing impairment, though ‘Daphne’ the daughter who is Deaf in the show, is not actually Deaf. Though her friends from the School for the Deaf are indeed Deaf, so they have at least employed actors who are living this out in real life. As I have only seen one episode as of yet, I will withhold my judgment on how the interaction of the hearing family/ new school is played out with the Deaf daughter. I know that they will be dealing with many of the stereotypical aspects that come with the misunderstandings of people who have never been around Deaf people, nor have witnessed the beauty of Sign Language. Two thorny subjects they are jumping into right now(in the first episode)  is the integration issue, (removing Daphne from the Deaf school to place her in a private hearing school) as well as the Cochlear Implant vs. Deaf issue (a device that is surgically implanted into the brain to help with auditory function).

I am cautiously optimistic in my hope for this new show. I love the fact that they are addressing the disability so head on, but I also hope that they treat the issue with respect and pay special attention to showing the audience the truth about deafness.

~~To see ABC’s Family’s  Switched at Birth please see:  http://abcfamily.go.com/shows/switched-at-birth

~~To learn more about the Deaf Community please see: http://www.deaf.com/

As with anything, when portraying it within a TV show or a movie, not all the aspects can be correctly interpreted onto the screen.  Producers can only do their utmost best try to portray it correctly. The military, law enforcement, doctors, school teachers, truck drivers, bomb squads and so many others will always find the flaws within the show, because they know what they do, the people on the other side of the camera are just making a piece of entertainment. Disabilities will never be portrayed 100% correctly, but at least they are starting to appear in better roles than the character with a bit piece that people are meant to pity or to find humorous.

Here’s hoping that people learn something with these shows.