CHARLESTON, W.Va. - On Monday, "Switched at Birth" will make television history. The ABC Family drama, airing at 8 p.m., will be the first scripted series on mainstream TV to broadcast an episode entirely in American Sign Language.
The show revolves in part around a deaf teen named Daphne (Katie Leclerc), so this episode is not as out of left field as it might seem to some. There is already much communication through sign language on the show, both by the deaf and hearing characters.
As the name implies, "Switched at Birth" focuses on Daphne and Bay (Vanessa Marano), two Kansas City teens who discover they were switched at birth.
Daphne was raised by single mother Regina Vasquez (Constance Marie), a recovering alcoholic. Bay was raised by ex-pro baseball player John Kennish (D.W. Moffett) and his stay-at-home wife, Catherine (Lea Thompson). Daphne grew up with her mother struggling to make ends meet; Bay grew up wanting for nothing.
Since this is the world of TV, the discovery leads to Daphne and Regina moving in to the Kennishs' guesthouse so that the girls can both get to know their biological parents. Now, they're also going to school together, with Bay being part of a hearing-student pilot program at the Carlton School for the Deaf, where Daphne goes.
In the most recent episode, issues between the deaf community at the school and the hearing students in the pilot program came to a head and led to a school board decision to close the school. In Monday's episode, Daphne leads a student demonstration to protest the closing.
The story is inspired by real protests at Gallaudet University that took place 25 years ago in March. Protestors at the Washington, D.C., school for the deaf and hard of hearing were infuriated at the hiring of another hearing president and demanded the hiring of a deaf president, as no such person had yet held the position.
I've been a fan of "Switched at Birth" since the start, thanks in large part to the charisma of Leclerc (who has hearing loss in real life as a result of the degenerative inner ear disorder Menieres Disease). There's plenty of the usual teen melodrama in the show, but her performance and the plotlines developed and driven by the deaf characters make it more than a forgettable teen soap.
Given that this is an all-sign language episode, it might not be the best place for newbies to jump in, but plot-wise, even if you're unfamiliar, I'm sure the "previously on" intro will catch you up on what you need to know. Whether you choose to start with it now or seek out past episodes (season one is on Netflix; season two to date is available on Suddenlink On Demand), I urge you to check out "Switched at Birth." Don't let its home on a teen-targeted network throw you; this is a show for all ages and a good one.
Scripted series premiere: "Red Widow," 9 p.m. Sunday, ABC (Mob drama; a woman, who grew up the daughter of a gangster, takes over her assassinated husband's role in a crime syndicate to avenge his murder.)
Other series premieres: "The Ben Show with Ben Hoffman," 10 p.m. today, Comedy Central (sketch comedy); "Nathan for You," 10:30 p.m. today, Comedy Central (parody of business makeover shows); "The Bible," 8 p.m. Sunday, History (10-part docudrama reenacting Biblical events); "Welcome to Myrtle Manor," 10 p.m. Sunday, TLC (life in a Myrtle Beach trailer park); "Are You Tougher than a Boy Scout?" 8 p.m. Monday, National Geographic (reality competition); "LA Shrinks," 10 p.m. Monday, Bravo (the lives of three therapists); "Feed the Beast," 9 p.m. Wednesday, Travel Channel (top late-night food joints); "Dukes of Melrose," 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Bravo (vintage couture shop owners).
Season premieres: "The Celebrity Apprentice," 9 p.m. Sunday, NBC (all-star edition); "Oprah's Master Class," 10 p.m. Sunday, OWN (with Alicia Keys); "The World of Jenks," 11 p.m. Monday, MTV; "The Rachel Zoe Project," 9 p.m. and "It's a Brad, Brad World," 10 p.m. Wednesday, Bravo.
Season finales: "Swamp Pawn," 10 p.m. Saturday, CMT; "Joe Schmo: The Full Bounty," 10 p.m. Tuesday, Spike; "White Collar," 10 p.m. Tuesday, USA; "Kroll Show," 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, Comedy Central.
Specials: "Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard," 8 p.m., and "Titanic: Ballard's Secret Mission," 9 p.m. Friday, National Geographic; "An Evening with Jerry Lewis: Live from Las Vegas," 10 p.m. Saturday, PBS; "Makers: Women who Make America," 9 p.m. Sunday, PBS2; "A '60s Pop Flashback: Hullabaloo," 8 p.m. Monday, PBS; "The Bachelor: The Women Tell All," 8 p.m. Monday, ABC; "Chris Mann in Concert: A Mann for All Seasons," 8 p.m. Wednesday, PBS ("The Voice" season two finalist); "Kim Novak: Live from the TCM Film Festival," 8 p.m. Wednesday, TCM (interview and career retrospective).
Celebrity appearances: Joan and Melissa Rivers guest judge on "Project Runway," 9 p.m. today, Lifetime; Cee Lo Green appears on "Anger Management," 9:30 p.m. today, FX; Tina Yothers ("Family Ties") gets wardrobe help on "What Not to Wear," 10 p.m. today, TLC; Blake Shelton guest stars on "Malibu Country," 8:30 p.m. Friday, ABC; Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin appears on "Pretty Little Liars," 8 p.m. Tuesday, ABC Family.
Reach Amy Robinson at flips...@wvgazette.com.