For "Glee," a wheelchair misstep?
Fox Broadcasting Company's breakout hit show "Glee" tackled a tough issue in the episode aired last Wednesday evening: Is it possible for able-bodied high-school kids to really understand what life is like for a kid in a wheelchair?
The plot, in brief: Glee club advisor/teacher William Schuester is disappointed when the kids in the club are content to have their one wheelchair-bound club-member ride to a competition in his father's car rather than raise money to rent a wheelchair-accessible bus. So he obtains a bunch of wheelchairs and insists that all the glee-clubbers spend at least three hours a day in them -- and perform a song-and-dance number in them, too. Enhanced appreciation ensues.
But the episode, clearly intended to raise awareness of the challenges people in wheelchairs might face in going about their daily business, has met with criticism from advocates for disabled people.
The issue: The gifted young actor who plays the student in the wheelchair is not himself in a wheelchair. The advocacy group argues that there are plenty of young performers in wheelchairs who could have been cast in that role. The "Glee" people counter that they've worked hard to make their cast inclusive and that finding a star who can sing, act and radiate personality the way actor Kevin McHale does was daunting enough.
IMHO, "Glee" is the best thing to happen to television in years. It's one of the few shows you can watch with your teen-aged kids knowing that everyone will love it. It has juicy story lines that don't get too edgy, and it's bursting with toe-tapping music. If you haven't tuned in already, I recommend you give it a try.
I was going to blog about one of the show's weaker story lines involving a woman who's faking a pregnancy to keep her husband (the glee-club advisor) in line. How common is it for women to fake pregnancies? I'll come back to that question another day. Because this wheelchair issue is much more compelling.
I can see both sides of the story. Perhaps there is a young person in a wheelchair out there who could act the role of Artie as well as -- or better than -- McHale has. On the other hand, the show's creators clearly are trying hard to do right by people of varying races and ethnicities, sexual orientations and levels of high-school popularity.
The episode featuring the wheelchairs also features a subplot about a student with Down syndrome, played by a young actress with Down syndrome, and another involving a mentally handicapped person, again played by an actress who appears to be mentally handicapped.
So I'm inclined to give "Glee" a pass on this. How about you? Please share your point of view in the comments section, and register your opinion in today's poll:
Jennifer LaRue Huget
November 16, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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