Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: First 2 Episodes of "Switched at Birth"

I'm pretty sure I saw an extended preview of this show when I was watching the premiere of My Future Boyfriend. I am pretty sure my friends shot it down... but I remembered to bookmark it in my head so I could watch it this summer.

Okay, so the basic plot summary is that privileged Bay Kennish takes a blood test in her bio class and figures out that she cannot be biologically related to her parents. So genetic tests are done, and voila! Dark-haired Bay is not part of the redheaded Kennish clan. It turns out that she and Daphne Vasquez, who is deaf and comes from a poor background, were switched at birth because of a hospital mishap. Now enter the MOMMY WARS. Who gets to have a say in what child's life? Regina Vasquez, single mom extraordinaire, and Kathryn Kennish, pilates bougie mom, square off in the fight for control over the daughters and their bio-daughters. And then they move in together. OH, DAMN!

As someone who has always enjoyed the identical-stranger genre of family entertainment (The Parent Trap, Model Behavior, Sister Sister, It Takes Two), I was intrigued by the show. Daphne and Bay are obviously ... not twins. However, it has a lot of the tropes that the identical-stranger genre generally has. One grows up privileged, the other poor. One is the out-going trouble-maker, the other "the good girl." There is one or more single parent. There is some existential angst about wondering about the hypothetical other life. And then there is mixing of the lifestyles that makes for the good television/movie. (For an example that involves boys/not identical strangers, this same formula is also played out when Ryan joins the Cohen family in The O.C. The formula works because the contrast makes it interesting. Sort of. Besides it not being original.)

Okay, so positives about the show:
+ It is acknowledging the privilege of the Kennishes, and I think it's doing a good job with that.
+ Daphne is a deaf character and she's really awesome. In general, I've liked how the show has dealt with the Kennishes misunderstanding deaf culture and how Regina has stuck up for Daphne. I love that deaf culture is getting some mainstream visibility!
+Interracial couples galore! Mixed heritages! Wee-hee!
+ Neither Daphne nor Bay outshines the other, they are both really talented actresses who have complex and interesting characters, and are most of all... interesting and compelling female leads! (Take that, Blake Lively!)

-Kathryn Kennish suffers from Carrie Bradshaw Brain Syndrome. What? Unfamiliar with C.B.B.S.? Well, it is when a rich, fictional character has no depth and talks constantly only about her own interests. Sometimes this is comical, but it is not meant to be.
-The polar-opposites thing is a little tired... Christian Kennishes and non-religious Vasquezes! Gun-toting republican Kennishes and liberal Vasquezes! Rich and poor! Married and single!
-Do high schoolers actually flirt that well? This may be some personal jealousy I am projecting, but I don't think high schoolers flirt like that.

In general, I really like the show. Like on Greek, and Huge, I think ABC Family relies on heightened/stereotypical traits at the get-go which straighten out as the characters have time to develop past 2 episodes, so I am hopeful that the stuff I find irritating will dissipate as the show goes on. But I think it's going to be a really interesting show, and I'm interested to see how they continue to engage in dialogues about race, class, and deaf culture on the show.

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