Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Should we give "Ironside" a chance?

Does it matter that the new "Ironside", Blair Underwood, doesn't have a disability?

I'm going to take a clear, firm stand and say "Yes and No".

The first thing I want to know is whether the performance is good. If it's good … by which I mean some strong combination of authentic, realistic, nuanced, complex, and free of disability clich├ęs … then I probably won't let the lack of a first-hand disability perspective ruin my enjoyment.

If, on the other hand, the remade Ironside looks and feels like a non-disabled person's idealized or ugly conception of what it's like to be disabled, then I'll have to wonder if a real disabled actor might have done a better job.

Going back to the "if it's good" possibility, that would still lead me to ask why a disabled actor couldn't have done even better. The reason being given by the show's creators is that they want to use lots of flashbacks to incidents in Ironside's life before his injury, so they need an actor who can play both in and out of the wheelchair. But, as astute disability blogger Wheelchair Dancer points out, lots of people use wheelchairs part time, and can both walk and wheel. If they couldn't find anyone who could do both and was a great actor, then fine. Did they seriously try to find one? Or did they automatically view wheelchair use as an either / or thing? She also notes that as it is, Blair Underwood has a stunt double, who could have worked with a disabled actor to do the walking and running flashback bits.

There's also this … Who says they need a "great actor" anyway? Right now, they have a known actor, Blair Underwood, who is known because really, he is very good. On the other hand, anyone who loves TV and movies will tell you that a "name" actor isn't a guarantee of quality, and that sometimes the deepest, grittiest performances come from actors you've never heard of before. Besides, I'm not sure the new "Ironside" is really aiming to be a "prestige drama" anyway. I'd be surprised if it turns out to be, say, similar to the "Battlestar Galactica" remake … though very pleasantly surprised if it is.

I love good TV, and I have a longstanding affection for the original "Ironside", so yes, I'm going to give it a chance and I do hope above all that the new show is good, solidly entertaining, and fresh, if not profound and deep.

One thing I'll need to do is listen carefully to how wheelchair users respond to the show. I have disabilities, but I don't use a wheelchair and I don't have a spinal cord injury, so I could miss some technical inaccuracies if there are any.

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