Does it matter that we know all the faces off by heart these days? It was Marlee Matlin who made me think of this, but it applies to all actors simply because of the way the human brain stores information. Or… at least… the way my brain stores information. I first saw Matlin playing Joey Lucas in The West Wing and I loved her. She’s gorgeous. She’s a great actress. She also happens to be deaf. And once I knew that about her, I couldn’t un-know it. And it means that when I see her in other shows I know in advance her character is deaf… which means if a show tries to use it to create drama… well… they can’t. Enter Code Black. In comes Matlin on a gurney, passenger/victim in a car accident. First comes a glimpse from her perspective. A silent gurney’s-eye-view of A&E hubbub. Then comes the wait, the wait for the Drs to catch up, for someone to reveal the hidden facet of their character – that they know sign language – for the revelation that the driver of the car is her interpreter, her voice. Then comes the heartwarming comedy of errors as everyone struggles to understand each other until the universal language of love brings them together.
So does it matter that I always know what’s going to happen the second I see her, and therefore don’t participate in the dramatic moment? Does it matter any more than that fact that the first time Rob Lowe entered the show my head started digging around in the section where I store West Wing trivia and went oh, that’s the guy who played Sam Seybourne… what’s his name again? Or that I then dug around in the bit where I store John Hughes movies and went he also played that guy who played the sax in that movie that looks like it’s a John Hughes movie but actually isn’t… what was that movie called? Oh yeah. St Elmo’s Fire… So what’s his name again…? Does it matter that the whole time my brain was doing this I wasn’t actually watching Code Black anymore? Yes, it does… it’s lazy writing. If you want to use a character’s deafness to create drama… you need a less recognisable actress.