Stay Home and Watch This

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on July 20, 2022 # Lifestyle

If you are like me, you won’t be wandering too far off the farm this summer. I see all those people on TV jampacked into airports and ask, “What are they thinking?” On top of the fact that air travel now has all the charm and comfort of a Peruvian bus ride, if that, airfare is up 40% in the last year. And they seem to cancel flights on a whim these days or because they can’t find someone sober to steer the ship. Well, then, get in the car and head for Lake Bemidji. With the national average for gas topping $5 a gallon and rising, you might have to borrow against your house, but what the heck? The kids don’t have to go to college right away.

I’m staying at home, sipping lemon drop martinis, and catching up on the many current TV offerings featuring disabled characters. Five years ago, I wouldn’t be watching much. A great show was taking off on ABC called Speechless, starring a teenager with CP (now canceled). You could tune into NCIS: New Orleans to see Darrell “Chill” Mitchell roll around the station in his wheelchair (canceled). The one remaining show from that period is ABC’s The Good Doctor, which often deals with disability issues.

Then things began to open up a little. A popular movie and its sequel, A Quiet Place, starring deaf actress Millicent Simmons, made a zillion dollars, and other disability-centric shows started popping up like Netflix’s Special, created by, written by, and starring cerebral palsy survival Ryan O’Connell, and Hulu’s Ramy, costarring Steve Way, with MD, as Ramy’s best friend. (Ramy is coming back for season three in July). Last year the whole country sat up when CODA aired on Apple+, swept the Oscars, and set a new benchmark for absorbing disability drama. The sign language was so expressive, one friend said it broke her concentration when people actually talked.

Post CODA, there is a healthy offering of new and very good shows exploring the reality of disability. My personal favorite is Love on the Spectrum on Netflix, an American version of an Australian reality show where a diverse group of people on the autism spectrum search for love. All the participants are engaging, in their own offbeat way, but the prize goes to Steve, a 63-year-old gent, who is exceedingly kind, funny, and endearing. Beloved by fans, one called him “the purest of souls,” and another exclaimed, “If this man doesn’t find love, then I’m suing @netflix."

On par with Love on the Spectrum is the Amazon series, The Way We See It, from brilliant writer/producer Jason Katims, the man who brought you the TV versions of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. Three radically different late teens with autism live together and each tries to find his or her own way in life. The sweetest of them is Albert, a big, cheerful kid who is nevertheless fearful of even stepping outside in the first episode. Sue Ann, the one female, lays out the hard reality of autistic women: first dates often leave the table and don’t come back.

There is a new, disability-inclusion reincarnation of Queer as Folk, now set in anything-goes New Orleans. Ryan O’Connell, mentioned above, is both the co-executive producer and writer and one of the show’s stars. He plays Julian, in his words, a “sarcastic, dry bitch.” Ryan is one of the few disabled triple-hyphens in Hollywood. He also has a new novel just released about, naturally, a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy.

I’m not quite done. Another delightful entry is the new Apple TV+ movie, Cha Cha Real Smooth, about a college grad who works at “Meat Sticks” and strikes up a complicated friendship with a young mother (Dakota Johnson) and her daughter. Her daughter is autistic, played by first-time autistic actress Vanessa Burghardt, who steals every scene she’s in.

As you can see, neurodiversity is the big topic this summer, Queer as Folk and Ramy aside, but the beauty of streaming is that old shows rarely disappear, which is why many of us are hooked on European crime dramas made twenty years ago. I highly recommend that you binge watch all previous episodes of both Ramy and Special.

And if you haven’t seen CODA, watch it twice.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.