“This Close” is groundbreaking in many way and not just because it was the first dramedy to go straight-to-series from Sundance Now, but also because it was created, written and stars Shoshannah Stern and Josh Feldman — who are both deaf.
About halfway into TheWrap‘s recent interview with the show creators, this reporter realized she was doing something really weird: talking with her hands way more than usual. I think this was a subconscious attempt to match how Stern and Feldman were speaking to me — which was through an interpreter who was relaying everything the deaf showrunners were saying using American Sign Language.
As soon as I noticed what I was doing, I apologized, completely mortified. I admitted I didn’t know any people who were deaf and was feeling a little uncomfortable about speaking with them before the interview. Thankfully, Stern and Feldman were not offended. In fact, they appreciated my honesty.
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“Actually I prefer when somebody says to me, ‘I don’t even know what to say. Like I’m not sure what to do,’ rather than somebody pretending that they know what they’re doing is right,” Feldman told TheWrap. “Like if you’re not comfortable that’s totally fine. If you are comfortable with being uncomfortable, it will go much better than pretending ‘Everything is fine! Everything is completely normal!’ … I don’t know lots of things, and saying it is way better than acting like, ‘Oh, I got it. I know it,’” Feldman said.
Stern added simply, “If you’re not sure what to call somebody, just ask them.”
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“This Close” is both the streaming service’s first ever straight-to-series order and the first ever series to be created, written and star deaf people. But while the show obviously addresses the deaf factor, it isn’t something that defines the characters or carries the plot.
Based on several shorts featured at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, the six-episode Season 1 follows twenty-something year-old best friends living in Los Angeles, Kate (Stern) and Michael (Feldman), as they try to balance their personal and professional lives. Kate is newly engaged and struggles to grow at work, while Michael battles self-destructive writer’s block after having his heart broken. As they each tackle their own issues, their friendship is put to the test.
When the showrunners were asked if they believe the reason a series like this has never been attempted before is because people outside the deaf community might not feel comfortable writing from that perspective, Stern said she’s familiar with the argument, but doesn’t think it’s a good excuse.
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“People will say they feel like it’s really hard to write the experience for a deaf character when they’re not deaf themselves,” Stern said. “And it’s only hard if you think that that person lives in a kind of life that’s completely different than yours … But I think the feedback that we’ve received about the show is very interesting because what we’ll get is like, ‘This story isn’t new.’ And that’s kind of the point. We wanted to tell a story that is familiar because I think that every human experience is ultimately the same. Like we all go through the same things. We mess up. We get up in the morning. We make stupid mistakes. We fall in love.”
“But for some reason the fact that we’re deaf causes people to think we don’t have the same experiences because we’re deaf,” Feldman interjected. “And so that’s why we picked a story line that is very familiar, so people can go, ‘Wait, I’ve been through that before. That’s actually happened to me. Oh and it’s happened to deaf people too!”
Feldman and Stern — who are BFFs in real life — are very excited to continue with the series, should it be picked up for a sophomore installment, and have a six season plan. “We actually know how it ends,” Feldman said, with a laugh.
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The Season 1 finale of “This Close” is available for streaming Thursday on Sundance Now.
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