Mind-blowing Television

I never thought a show on the ABC family channel could blow my mind, but tonight’s episode of the teens drama Switched at Birth did just that.

From the beginning, I’ve been a fan of the show despite the fact that I’m woefully outside the target demographic. Partly it’s the engaging and talented cast that keeps me watching, and partly it’s the incorporation of not just deaf actors but Deaf culture that the show is getting better and better at as it continues to develop.

Tonight, however, I have a new appreciation for the show, and for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. Why? Because tonight was the much-hyped all-ASL episode, in which, with the exception of a brief scene in the beginning and a few words at the end, no audible spoken dialogue was used. (Obviously the hearing actors who were signing were speaking as they signed, we just weren’t given an audio track.)

So why was my mind blown? It’s not that I’m new to ASL. I mean, I don’t have a working knowledge of it beyond the alphabet and a few choice phrases, but I had high school classmates who were mainstreamed deaf students, so I’m past the gawking stage.

No, it’s because this episode – as it was intended to do – made me realize how much we (in general, and I in particular) rely on audio cues to follow conversations.

More than once, I’ve written about the fact that when I need noise while I’m working I play reruns of The West Wing because it’s both dialogue-heavy and familiar. I don’t need to see the facial expressions to know how Donna REALLY feels about Josh, for example.

But even when I’m watching television I haven’t seen before, I’m rarely giving it my full attention. I’m texting, reading, playing with the dogs, getting up to refill my drink or serve dinner (yeah, we often spend our one hour of tv a night eating dinner – we’re adults, it’s allowed). Rarely, however, do I truly focus on the show in question.

Tonight’s episode of Switched at Birth, however, required my full focus. I had no choice but to put down the phone, and JUST WATCH. And, yes, okay, there were music cues, but they just enhanced the emotional drama.

I knew I would respond favorably to the episode, because it was called “Uprising,” and I’m all about activism – I come from a long line of activists. But I wasn’t expecting to feel TIRED after the episode – because it does take a LOT of energy to focus – really focus – on a conversation where you don’t have even non-verbal noise to give you context.

But this is why I love this show, and why I hope many more people start watching it. Because it DOES make us pay attention. Sure, it’s still a teen drama underneath everything else, and true, it does have it’s soapy moments. Nevertheless, it’s innovative, interesting, truly compelling tv.

And that young Sean Berdy isn’t bad to look at either.

(Hey, he’s legal, and I’m allowed to look.)