Speechless Does It Right

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ABC’s Speechless has arrived. Finally! Hollywood gets off its collagen-loving, perfectly coiffed ass and creates a network television show featuring a main character in a wheelchair. *gasp* If that wasn’t remarkable enough, the role is also played by a real honest-to-goodness disabled actor with cerebral palsy. *double gasp*

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I should note that this isn’t the first attempt to be “inclusive.” Shows like Facts of Life, Life Goes On, and most recently, the Game of Thrones, have attempted it to varying degrees of success. (Peter Dinklage is our answer to Laurence Olivier) But, it shouldn’t be such a noteworthy achievement— considering that folks with disabilities make up such a large segment of the population. According to the U.S. Census, it is estimated that 19% of Americans live with some sort of disability. The umbrella of disability includes various sensory, motor and physical impairments, as well as, invisible disabilities— like learning challenges, autism spectrum conditions, and those with chronic mental health issues.

Yet, despite the large pool of disabled folks from which to draw, 95% of disabled characters in movies and television have been played by able-bodied actors. If you’re lucky and can manage to be an able-bodied white actor playing an “inspiring disabled character” in a movie (à la Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne, Al Pacino, Tom Hanks, etc.), the Academy can’t shower you with an Oscar fast enough. You might as well get the spot ready on your fireplace mantle right now. It won’t be long before a naked, golden— and slightly androgynous— man is perched on top.

Hollywood loves to be “inspired” by stories of heroic disabled people overcoming the odds to achieve remarkable feats— like breathing, eating, sleeping, and making able-bodied people feel better about themselves. Since most of the writers and directors are also able-bodied, these roles are often clichéd, one-dimensional and firmly keep the disabled character in the box labeled “inspiration.” Since 1989, 14 of the 27 Best Actor winners have played a character with some kind of disability. And of those 14, only Jamie Foxx was a person of color. #OscarsSoWhite #NoRealCripplesAllowed

And that does all of us, disabled and not, a great disservice. The disabled community is just as diverse, talented, and multi-faceted as society at-large. By portraying us in such a limited way, we are all losing out.

This is why I am encouraged by the arrival of ABC’s Speechless. It’s quirky, messy and slightly irreverent— with an authenticity and edge that you rarely see in Hollywood’s depictions of disability. We live in a society that spawned the Kardashians, so generally we aren’t allowed to see anything on television that hasn’t been nipped, spray-tanned, and plastered with Botox. So, Speechless is a refreshing change.

Hope the show keeps to its roots and holds on to its edge. If you want to watch a show with sugary sentimentality, you can just watch reruns of Full House.

(For the time being, you can stream the first episode here: http://abc.go.com/shows/speechless/episode-guide/season-01/1-series-premiere-p-i-pilot)

To binge or not to binge

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When you hear the word “binge” a certain image comes to mind. A troubled person indulging in large quantities of alcohol, food or drugs. In my case, it would be the pumpkin pie I obsessively eat from October to December each year.

The word “binge” actually means “to soak a wooden vessel.” It was important to binge a boat before sailing it, otherwise your voyage was doomed before it began – much like the Titanic, the Lusitania and Donald Trump’s presidency.

On a personal note, I actually know this to be true. My grandparents had an old wooden ski boat from the 1950s. If it wasn’t soaked or “binged” properly before taking it out on the lake, its ability to float was in question – making it a very stylish death trap.

Once, when I was 9, I was sitting next to my uncle John as he drove the boat. As the wooden boat started leaking in the middle of the lake, he threw me a teasing grin and remarked that the boat might sink. I still don’t think he was completely kidding.

In the mid-19th century, the clever chaps at Oxford decided to give the word another meaning. They began to refer to their alcohol-soaked shenanigans as “binges.” Thus, the word was granted new life.

Today, a modern use of the term has entered the English vernacular. It has nothing to do with booze, drugs or even carbohydrates. It’s about watching TV. Specifically, it’s about consuming numerous episodes in a row of a single TV show – for hours. Binging is sitting in front of your TV or iPad for so long that your pants begin to fuse to your butt.

Don’t pretend like you’ve never done it. The advent of the DVR and online video streaming services like Netflix have made this all the more common. It’s now socially acceptable to ignore life and sit in your pajamas all weekend and watch endless episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

I recently discovered a great show on Netflix – BBC’s “Call the Midwife.” It has everything I love in a TV show – laughs, tears and snooty British accents.

To be frank, “Call the Midwife” is the reason you haven’t seen one of my columns in the Irrigator lately. A few weeks ago, the paper called me to see if I was available to write a column for that week. I lied and told them I was “super, super busy.” In reality, I wanted to scream: “LEAVE ME ALONE UNTIL I’M DONE WITH MY NETFLIX BINGE!”

Like most binging, I’m quite certain that this behavior isn’t healthy. It’s not wise to drink a whole bottle of vodka or eat an entire package of Oreos. So, it’s probably not a good idea to watch so much TV that your eyeballs begin to hurt.

But it’s so, so much fun.