In Praise of “Switched At Birth”

Some programs grab you right away…at times, even before they air. Switched At Birth was that for me. Still, new programs are a crapshoot. Even if you watch for an actor or a premise, the fact is that you never know what you are going to get until you see it. Now, two episodes in, I have nothing but praise for this show.

The initial draw for me was Vanessa Marano, who plays Bay Kennish. Ms Marano won me over back when she played April (Luke Danes’ previously-not-known-about daughter) on Gilmore Girls. Since then, she has never given me a reason not to want to watch her ply her craft. She’s become one of my go-to actors. So, just with this, I was definitely going to tune in.

An added bonus for me was the story twist. No, not the one that Bay and another girl, Daphne Vasquez played by Katie Leclerc, were mistakenly raised by each other’s biological parents. That’s pretty standard sit-dram stuff. No, the twist that also would have gotten me to tune in was that Bay’s “switch-ter” was deaf. The deaf aspect is something that has always gotten my attention…so I’m going to take a small digression to tell you why.

I don’t have deaf in my family, and I’ve had no long-term deaf friends, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been touched by the culture. I did most of my schooling in the Washington, DC area–which has a more visible deaf population than is noticed in most communities. During high school, I’d often have contact with deaf and hard of hearing customers. I tried learning what I could from books so that our interactions weren’t too awkward, but there’s only so much you can do when you’re also doing all the other school stuff. In college, I became acquaintances/friends with a few students who attended Gallaudet University. Off-and-on over a few years, they helped me learn some ASL as well as introduce me a little into their culture.

With that as a background, my attention has often been drawn to programs where there is some deaf theme. I’ve even incorporated deaf characters into some of my own unpublished/unproduced works. When I saw that Daphne was going to add that element into Switched At Birth, I simply had to watch.

I was blown away. The cast is stellar and the writing is solid (I’m not going to spoil anything, so I’ll leave it there). But more than that, it’s sparked a lot of discussion here at the Casa.

I introduced my mom to this show, and she was hooked by it as quickly as I was. Even more, we’ve discussed many aspects of the two episodes shown to-date: parenting, deafness, class, nature, nurture, teens, love, money, tolerance, and on and on. For most shows, 5-10 minutes will cover it, if we discuss it at all. With this one, we talk in-depth for much, much longer. The hallmark of a good show is that it prompts the audience to do more than simply watch it—and this is a very good show.

Vanessa brings the goods, as always. Katie matches her, stride for stride. I love it when these two get to act together. They’ve got that chemistry. In fact, just about the entire cast has chemistry. And yes, deafness is an important element of the show, but it isn’t a show about the deaf. If I were to describe this, I’d call it an “in-law” show. You have two families that are forced by circumstance to be around each other, but it’s only the two principles (Bay and Daphne as switch-ters taking the place of the analogized newlyweds) that are the ones with the deep, visceral need to make it work.

Whether you watch it for the character drama, or the stars, or you try to revitalize your ability to sign, or you simply have an hour you want to spend watching TV, I humbly nudge you in the direction of this intriguing family drama. ABC Family, Mondays 9ET (and, as of this writing, on Hulu.com http://www.hulu.com/switched-at-birth).

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