While there will always be another drama series on television to keep you entertained, it’s rare to find one that aims to achieve so much. Telling a good story with well developed characters is a goal, of course, but it’s not the only one. A new kind of juggling act must be attempted in order to get it right. And that’s after you consider the fact that this television show you’re watching (or watched in my case), is already doing what the majority have failed to do for decades.
The Disney-ABC Domestic Television series finale of “Switched at Birth” maintained everything that made it worth the watch and that’s a win for fans. And so, here we are once more. Another series has ended. This one, however, was truly groundbreaking. I may not know the exact facts or statistics, but no show to my knowledge ever featured this many deaf or hard of hearing actors at the center of so many stories, let alone as series regulars. This show did. For that, it must be recognized as a major success. I sadly don’t believe the TV landscape is ever going to see a show achieve something like this any time soon. Is that a bit harsh and incredibly pessimistic? Yes, but when I look at how the network handled this show’s final season, I already see a pretty good example to support my belief. That now having been said, I’m incredibly thankful that this show came to be. I got so much more out of it than just seeing a different form of diversity in my programming. I also find that with this finale, even with a few bumps, my commitment to the series was rewarded.
Five Years Later
Okay. So it’s technically been more than five years, but that’s on the network. Blame them for the awkwardness that’s now associated with this show. I know, for now, that I will.
But putting that aside, I got what I expected. A beautiful and dramatic ending, complete with some strong surprises, which really had become a staple of this series. This series was never afraid to tackle an issue. So, creator Lizzy Weiss and her co-writer for this episode managed to weave in some moments that they knew fans would react to. I’d say it worked. If it weren’t for tackling the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), then I’m sure this would’ve been all sunshine and daisies. Of course there was also the personal that the characters had to contend with, and that’s what still proved to be just as effective as any issue based storyline. What will these characters do next? Where will they go? How will it affect everyone else? Not unusual for just about any series finale, but it allowed for me to see some final moments of growth, and, of course, end on a highly positive outlook.
That positive outlook came in an all too familiar hope for the future. The characters we’ve come to know and love are leaving us, but at least they’ll be going off and doing something worthwhile. We got enough information, even when at times it was dramatic and incredibly emotional, that says everything will be fine for them. Even between certain characters, we saw closure and past issues be resolved. Then, which is also par for the course, there were some very welcome cameo appearances. Some lasted a few scenes, but others were just one and done. Marlee Matlin has been part of the show for some time, but even I managed to be delighted by her appearance in the episode. Another great opportunity to see just why her character is so great and memorable. There was also the return of Ivonne Cole, who left some time ago, but got one last shot to show how important she was to Constance Marie’s character over the series’ run. Some cameo’s don’t work that well or seem forced, but here, I believe they were handled quite well. I guess it helps too that I wasn’t even thinking about who might return one last time.
And I can’t forget about American Sign Language (ASL). Seeing as this is a series with a major focal point on deaf and hard of hearing characters, you’d better believe there’d be plenty of scenes featuring the language. As fans had become accustomed to, which is partly what made this series such a standout show, there was a mix of English and ASL dialogue. The characters, and actors, learned ASL and so a seamless every day feel could be had. Then, which made watching the episode and series a fun challenge, there were whole scenes where ASL was the only language spoken. Soft music accompanied the scenes, but it was all the actors. They had to do even more and it paid off time and again.
Not So Perfect Closure
While I absolutely love all the forms of closure that were given to me, even the ones that were highly emotional and had me getting all kinds of sad, I can’t deny that they didn’t bring with them a major negative. Perhaps this negative says a lot about the writers or the network. Perhaps Weiss and her fellow writers took on too much this season and got too lost, even though they knew (I think) that this was going to be the final season. Whatever it was that happened, it distracted me enough to make it hard to fully enjoy the episode.
A lot of the new life events seemed to come out of nowhere. They were worth getting emotional about and served their purpose, but they felt too forced. Tacked on. That Weiss and company forgot this was the finale and now needed to quickly wrap things up. Some of the individual character storylines began a few episodes ago, but nothing that really shows the characters were seriously thinking about their futures. One really random subplot that occurred, involved Matlin and a former student of hers. This student, which also served as another final cameo appearance, was worried about her friend as he’d been kicked out of his house. So, off they went to search for him. While it’s a fine plot, it’s too damn random. Why now? Why not a bit before? I can’t even recall when we last saw these characters, and now we’re supposed to care about what’s happening? While I must admit I did care, it still felt unnecessary. Matlin was already going through a lot, so giving her character more dramatic life events wasn’t really needed. Granted, the end result of Matlin searching for this former student, is that she realized something positive about her future. She knew where she was needed most.
But it wasn’t just random storylines that distracted me. It was the fact that this episode, by and large, never felt like a series finale until the at least the final 30 minutes. Prior to that, it was almost like there’d be more episodes or that this was a lost episode. In watching these subplots play out for most of the characters, I began thinking that there’d be more, even though I knew there wouldn’t be. I was actually hoping for a late renewal. Another pipe dream. Sure the characters would ultimately gain something from their experiences, which would also just help to give me hope for them, but I still feel the execution could’ve been a bit better. Less open.
While this series finale had a few annoying distractions, it still rewarded so many loyal viewers. An extended finale was the right way to go, and hopefully this series and finale will show what’s possible when a network takes a chance. Dynamic and daring stories are possible for all types of people, but they can only come to fruition if there’s someone there to take a risk.
Originally Aired: June 6, 2011 – April 11, 2017
Creator: Lizzy Weiss
Starring: Lucas Grabeel, Katie Leclerc, Vanessa Marano, Constance Marie, D.W. Moffett and Lea Thompson