Summer Shorts: My Deaf Family

04-Jun-10 11:00 AM by
Filed under Television; 1 comment.

Confession: I follow Sesame Street on Twitter. That may not seem an appropriate pastime for a thirtysomething, but it's hard to resist such clever witticisms as espoused by Cookie Monster: "Me tried fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free cookie today. Or, as me like to call it: crime against humanity." Big Bird: "There are lots of birds that can’t fly: turkeys, ostriches, penguins, Larry…" and Grover: "It is Frank Oz's birthday. I do not know who he is, but I will try to find out. Wait, what do you mean, there is no 'try'?"

It was in these wanderings that I came across a video of Billy Joel singing to Oscar the Grouch. His song was signed by a woman who looked familiar. Some brief research revealed her to be Marlee Matlin, a deaf actress who has been performing on stage, film, and television since her Hollywood debut in 1986. She was even the star (though a passive one) of a film in my own DVD library, What the Bleep Do We Know?.

After appearing on shows from West Wing to Desperate Housewives to Dancing with the Stars, Ms. Matlin recently struck out on her own by hosting and financing a reality series called My Deaf Family. The only deaf person in her family, Ms. Matlin wanted to bring attention to the lives and obstacles of members of the deaf community and their loved ones. When no network picked up the series, she uploaded the pilot to YouTube:

Although I don't know if this pilot could be extended into a full series, the questions and dilemmas raised by this short segment are substantial. All parents wants what's best for their children, but it's not always clear what that is. For two deaf parents to raise a hearing child can be exceptionally difficult. As Jared indicates in the above video, there are some things Jared can't talk to his parents about, and he had trouble learning how to pronounce words without his parents to teach him. Children in his scenario often have a lisp or other speech impediment, at least until they are mainstreamed into a school where they have teachers and peers. Whatever issues Jared has faced, few of them are likely to arise with his siblings who share their parents' abilities.

That raises a significant question: is deafness a disability, or an identity? Are there moral ramifications to two deaf parents wanting a child who is deaf? We want our children to be strong — but should we want them to have to be strong? The 2005 holiday film The Family Stone has a horrendously awkward scene in which someone asks the mother of a gay man, "You didn't actually hope for a gay son, did you? I mean, life is hard enough when you're normal…" Although this quotation has good intentions, the implication is that there is some physical and emotional "status quo" to which we should be born, and anyone who doesn't fit this archetype is somehow impaired. That's complete hogwash, of course; otherwise we'd see nothing distasteful in the genetically sequenced dystopia that is Gattaca, in which Stephen Hawking would never have existed — or, if he had but with no motivation to develop his mind over his body, might have pursued a fabulous career in the NBA. If deafness and other conditions are limits, they are limits that can be overcome.

Having written this post, I realize that I do want to see more in Ms. Matlin's series, though perhaps with a broader scope. I don't want a Chicken Soup for the Soul television series, but a closer look at the lives and hurdles of people with various mental and physical challenges could prove not only inspiring, but also enlightening. Consider it an adult vehicle for the love and acceptance we were taught to practice as children by Sesame Street.

Is there a network brave enough to pick it up?

(Hat tip to AOL)

I'll have a ham and cheese on rye

20-Feb-07 12:00 PM by
Filed under Television; Comments Off on I'll have a ham and cheese on rye

I have never seen CSI, West Wing, Law & Order, or any number of other popular dramas. Not only do my television tastes lean more to The Dick Van Dyke Show, Quantum Leap, and Buffy — you know, fun stuff not likely to be mistaken for the evening news — but I also have not had television service in eight years. I am not secluded from popular culture, though, and I absorb the gist of shows like Lost and 24 rather easily. But one show had me stumped and required direct exposure.

After years of not comprehending the concept of a "legal dramedy", I finally got my hands on the first season of Boston Legal, which has been on ABC since 2004. Before I returned the DVDs, I watched only the pilot episode; without any following or even previous experience (The Practice falls within my blackout zone), I'm hardly qualified to offer an informed opinion. But I'm happy to share my uninformed one, based on first impressions.

The cast was what first struck me. William Shatner was a given, but Rene Auberjonois' inclusion as a changeling lawyer (talk about two-faced!) had escaped my memory. More surprising was Mark Valley, who played Jack Deveraux (or one of them, anyway) on Days of our Lives — a show my overindulgence of which prompted my kicking the TV habit. I don't think I'd ever seen a soap star get a "real" acting job, so it seemed fitting that he's described in this episode as a "Ken doll".

Also notable in the pilot was Larry Miller of Christopher Guests' films — and, of course, James Spader, who I now find unrecognizable from his Stargate stardom.

As for the show itself, I was a bit surprised and relieved that it is not a comedy in the sense of a spoof; it does not do for for the glut of legal dramas what Get Smart did for James Bond. Nothing about the show is infeasible, which probably makes it more consumable and popular to the masses sitting on their sofa seats, waiting for CSI's other shoe to fall. The situations all seemed realistic, but the snappy dialogue that would be used to dramatic effect elsewhere is effectively comedic here.

Though it cannot compete with a show that focuses on doing either drama or comedy well, Boston Legal makes up in breadth what it lacks in depth, successfully straddling the line between the two genres. I don't know that any show can hook someone after just one episode; if first and last impressions were one and the same, how many of us would've become Trekkies? I liked the pilot episode, but I'd have to see more before I fall in love with it. Unfortunately for Boston Legal, I too am a creature of breadth, and rather than explore the show further, I am moving on to my virgin showing of Firefly. If lines are to be straddled, let it be with cowboys and aliens!