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Teaching Viewers to Hear the TV With Eyes Only
March 10, 2013 4:57 PM   Subscribe

"This week ABC Family did something that no commercial television channel in the United States had ever done: It broadcast an entire episode of a show, “Switched at Birth,” in American Sign Language, with next to no oral dialogue."
posted by bdz (21 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Among other things, it got this somewhat underappreciated show so much free publicity.

The show is excellent and deserves to be watched. The title is misleading.
posted by jeather at 5:02 PM on March 10, 2013 [3 favorites]


I (secretly) love this show! I got hooked on the pilot, and have stuck with it, even through its impossibly long hiatus in the middle of the first season. It's soapy, but there's something great about it.

And I agree, it was strange to have to put down my phone and only watch this episode, with no distractions. (Okay, okay, I initially watched the pilot because I was a Gilmore Girl's fan, and the girl who plays Bay was the late-seasons "Cousin Oliver" on Gilmore Girls, but I liked her anyway.)
posted by MoxieProxy at 5:05 PM on March 10, 2013


I have spent the whole weekend watching nonstop after that ep. It's clearly a show written by smart, thoughtful people.
posted by prefpara at 5:15 PM on March 10, 2013


The show started out well, but the increasingly ridiculous soap opera storyline became too much. It's look into deaf culture was interesting though. The show as oddly distracting at time, because there would be audio, as characters signed long conversations. A bit disorienting, yet revelatory.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:16 PM on March 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


Save on mics, though.
posted by klangklangston at 5:16 PM on March 10, 2013


LOVE this show, and so glad it made the blue! Was tempted to post about the all-ASL episode myself.

The show started out well, but the increasingly ridiculous soap opera storyline became too much = there are some bad ones, unfortunately, particularly (possible SPOILERS AHEAD) the whole Regina/Angelo "marriage". It was like the writers dug themselves into a hole and couldn't think of any betters ways to pull out of it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:01 PM on March 10, 2013


I thought the whole Regina-not-being-able-to-sign thing was odd, but then learned it was because the actress, Constance Marie, actually hurt herself learning to sign!

"In the very beginning," she told us. "I had absolutely no life. I didn't want to offend the deaf community or the Latino community, or the large Latino deaf community that's out there–I didn't want to insult any of them, and I didn't want to be half an actress. So I rehearsed in the shower, I rehearsed in my car. I rehearsed all the time, 'cause I had to look like I'd done it for twelve years. And I was so good that they wrote even more scenes for me, and I ended up getting double tendonitis in my arms."

Oh, and the New Yorker likes this show, too.
posted by MoxieProxy at 6:15 PM on March 10, 2013


So I was wondering about the presence of "in the United States" in that sentence. A bit of poking about shows that Germany has a weekly news program that is entirely signed (which is interesting because something like less than 10% of German television is captioned).
posted by hoyland at 6:22 PM on March 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


No video link?
posted by atomicmedia at 6:57 PM on March 10, 2013


Hulu link to the episode.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:24 PM on March 10, 2013


ABCFamily link to the episode (available until 3/18)
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:25 PM on March 10, 2013


This is pretty admirable and I'll check out the show. I've been curious about the show because I watch Bunheads, which comes on the same night.

Thanks for sharing this.
posted by shoesietart at 9:10 PM on March 10, 2013


Huh. I'd always assumed "Switched at Birth" was one of those reenactment-heavy documentary shows like "I Didn't Know I Was Pregnant."
posted by Sys Rq at 10:14 PM on March 10, 2013


The NYT article says, "“Who knew a teen show on ABC Family could be so cutting edge?” said Beth Haller, a journalism professor at Towson University in Maryland"

Well -- anyone who watches ABC Family? In the last decade they've developed some astonishingly high-quality programming, which don't get all that much critical attention because they're aimed at teenaged girls. Not all of their shows hit (and, okay, Melissa and Joey is just dumb, not that I've missed an episode so far), but the ones that do all have in common that they take the lives and concerns of teenagers (especially teenaged girls) seriously and treat them with nuance and sensitivity. Their shows mostly exist within fairly soapy frameworks, but the characters that populate them are developed in rich and interesting and true ways -- and it's all done while keeping the shows pretty PG, PG-13 at most. They're not raunchy or trashy. They manage to handle "adult themes" without being visually explicit but without talking down to their audience either. "Greek" was astonishing to me the first few times I saw it because it handled underaged drinking and college student sex without either moralizing or romanticizing; it was handled in a matter-of-fact, realistic fashion, which is just an amazing thing on mainstream television. "Bunheads" has been hit-or-miss for me, but the complexity of the main adult characters on a show aimed at teenagers is remarkable, and the sexuality plots with the girls have been just breaking my heart with their realness (especially Ginny last week, *sob*!)

Every middle-aged woman I know is addicted to at least one ABC Family show (as appointment viewing, no less, and all over their Facebook feeds) but also, REAL TALK, all of their husbands and boyfriends have Strong Opinions on whether Kaylie should have forgiven Lauren on MIOBI. All of their shows FEEL like guilty pleasures and hit that guilty-pleasure formula, but they tend to have highly-specific settings that are mined for their specificity rather than as generic plot backdrop (elite gymnastics, ballerinas, deaf teens). Even "Greek," set in frats and sororities on a generic college campus, mined the details of that life -- characters' majors, the details of living in a sorority house -- rather than just using it as a shorthand and a way to throw the characters together; the characters have actual lives they have to live. It barely matters that Ted is an architect on How I Met Your Mother, but it totally mattered that Rusty was a polymer science major in Greek.

So if I were looking for a mainstream show that handled the nuances of disability in a sensitive way? ABC Family would totally be the first place I'd look. They're willing to develop specific, non-generic characters and settings in a way that few other places on TV are, and willing to allow those characters to experience things in truthful ways, even if it doesn't tie up in a neat bow or make a good morality tale or stay inside apparently-mandatory tropes.

Anyway, rock on! I haven't seen the ep yet but am totally looking forward to it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:39 PM on March 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: "The NYT article says, "“Who knew a teen show on ABC Family could be so cutting edge?” said Beth Haller, a journalism professor at Towson University in Maryland"

Well -- anyone who watches ABC Family? In the last decade they've developed some astonishingly high-quality programming, which don't get all that much critical attention because they're aimed at teenaged girls. Not all of their shows hit (and, okay, Melissa and Joey is just dumb, not that I've missed an episode so far), but the ones that do all have in common that they take the lives and concerns of teenagers (especially teenaged girls) seriously and treat them with nuance and sensitivity. Their shows mostly exist within fairly soapy frameworks, but the characters that populate them are developed in rich and interesting and true ways -- and it's all done while keeping the shows pretty PG, PG-13 at most. They're not raunchy or trashy. They manage to handle "adult themes" without being visually explicit but without talking down to their audience either. "Greek" was astonishing to me the first few times I saw it because it handled underaged drinking and college student sex without either moralizing or romanticizing; it was handled in a matter-of-fact, realistic fashion, which is just an amazing thing on mainstream television. "Bunheads" has been hit-or-miss for me, but the complexity of the main adult characters on a show aimed at teenagers is remarkable, and the sexuality plots with the girls have been just breaking my heart with their realness (especially Ginny last week, *sob*!)

Every middle-aged woman I know is addicted to at least one ABC Family show (as appointment viewing, no less, and all over their Facebook feeds) but also, REAL TALK, all of their husbands and boyfriends have Strong Opinions on whether Kaylie should have forgiven Lauren on MIOBI. All of their shows FEEL like guilty pleasures and hit that guilty-pleasure formula, but they tend to have highly-specific settings that are mined for their specificity rather than as generic plot backdrop (elite gymnastics, ballerinas, deaf teens). Even "Greek," set in frats and sororities on a generic college campus, mined the details of that life -- characters' majors, the details of living in a sorority house -- rather than just using it as a shorthand and a way to throw the characters together; the characters have actual lives they have to live. It barely matters that Ted is an architect on How I Met Your Mother, but it totally mattered that Rusty was a polymer science major in Greek.

So if I were looking for a mainstream show that handled the nuances of disability in a sensitive way? ABC Family would totally be the first place I'd look. They're willing to develop specific, non-generic characters and settings in a way that few other places on TV are, and willing to allow those characters to experience things in truthful ways, even if it doesn't tie up in a neat bow or make a good morality tale or stay inside apparently-mandatory tropes.

Anyway, rock on! I haven't seen the ep yet but am totally looking forward to it.
"

I don't watch them as I am STILL pissed they cancelled what (to me at least) was a funny, original, well-written, well acted show that was a serious favourite of mine.

AND it was family friendly. (Mostly)

Jerks.
posted by Samizdata at 12:21 AM on March 11, 2013


Yeah, still ticked on The Middleman too. And Ten Things I Hate About You. But...yeah.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:47 AM on March 11, 2013


I don't know.
It's no Hush. #JossWasRobbed.

I scanned the article. How easy was it to understand what was going on?
And were there subtitles?
posted by Mezentian at 6:18 AM on March 11, 2013


Yes, there were subtitles. Here is a sneak peek.
posted by bdz at 6:32 AM on March 11, 2013


As a man in my late 20s, my "appointment viewing" ABC Family Show is Pretty Little Liars, I don't watch any of the other shows on the Network, but PLL is really enjoyable. It's trashy, I mean obviously, it's trashy, but it's also well executed, and has one of the better lesbian characters on TV that I'm aware of.

I'm pretty sure it also features a character with a disability, since blindness is the only real explanation for some of Aria's clothing choices.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:11 AM on March 11, 2013


I vaguely remember a (car?) ad that was silent, with the person/actor communicating through sign language. My mom and I had turned away from the TV during the prior ads, but turned when the TV went silent. Silence in the midst of so much noise stands out instantly.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:43 AM on March 11, 2013


I found the incidental music incredibly annoying to the point I just turned the sound right down for most of it. I prefer the scenes where they just play kind of muffled background noises. They are a little weird and jarring at first but at least they're not so clearly manipulative as the over the top music in this show.

I've been watching Switched At Birth since the start. What I like about the deaf characters is that they get to have their own share of normal teen drama (well, as normal as a soapy show like this ever is) that's unrelated to their hearing status just like all the other characters. There is a lot of stuff about how being deaf informs their life also, but that's not the whole sum of their experience or personalities. And actually, most of the main characters are pretty well realised and multi-faceted which is probably what keeps me watching despite the occasional overly-soapy and stupid storyline.
posted by shelleycat at 9:38 AM on March 11, 2013 [2 favorites]


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