Sundance Now's "This Close" Is That Close to Perfect

By Ainsley Andrade TV / Video Download Archives

Sundance Now’s This Close is kind of hard for me to describe -- not because it's a distinctive, fresh take on the common “best friends against the world” trope, but because this original dramedy has a unique defining trait: It’s two creators/lead actors are both deaf.  I’m as comfortable saying that that’s the “special thing” about this show as I would be if I said the special thing about Insecure is that everyone’s black.  It’s not, and that singular aspect of the show, although important, shouldn’t define This Close, or the people in it.  What it really is, ultimately, is a show about a super sweet friendship between two people who understand one another better than anyone else.

The show centers on best friends Kate and Michael, played by the aforementioned creators and real-life best friends Shoshanna Stern and Josh Feldman (pictured above), and explores the ins and outs of their relationship.  Kate is a PR rep for a major company, and Michael’s the author of a popular graphic novel.  When we first meet them, Kate is contemplating when to tell Michael about her recent engagement to her longtime boyfriend Danny (Zach Gilford), mainly because Michael was recently dumped by his now ex-fiancé, Ryan (Colt Prattes).

The genius of this show is that until it’s directly referenced, the fact that Kate and Michael are both deaf doesn’t really factor into what’s happening.  There were legitimate times when I completely forgot they were signing, the way one would when watching a show in another language.  At some point, the subtitles don’t even register anymore.

The duo’s shared trait mainly comes into play in organic situations where they’d be affected in real life.  In the first episode, it becomes glaringly obvious that the air marshals at the airport are ill-equipped when it comes to dealing with differently-abled people.  The restraint of Michael’s hands probably would’ve been standard procedure if he were most people, but for deaf people tying up their hands feels akin to duct-taping someone’s mouth, and that’s something that’s obviously not okay.

There’s another situation in a later episode where Kate misses a bunch of information her boss Stella (Cheryl Hines) is explaining to her (because of her job’s lack of an ASL translator), and because of it she ends up being put in an awkward situation.  Again, none of this is necessarily the focus of the show, but rather considerations that are taken to show the difference between what deaf people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis as compared to the majority.  It’s no different than a scene in which a person of color is pulled over by a white officer.  People get pulled over by cops all the time, but because of one of the driver’s singular traits the audience knows there’s the built-in possibility of a shitty outcome.

Again, when that stuff’s not what’s going on, the focus is Kate and Michael’s best friendship, and just like with any other good best friendship, theirs is borderline co-dependent.  This is mostly evidenced through some cleverly thematic camera work.  There’s a moment in the first episode when, after Michael and Kate settle their differences, they meet up with Danny, at which point Kate drops her things and runs from Michael’s side into Danny’s arms.  The camera then returns to a wide shot of Michael, now standing by himself, seeming very alone in a room full of people.

It also happens during the previously mentioned awkward situation that Kate’s boss puts her in.  Kate unexpectedly ends up speaking on a panel that’s, again, ill-equipped to accommodate the hearing disabled.  At one point, the camera returns to a wide shot of her sitting on the stage, the lights mainly on her, giving the impression that (like Michael in the later episode) she’s alone, even though she’s in a room full of people.  This cinematic tactic is also used to show that Kate and Michael sometimes have that effect on other people as well.

Kate’s fiancé Danny comes off as cool about everything on the surface, but secretly laments the special bond that Michael and Kate share because he knows he’ll never be a part of it.  This is made clear during a dinner Kate and Danny have when Kate takes it upon herself to invite Michael.  Once Michael shows up and he and Kate start signing it’s as if they are speaking another language, leaving Danny out of the convo all together.  The camera cuts to Danny – you guessed it -- feeling alone in a room full of people.  They don’t even notice when he leaves the table!

The focal point of This Close isn’t the lives and times of two deaf people (which is kind of ironic for me say, seeing as I spent most of this article talking about how they’re both deaf).  It’s the story of two people living out a close friendship that can’t be matched, and the people their relationship affects.  The writing is emotionally honest and organic, the humorous moments are pretty friggin’ funny and the performances are believable enough that I’m still processing the fact that “Kate” and “Michael” aren’t Shoshanna’s and Josh’s real names.

So, bring your thumb and index fingers together until they almost touch.  This Close is that close to being my new favorite thing. Check it out.

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