“Ironside” has been cancelled, I’ve been catching up on two TV shows that I put off watching for a very long time, that offer incredibly rich, textured, and I think realistic depictions of disability. I’m talking about “Friday Night Lights” and “Parenthood”.
"Friday Night Lights" begins with a high school football player becoming a quadriplegic. "Parenthood" starts with parents trying to understand their rather weird son, and soon finding out he has Asberger's Syndrome, a form of autism.
I'm only about 3/4 of the way through "Friday Night Lights" first season, but so far they have stuck with the injured player, Jason Street and his transformation through rehab. and integration in to a disability community centered on Quad Rugby. Meanwhile, his relationship with his girlfriend Lyla Garrity has occasionally flirted with old, disturbing tropes about disability, romance, and sex, but always realistically and never simplistically. At this point I would call the depiction of disability here generally positive, while at the same time it reminds us that disability stereotypes affect the minds and points of view of disabled people themselves, especially when they are newly disabled.
Two more thoughts on both of these shows:
1. In both shows, the disabled characters and disability-centered stories are important, but not the sole focus. I think that's an important element of their success as disability depictions.
2. Neither of these shows got high ratings, but they are both considered high-quality, much admired shows, talked about among people who really love TV. Yet, very little of the talk has been about their disability themes. I'm not sure why that is.
I'd love to see more TV shows deal with disability, and I wish "Ironside" had been a better, maybe a more daring, challenging show. But, I think there's more good disability stuff already out there than we sometimes realize.