Overlooked: Speechless

Centring disability: ABC’s best cancelled family sitcom

Overlooked: <em>Speechless</em>

“Inspiration porn, what’s that?” asked Kenneth.

“It’s a portrayal of people with disabilities as one-dimensional saints who only exist to warm the hearts and open the minds of able-bodied people,” answered Ray.

“I blame Tiny Tim,” JJ added.

This humourous and to-the-point explanation comes courtesy of the ABC show ​Speechless. A couple years ago, in my NEW241Y1 — Introduction to Disability Studies course, my professor played this clip. I remembered being drawn to the show out of curiosity. I originally dipped into it with a purely analytical purpose; as a student studying equity and disability, I was intrigued.

What I encountered was a thoughtful, well-written, and genuinely funny show that quickly became one of my favourites. Micah Fowler stars as JJ DiMeo, a teenager with cerebral palsy. He uses a wheelchair and is non-verbal, hence the title of the show.

The series follows his family: his mother Maya (Minnie Driver), father Jimmy (John Ross Bowie), and younger siblings Ray (Mason Cook) and Dylan (Kyla Kennedy). The series begins with a move to an upscale new town in order to allow JJ to attend a more accessible school.

Cedric Yarbrough plays Kenneth Clements, the school janitor-turned personal aide. Being racialized, Kenneth is able to connect with JJ using their shared experiences of oppression.

The show is for all audiences, as the driving story arcs are common and relatable problems for most families; they just have the added element of disability and access. Something I distinctly love about ​Speechless​ is its depiction of a low-income household: the DiMeo’s make ends meet, but they certainly can’t afford nice things, and their working-class poverty becomes a point of contention throughout the show. The representation of such a common experience is profound for mainstream television.

Speechless​ is in a league of its own; centring a disability narrative has never been done in this way. On the rare occasion a disability does appear in mainstream television or movies, it is often as an afterthought, a threat, or a portrayal of some sort of trope. Characters with disabilities often exist only to aid the journey and build the character of the central figure who doesn’t have a disability. Disability is portrayed as something undesirable, and rarely as a viable, livable reality.

Scott Silveri, the creator of the show, based the story on his own experiences, as his brother has cerebral palsy. It’s also important to note that Fowler is an actor with a disability playing a character with a disability — something relatively unheard of. Fowler is a wheelchair user and has cerebral palsy.

Speechless ​asks the real questions. Will JJ ever be able to live independently? Can he ever have a family of his own? Will he graduate high school and continue along a normative path of education to success? The conversations are uncomfortable at times, and the answers are not always black-and-white, but this is exactly why we, as viewers, must challenge our beliefs and grow toward uncertainty.

Even though we are in the midst of a cultural awakening, much too often disability oppression is left out of our activism. Speechless is a breath of fresh air and exactly what we need right now. And it’s actually funny — trust me!

Everyone should be watching Speechless.

“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!”

10 films and TV shows to maintain motivation for another school year

“I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be!”

Pull up your socks, plaster on a smile, and try and make it to your 9:00 am classes. Not only does September mark the beginning of the school year, but it’s also a good time for a spiritual and emotional cleansing.

Gone are the mistakes, issues, and shortcomings of life before Labour Day. They don’t matter anymore, now that you’re entering the next chapter of your life.

Since you’re beginning this new chapter, it would be nice to gain some motivation and build momentum toward your goals. If you’re like me, you get much of your motivation from watching fictional characters work hard to overcome the obstacles they face. There’s a specific way in which film and television romanticizes hard work and determination that you wish you could just apply to your everyday life.

In that vein, here is a list of films and TV shows that I have curated specifically for the student looking to feel motivated this fall.

For romanticizing campus life: Mistress America

Mistress America gets you into the campus mood because much of the film takes place on campus. It stars Lola Kirke as Tracey, a young woman trying to find her niche when she starts university in the city. Mistress America feels like a quintessential U of T film; it even includes fun campus quirks such as fro-yo socials, uncomfortable dorm parties, and a secret literary society.

For career goals: The Bold Type

While The Bold Type is a show about the workplace, it still motivates the student. In essence, it focuses on three career-oriented women trying to advance in their respective career paths. The Bold Type emphasizes the millennial value of finding a meaningful career because this show challenges its characters, and by extension, its audience, to broaden their horizons and work harder towards success. Plus, Melora Hardin is just as iconic as Jacqueline Carlyle.

For ultimate motivation: Legally Blonde

This is the ultimate university motivation film. The scene alone when Warren tells Elle that she isn’t smart enough, resulting in Elle exclaiming, “I’ll show you how valuable Elle Woods can be,” is enough to sell you. Elle initially attends law school out of spite, but she quickly develops an affinity for practicing law. Legally Blonde showcases a motivational character working hard and proving her intelligence, despite the constant opposition and ridicule she experiences.

For tenacity: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel follows a format similar to Legally Blonde format of a woman motivated to succeed following a breakup. It stars Rachel Brosnahan as Miriam “Midge” Maisel, a woman working hard to make it in the stand-up comedy field despite the limitations set up against her as a woman in the 1950s.

For the creative type: Mozart in the Jungle

I have a deep appreciation for anyone going into a creative or artistic field. It feels like the odds of achieving success are stacked against them, yet they power through anyway. Mozart in the Jungle is a show that understands this commitment to art. It understands the sacrifices, hardships, and excitement you experience when things finally work out.

For fun: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Out of all the shows or movies on this list, Buffy is the most fun. At its core, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show about growing up and what it means to become an adult. Though it’s not necessarily about studying, it’s one of those shows that inspires you to find your calling. The show does a surprisingly great job of portraying the transition to university life and how demanding university can be. Plus, the perfect antidote for school-time fatigue is watching Sarah Michelle Gellar punch demons in the face. Trust me.

For dealing with transition: Lady Bird

Lady Bird is about Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, a young woman who wants to broaden her horizons and move beyond her suburban hometown of Sacramento. While the film supports Lady Bird’s ambitions, she grows an appreciation for where she comes from that can only be acquired once you leave. This is a tender coming-of-age story about the difficult transition to university life.

For new experiences: Grace and Frankie

Grace and Frankie follows a pair of motivated women focused on rebuilding their lives after their husbands come out of the closet. The reason this ‘dramedy’ series about women in their 70s resonates with students is simple: they’re both highly motivated women who prove that the excitement for change experienced in Lady Bird doesn’t just stop when you reach a certain age. There are always new experiences to be had; the key is to keep trying.

For romanticizing studying: Gilmore Girls

There’s no show that romanticizes education like Gilmore Girls. This show actually understands the hard work and determination put in by students every day. It also reminds us how great it is to be in a place where our responsibility is to learn. It’s not surprising that Rory Gilmore has inspired an entire generation of motivated students. If you’re looking to stay motivated, don’t watch A Year in the Life, the sequel to Gilmore Girls.

For when things don’t work out: Frances Ha

Frances Ha is the companion film to Mistress America. This is a film that normalizes being in a place where you don’t have everything together quite yet, but that’s okay. Some things just take time, and university is one of those things. If you’re feeling down or things aren’t going your way, just take a deep breath and remember it takes time to find the right groove.

Overlooked: The Fall

BBC drama is not your typical psychological thriller

Overlooked: <i>The Fall</i>

Recently, in mainstream media, the portrayal of sensitive topics — such as sexual assault and suicide — has fueled the ongoing debate about whether dramatizing these issues creates a platform for discussion, or rather illustrates them in a glorified manner.

One lesser-known British TV show, The Fall, is a stellar example of TV tackling complex issues in a sensitive manner, without oversimplifying them.

The Fall stars Gillian Anderson, who plays the ice-cold police superintendent Stella Gibson, pitted against the charming Jamie Dornan, who plays Paul Spector — a family man by day and serial killer by night.

The three-season series is set up to seem like a typical good versus evil manhunt, but quickly evolves into a criticism of the use of such dichotomies in mainstream television.

It takes on issues such as sexual assault, consent, consent among minors, views on female promiscuity, and the problems women face in male-dominated work forces, carefully dissecting them in a way that reveals the danger of approaching anything as black and white.

In addition to exploring such difficult topics, the show is refreshing in its diversion from a typical whodunit storyline, instead favouring the psychological aspects behind the behaviourisms of the killer.

In fact, much of the third season focuses on the serial killer’s past, instilling doubt about the origins of evil and where to cast blame. It completely destroys the notions of ‘good guy, bad guy’ that were so carefully built up in the first two seasons, effectively forcing the viewer to confront their own beliefs about good and evil, morality, and the justice system.

The show is a must watch for anyone interested in the functions of the human mind or the relationship between moral and legal culpability. It culminates in a shocking finale that leaves the viewer with virtually no answers — with the story lingering in the mind for weeks afterward.

However, this show is most certainly not for everyone. As expected, it leaves little to the imagination — so anyone who cannot make it through an episode of Criminal Minds should probably steer clear.

Moreover, although the plot reads like a drama, the British show stays true to its nature by being almost entirely devoid of over-the-top demonstrations of emotion, instead letting the viewer interpret a character’s inner thoughts for themselves.

However, if you prefer to skip cheesy love triangles and get right to the good stuff, I’d add The Fall to the list.

We shouldn’t be surprised Netflix is trying to conquer late night

Talk shows are just another step toward the service’s total TV domination

We shouldn’t be surprised Netflix is trying to conquer late night

Netflix’s transformation of the television industry has long been debated as being either a blessing or bane for the old gogglebox. With the streaming giant’s latest string of original programming, that debate has now zeroed in on one specific genre: late night.

Talk shows have been around forever, but Netflix seems to be trying to work its magic to bring new dynamics to the tried and true late night formula.

Bill Nye’s Bill Nye Saves the World cuts to enough celebrity segments to give it the feel of a talk show, but it primarily focuses on zany experimentation and palatable scientific explanations. Chelsea Handler’s now-canceled Chelsea eschewed the traditional monologue in favour of longer interviews, more cinematic and comedic segments, and even ‘remote’ dinner parties featuring multiple guests.

One of Netflix’s latest ventures, The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, exposes its viewers to a wide range of content, some drawn from the internet. It harkens back to not only McHale’s previous show on E!, The Soup, but another clip show of old: Ray William Johnson’s Equals Three.

Elsewhere, Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman have managed to make the simple art of conversation exciting again with Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee and My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, not to mention Jim Rash’s talk show lite take on behind-the-scenes footage with Beyond Stranger Things.

With these exciting, fresh takes on a classic genre, Netflix is cleverly combining its own pedigree with the individual star power of big-name celebrities to usher in a new age of late night — the same kind of new age it brought with its other originals. The revolution is truly being televised.

No revolution is without its opponents, however. Netflix has been blamed for significantly impacting traditional cable viewership with its à la carte nature and quality original programming.

Netflix boasts a slew of high-profile shows with large fanbases under its Netflix Original label. Stranger Things, for example, has had such a cultural impact that it warranted a coveted Super Bowl halftime trailer for its second season.

The influence of the Netflix special has even made its way into comedy. The service has begun to offer many comedians, seemingly regardless of their mainstream popularity, the chance to film their own hour.

Late night is only the latest foray Netflix has made into original programming, and it might have only just begun. The Daily Show alum Michelle Wolf, a standup comedian and long-time contributor to the satirical news show, recently announced her own talk show venture with the streaming giant. Fellow Daily Show alums Jessica Williams and Hasan Minhaj have also contributed to the Netflix catalogue, and Minhaj also recently secured his own deal with Netflix for a talk show.

The talk show correspondents and hosts who have attracted Netflix’s attention prove that the streaming service has an eye for talent and is willing to expend its resources to lure them away from traditional broadcasting.

The great prestige attached to its original work and the unprecedented access it provides to an ever-expanding library of network TV shows have firmly established Netflix as not only a part of the industry, but of the cultural zeitgeist.

Such a force cannot exist without challenge or something to challenge. Netflix very much seems to be gearing up to actively compete with traditional cable television. Be it in late night, standup, or scripted shows, the Netflix Original is undeniably on the rise.