Last week at the AFS Theater in Austin, Sundance Now in conjunction with the ATX TV Fest held a special advance screening for the new series This Close. Created by and starring Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman, who are both deaf, as are their characters in the show, is set to premiere on Valentine’s Day. Many of the event’s attendees were hearing impaired themselves, and based on the Q&A that followed, they seemed more than enthusiastic about the fact they were seeing people like them portrayed as fully-realized characters that weren’t solely defined by their handicap.
That’s not to say that This Close doesn’t deal with its characters’ being deaf, but does so in ways that range from the lightheartedly comic to the empathetically frustrating. In the second episode, Michael (Feldman) tells Kate (Stern), who’d just been pushed into an ‘actors with disabilities’ discussion panel, that she’ll “always be the deaf girl,” but has to learn to make it work for her.
It’s a sentiment that runs throughout its six episodes, as both Kate and Michael struggle with their relationships, careers, and personal lives. The fact that they’re deaf is simply another layer to that, as they find themselves perpetually alienated by the world they inhabit. Even Kate’s fiance, Danny (Zach Gilford), resents her friendship with Michael, even referring to the rapport they have through sign language as “their little bubble.”
It also hints at a larger issue, as Danny seems to have a limited understanding of sign language, instead relying on Kate’s ability to speak and hear via her hearing aid. This also helps explain why Michael’s less-than-thrilled about Kate’s engagement, which manages to convey a complex emotional dynamic without overstating it.
Which is really the strength of This Close as a series. It constructs a fully-realized world with fully-realized characters in just a half-dozen 30-minute episodes. It’s funny without being comical (or mean-spirited), and inclusive without being preachy or self-aggrandizing. Instead, it’s a moving, thoughtful, and effortlessly nuanced story about they joys and burden of friendship. And all the baggage that comes with it.
This Close premieres Wednesday, February 14th on Sundance Now. For more information, check out the Sundance Now website here.