When I start watching a new web series, I do my best to be in an open-minded, accepting place, one that leaves me free to evaluate a show’s pros and cons without bias. There is the occasional instance, though, where I’ll click play only after offering up a quick prayer to St. Clare of Assisi, asking her to do me a solid and please make sure that the show I’m about to watch does not suck. St. Clare is the patron saint of television, you see, which probably means that she also keeps an eye out for online video content. So if there’s a show I really don’t want to have to pan, she’s probably the best holy higher-up to reach out to.
I mention this because I gave St. Clare a shout out today before loading up the pilot episode for My Deaf Family, a reality web series which launched on YouTube last week and is produced by Marlee Matlin. See, I LOVE Marlee Matlin, mostly for her work as Joey Lucas on The West Wing, but in general she seems cool and ballsy and funny and she won an Oscar in the 80s, and c’mon, St. Clare, I really don’t want to have to say mean things about Marlee Matlin!
And TAKE THAT, atheists, because My Deaf Family… Well, it’s okay. 10 minutes in length, the pilot introduces us to Jared, a pretty typical 15-year-old except for the part where his family is deaf, and he is not. Anchored around him, the show sets up the clear conflicts, ranging from all-too-familiar parent vs. teenager drama to the difficulties deaf Americans face in dealing with day-to-day life.
Approaching it purely on a character level, this isn’t a family that’s tailor-made for TV, especially Bridgetta, Jared’s mom, who makes a point of interfering with his life and didn’t strike me as terribly likable. But the pilot does a lot with the details of deaf life, from small things like how they might order pizza to larger issues like Jared’s inability to help his parents understand music, and the portrait created as a result definitely has potential for a full series. The point, as Leslie, Jared’s father, says in a closing interview, is that they believe being deaf isn’t a disability, but instead a part of their identity similar to being black or a woman. “It comes from inside,” he signs while a translator speaks.
Because of the show’s focus, a great emphasis has been put on its use of YouTube’s new closed-captioning features, including translations into other languages. The availability of closed captioning for web content is definitely an important issue, one that Matlin expressed to the LA Times in a recent feature.
The future of My Deaf Family is uncertain, as the pilot, shot in two days, is all that exists currently, and there’s no intention for it to be anything other than a proof of concept. For, per the LA Times piece, Matlin isn’t looking to create a web series and is instead seeking out broadcast distribution for the idea — the pilot was put up simply to prove the idea could work and get it some attention. In the cable world, where shows like Jon and Kate Plus 8 can be hugely successful, it seems like My Deaf Family ought to be able to find a home elsewhere. But Marlee, if it doesn’t work out, then I imagine that the web will be waiting.
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