My Take On….ABCFamily’s SWITCHED AT BIRTH
Back in 1991, I was obsessed with, and affected by, the made for TV movie SWITCHED AT BIRTH, starring Bonnie Bedelia that chornicled the true story of Arlena Twigg and Kimberly Mays, babies switched at the hospital and sent to live with the “wrong” parents. The switch eventually sparked a bitter custody case surrounding Kim, after Arlena died of heart disease. Every time someone mentions SWITCHED AT BIRTH, I immediately reflect on the movie and start thinking about the families, and remember how many times I cried watching it.
How is that relevant, you ask? Well, tonight on ABCFamily, the network is carving their own path in a babies-switched-at-birth saga following the fictional lives of the Kennish and Vasquez families, whose teen daughters were SWITCHED AT BIRTH. Vanessa Marano is Bay Kennish, the daughter of an ex baseball player (DW Moffett, who is always great, no matter the hero or villain role he plays) and his wife (Lea Thompson), growing up with anything she wanted – the best toys, the best schools, you name it. She always sensed that something was off, and after a little convincing, she and her parents get genetics testing.
What follows blows her whole world apart, when it’s discovered that she was switched at birth for Daphne Vasquez, played by newcomer Katie Leclerc. Daphne is Regina’s (Constance Marie) only child, and they struggle to make ends meet in a not-so-nice neighborhood. One look at the girls, and you can see they clearly belong to the other mother (great casting). Adding insult to menengitis-related injury, Daphne is deaf, and has grown up being protected by Regina. When the two families come together, it’s anything but smooth sailing.
Vanessa Marano, who has bothered me in other roles in her past, is perfectly cast as a girl who always felt like she didn’t fit in. She is sarcastic and caustic, and truly embodies a surly teenager; as she begins to explore her new culture, she is really endearing. Katie Leclerc is a great find (kudos again to the casting people) – she plays Daphne with such confusion and confidence – someone who is willing to embrace her new found family, but also worried about how it’s going to affect the mother who raised her alone. It’s worth noting that Leclerc is not fully deaf, but is hard of hearing, so she can relate to the stories she’s playing.
The families that the girls are a part of do their best to be supportive. DW Moffett and Lucas Grabeel (best known for being Sharpay’s brother Ryan from the HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL world) are great as father and brother, respectively, to the girls. The way the two of them seem to light up at the prospect of another family member is going to be interesting to watch. And Lea Thompson and Constance Marie are great foes and rivals, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out.
After watching the first two episodes, I do see the show falling into the usually predictable tropes of “hey that’s my boyfriend” and “you have two mothers now young lady,” but I think there’s potential for this to be embraced as fully as PRETTY LITTLE LIARS has been, and I’m interested to see where it goes. It didn’t hit me with the emotional punch of the 20 year old movie of the same name, but it’s still going to be appointment television!
Will you be watching SWITCHED AT BIRTH? The show premieres tonight after a moving episode of THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER that finds the gang coming together to support Adrian and Ben in their biggest time of need. The night starts at 8/7c.