It's hard not to notice a recent trend in television where people who have been discriminated against, mocked or bullied are becoming our prime time heroes. This is a Hollywood trend that we hope is here to stay.
Modern Family, with gay couple Mitch and Cam, is making many folks see homosexuality in a new way. This same-sex couple is hilarious, but not because cheap shots are being taken at homosexual stereotypes. They are funny because of the dynamic between them and how that dynamic affects navigating a life together and raising a family. Modern Family has made the challenges of a same-sex couple relatable, and the genius of it all is they aren't even trying. In interview after interview, when actors Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Eric Stonestreet are asked how they feel about their mainstream portrayal of a gay couple, their answer is always the same — there is no gay agenda. The only agenda is to make people laugh. And in this case, through laughter comes change.
In The Michael J. Fox Show, Michael J. Fox plays a dad with Parkinson's disease who is headed back to work after taking a few years off to focus on his health and his family. I watched the premiere of this show, and is it OK to say that at first I was a bit distracted by Fox's movements because, let's face it, we're used to seemingly unobtainable perfection from celebrities. That only lasted for about 2 minutes and then I didn't even notice or think about it. That's when the light bulb went off and I started to appreciate what a powerful medium television can be for making unfamiliar issues more familiar. The show was funny, entertaining and self-deprecating. In one scene, Fox is playing in a ball pit with his family and everyone is taking turns hiding. His family figures out where he is hiding because the balls are shaking. Fox reminds us that if he can have a sense of humor about this stuff, so can we.
One of our favorite funny girls, Rebel Wilson, premiered Super Fun Night on Tuesday night. We couldn't wait to see our Pitch Perfect princess in action. As you may expect, much of the show centered around Wilson's weight and the challenges it presents. Critics winced in response, calling it "lazy." Maybe before we get too carried away and throw around words like "lazy," we should really examine what happened in the show. In one scene, Wilson has to perform acrobatics to get into her Spanx. Then she has to go nose to nose with the most beautiful (and slim) woman in the office for the affection of a co-worker. Is it really that far-fetched, in a society where perfection is revered and flaws (particularly of the weight variety) are vilified, that a heavy woman's weight would be an all-consuming part of her life? Think about how much the rest of us obsess about that extra five to 10 we can't get rid of? Wilson does make a lot of fat jokes at her own expense, and those can get tiresome if she's not careful, but she also forces us take a closer look at the woman behind the weight.
One of television's most handsome and masculine actors, Blair Underwood, brings back the '60s iconic series Ironside. Underwood plays Robert Ironside, a NYPD detective and paraplegic. For this generation, casting someone in a wheelchair in such a physically demanding job is a whole new premise. Unfortunately, the pilot did not perform well, and it may be due to one obvious distinction between Ironside and the rest of these shows. Jesse Tyler Ferguson is gay (though Eric Stonestreet is not), Michael J. Fox does have Parkinson's disease and Rebel Wilson is a full-figured gal. Writer Andrew Asare from Entertainment Weekly had this to say about Underwood's performance: "While it's refreshing to a see a character not defined by his limitations, perhaps it would have been better for someone actually in a wheelchair to portray the role. Even in the beginning of the series, although I knew he was paraplegic, I was skeptical of whether Underwood wanted to own it."