These aren’t be the best or the worst … just the most notable disability moments I saw this year. What did I forget?
1. Flynn (Walter, Jr.) finally steals a scene or two on “Breaking Bad”.
Flynn did more in the last three episodes of “Breaking Bad” than he did in the entire rest of the series. First he physically defended his mother Skyler, from his father Walt’s attack. Then he arguably delivered the definitive condemnation to Walt in a phone conversation where he utterly, definitively rejects Walter’s efforts to reconcile. Flynn was woefully under-utilized for almost the entire run of this excellent series. Still, his disability was never either masked nor over-played. A different writing team might have made Flynn's disability the main motivation or excuse for Walter White's escalating greed. In the end, keeping Flynn on the back burner so long may have made his confrontations with Walt that much more powerful. Whatever. It was just so cathartic for me to see Flynn not only turn against his father (about time!), but physically defend his mother in a way that looked very realistic for someone with exactly his kind of disability. It wasn't like his disability magically disappeared. He basically had to throw himself between Walt and Skyler, then use his arms and crutches to back up against Skyler, all while facing Walt. And, of course, whipping out his cell phone and dialing 911. It was the opposite of elegant stage fighting, but brutally realistic.
Both of these shows give us depictions of people with Asberger Syndrome that are sometimes problematic and simplistic. However, there were moments of real insight this year in both shows. On "Parenthood", Max started to emerge as a real person, rather than a bundle of funny / aggravating tics. Also, I felt like I saw glimmers of a subtext suggesting that Max's parents are more messed up and selfish regarding Max than Max is himself ... even though extreme self-centeredness is supposedly his defining characteristic. As for Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory", the scene where he and Amy talked about the nature of their relationship more than made up for another season of cheap laughs at Sheldon's expense.
These two shows couldn’t be more different, but each introduced a part-time or short-term character in a wheelchair. Interestingly, both were female, African-American teenagers. Both were balanced, realistic characters who contributed to their shows’ plots without overwhelming them. Both were fun to watch, and more or less empowering. And because they were minor characters, they were pleasant surprises.
It should have been a landmark, a breakthrough for depictions of wheelchair users. It could have been a true "reimagining", like "Battlestar Galactica", with deeper characters, compelling story arcs, and a distinct visual style. Instead it played like a generic procedural that happened to feature a cop in a wheelchair. I'd love to see Blair Underwood reprise his Ironside role as a guest on other cop shows. I really think that might work better than trying to build a whole show around the character as it was written.
I stopped watching after the fourth episode, out of pure apathy. It was okay, but just okay, in a year when there were great shows of all kinds, every night. The disability messages were good, but it feels like they have said all there is to say about Parkinson’s Disease, which leaves just a dated sitcom about enormously privileged, atypical people living in Manhattan.
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