I think I may have posted about this before, but after watching Season Two of “Orange Is The New Black”, the thought has come up again. Could someone develop a short-run TV show, along the lines of “Orange Is The New Black”, that focused on people with different kinds of disabilities and life experiences? I’m thinking that a nursing home or “day program” might be a good setting. Key elements might include:
- A new arrival who has lived independently with disability for his or her whole life, but wound up here due to hard times, extremely bad luck, and / or a sudden loss of autonomy.
- Disabled people who don’t want to be there, and are stuck because of lack of resources, domineering families, bureaucratic red tape, or lack of strong motivation to get out.
- Disabled people who “like” the institutional setting, because it feels safe and allows them to escape adult responsibilities.
- Conflict between people with different disabilities … those with lifelong disabilities vs. new disabilities, physical disabilities vs. cognitive, old vs. young, etc.
- Idealistic staff who push their own ideas and don’t really listen to what the disabled people want.
- “Burnt out” staff who actually do respect and care about the disabled people, but have been beaten down by a wrongheaded system and are out of ideas.
- A constant blend of interpersonal conflict and over-arching systemic corruption. Like the OITNB prison, the nursing home or day program would be depicted as flawed by its very nature, with small redemptive elements that can never be fulfilled because of how the system is structured.
The only way I could see any of this working would be if the characters were deeply developed and conflicted. Standard disability tropes would either have to be banished altogether, or else introduced then radically undermined as we got to know them as people. I think that the OITNB technique of using flashbacks to give us the background on characters might also work very well for this kind of disability story.
Another key I think would be for viewers to have an idea of what they’d be watching going in, and be sort of up for it, and then be blown away with how much more complex the stories and characters turn out to be. And, it would have to be written by someone intimately familiar with the specific issues and corruptions of the disability “industry”.
What would you like to see in a high-quality disability-themed TV show?
Disability life, ideas, identity, culture, commentary, and politics.