This Close: Like I Always Wanted

“I was wondering why your book doesn’t have any Deaf characters?”

This Close is a slice-of-life drama giving us a cross-sectional perspective on the friendship of two Deaf people in their twertysomethings1, Kate and Michael, both of them grabbing hands and spinning as they pass along opposite trajectories: Kate going into a marriage, and Michael leaving one.

This pilot episode introduces us to both characters and the drama of their lives. It also acts as an accessible, even comic gateway into the experiences of Deaf people in America – maybe a necessary choice, given how few people are familiar with Deaf individuals in the USA. As the episode opens, the friends are headed to Seattle for Michael’s first book signing; he’s just published his first graphic novel. Kate’s seemingly along for the ride, acting as Michael’s publicist and de facto bodyguard – but has a secret purpose of her own. It’s when Michael trips the wire and roots out her secret before she can open up that the night blows up – which leads us to the major drama of the episode, and a longer stay in Seattle than expected.

Michael’s clearly struggling with depression throughout the episode. His use of drinking is never accompanied by happy partying; it’s moodiness and snoring. Even when he meets a stranger for a passing screw, the experience seems to be more about temporary relief of pain than any kind of passion. We're slowly learning facts about the breakup which seems to be behind his depression. We're also slowly developing questions about how authentic Michael is with himself and his work. Ironically, while he's achieved something great with the review of a new graphic novel, he's also aware that he's done something pretty cardboard, because he thinks "it'll sell." Kate herself isn’t sure how Michael will react to her own engagement, and when Michael does express support, doubts it. I have to admit that Michael's self-doubt and questioning is deeply familiar both to me and many Deaf gay men in the community.



Kate, in fact, is struggling with doubt. It’s telling that she breaks down her engagement experience for Michael while they’re both in a very safe and confined cell. What she adds to the experience shows us that she worries her fiance still doesn’t fully ‘get’ Kate as a Deaf woman, which is something, alas, that our community has struggled with for decades. Kate's partner has pushed her into anxiety and she has to question whether that disconnect is something he can outgrow. Marriage is a gamble with a three-carat-ring.

This pilot episode works best in my opinion when it moves past the attempts to explain Deaf experiences and just dive into those experiences. Spotlighting Deaf experiences by themselves, like at the airport on the way into Seattle, renders them farcical; it's when Deaf experiences are woven into the drama, like when Michael's removed from the plane because of his drinking, or the scene where Michael and Kate are fighting while an interpreter simultaneously watches them and responds to an innocent hearing person’s remarks about how fast sign language is, that the writing holds both drama and humor. These characters are Deaf people who are functional professionals working in traditionally hearing careers, and they have an incredible strength in getting this far. I love Kate - she makes me think of a lot of strong Deaf women I know - but I find myself a little uncertain about Michael. And, maybe, a little worried.

Bits and Pieces

The bookstore owner also bordered on the farcical. Michael’s responses to customers in the store are also pretty lackluster. I can’t tell if he’s just inexperienced or not trying. The confrontation in the store, where another Deaf man questions why Michael’s book lacks Deaf characters, is important because it gives us insight into how Michael relates to the world. He doesn’t see where he fits, so he can’t be found in his own writing. Other than her relationship to two men and the fact that she works in PR and has no clients of her own, we learn remarkably little about Kate – except that she second-guesses herself.

As a Deaf person I'm not used to seeing Deaf characters on television. I admit watching this episode was sometimes more painful and personal than I've experienced television in the past.

Michael looks freaked out when an audience member asks about his fiance. One thing about Gus, he caught that and moved right on.

Is Michael a complete fake when it comes to his art? I guess we'll find out.

Quotables

Gus: He's just so handsome in person. But don't interpret that please. Just – he didn't hear that right? I mean, not hear, but, you know. Uh, come inside.

Audience Member: But why not make Skip Deaf? That seems like it'd be perfect, a great fit.
Michael: It would have been harder to sell.

Overall

An intriguing first episode. It has a little bit of a Tales of the City vibe. There’s clunky moments though, and I think there’s a lot of screen time spent on moments like walking through hallways which don’t add much to the sense of drama and could be cut. Or maybe that's the Sundance vibe. Three out of five stars.

Footnotes1: I don't think it ever becomes clear what their ages are, but twenty to thirty seems about right, so, twertysomething!

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