Monday, January 9, 2012

Review – “Switched at Birth” (2011)

Dear Mrs. Spangler, I did not pirate this for my paper, I wrote it. Proof: #4344321

Review – “Switched at Birth” (2011)

„Switched at Birth“ is a TV series that started airing on ABC Family in June 2011. The story revolves around two 16-year-old girls who find out that they were given to the wrong mother/family in the hospital when they were born when one of the teenagers discovers that her blood type does not match with her parents’. Bay - one of the daughters - lives in an upper class neighborhood. Her parents have a house and guest house with a pool and tennis courts on their park-like estate. A few miles away, deaf Daphne - the other daughter - lives with her ethnic single mother hairdresser and her grandma in a small apartment in a rather run-down area of Kansas City. After learning of the switch, when her mother cannot pay the rent and has to move out, Bay’s family decides to let them stay in the guest house to get to know each other and so the hustle and bustle begins. The families grapple with the social gap, their one daughter’s disability and the complications of separate biological and social family.
The characters in “Switched at Birth” are more real and flawed than in most recent TV series, showing many usual parent-child interactions set off track by the unusual situation between the families and daughters, initially posing the question which family, rich or poor, biological or social, will “win” each girl. The series comes to the conclusion that even though there is no genetic similarity, social connection over a long period of time outweighs biological relatedness, which at first upsets the idea that people who are related biologically belong together. The plot of a very different, but equally strong connection in blood that evolves while the families are getting to know each other through similarities in interest and prepositions sets this record straight. Out of this situation, a new issue is forming though: How to deal with “the other mother” when the families realize that the respective other has a rightful social claim on one’s daughter, sister or grandchild?
The very realistic portrait of life as a deaf teenager, which is another central theme in the show, is achieved by casting actually deaf or hard of hearing actors, e.g. Katie LeClerc as the deaf daughter and Sean Beardy as her deaf best friend, for most of the deaf characters. It is astounding how perfectly realistic the interactions, thoughts and reactions in that motif are portrayed and how they are helping to understand the way that many kids with disabilities are not so different and in fact able in most areas of daily life. Silent signing, along with subtitles, takes up about one fifth of the show’s lines, frequently putting the hearing viewer into the same spot that the deaf one usually holds. The actors convey that disabled people can be as capable in daily life as hearing people and that being deaf, in this example, rather means being different than having a problem that needs to be fixed or that makes a person less able. This performance is even more stunning and substantive knowing that the person conveying it is, to a certain degree, performing their daily reality.
 And yet, this show is not all about being deaf or the daughters’ switch. Producer Paul Stupin brings a vast amount of experience addressing teenager’s issues and promoting the picture of strong women on television. His involvement in the series is undeniable, bringing with him the pen stroke that made movies like “Scream” (1996) and series like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997), both of which seek to empower women, unforgettable. The simple clear cut, high contrast one-camera filming style that has also made the vampire action series a great success, enhances the show’s focus on visual stimuli. The narrow, relationship centered approach in “Switched at Birth” that focuses on a mid-sized cast of well-rounded characters rather than a small main cast and a lot of flat extras has also been used by Stupin before to make “Dawson’s Creek” the number one teenage soap of the 90s.
Bringing together the two worlds of rich and poor that are so very apart due to the usage of the same zoom of super-realism that had been applied to the show “Beverly Hills 90210” (1990), which he worked on as well, is a tremendous achievement. The extremely stereotypic depiction of the rich, the poor and the differences between those is striking though and considering that “Beverly Hills 90210” ended 11 years ago, the theme might not entice the main audience, teens and young adults, as it did in the 1990s: The show portrays Bay’s rich parents as conceded and entitled, living in their own little box of a world, unable to reach out or relate to someone other than their kind. The poor family is constructed in a typical way as well: At the beginning of the series, Daphne, her grandma and her single mom hairdresser, who non-surprisingly is a sober alcoholic, are living together in a bad part of town. Despite the evolution of relations between the two families, this deep socioeconomic gap continues producing new issues and does not regress, unlike depicted in other female driven series as “Judging Amy” (1999) or “Charmed” (1998) where such issues are solved quickly to make room for new troublesome topics. It remains to be seen if the conceptual themes of series for young people that have been established in the 90s are still applicable to teenagers and young adults today, with a twist.
Along with his great casting skills, combining all those features into one, Stupin has created a one-of-a-kind sociocritical, funny, beautiful series that yet has to reach its peak Nielsen rating, already premiering with a new ABC family record of 3.3 Million viewers.

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