TV Review: Cast Offs Channel 4

Cast Offs


Take six disabled people and plonk them on a remote, deserted island for three months – light the touch paper and stand back! Or something like that. 

Well what a surprise – I really enjoyed this series – and it’s VERY well written; so well written I wish I’d done it – but Jack Thorne is the man! It’s funny too, “darkly comic” is how the Channel 4 website describes it (well worth a visit with video interviews of the characters). But before I delve into these videos (I did watch Tim Gebbels who plays the blind actor Tom) I’m going to give my raw reaction to the series.
It’s done as a “mockumentary” or fictitious “reality TV”. This draws the six characters together and allows exploration of them both in “real time” shots and as back-stories. The first thing I noticed was that there is no uniform “disability” – they are differently disabled, if you will. I also found myself relating to these disabilities – as best I could. 

Tom plays a blind actor – he’s very funny with often acerbic humour and excellent one-liners – he rubs up against Will the political activist (the character I felt least engaged with). The conflicts between characters and burgeoning friendship and love “normalises” them – and I don’t mean this patronisingly – but rather we suspend our own parameters of “normality”. This becomes both easy and difficult. It’s easy because of the nature/set-up of the programme and that all the characters are in someway disabled; difficult because when we’re taken from the island to “real life” we’re slapped back into our own concepts and society’s concepts of normality and abnormality. One criticism of the script here is that although the characters ARE all disabled they are so in such differing ways that perhaps they too might feel unease or find difficulty with others’ disabilities. Will does certainly seem (at least to begin with) frustrated with Tom, the latter
having to prove himself and his independence by hunting a fox that has been killing their chickens. Tom is – in a sense – doubly disabled because though able-bodied he cannot see and is therefore naturally dependent. By killing the fox, using ingenuity, he demonstrators his independence to the group.
The other male actor is Dan (a sportsman) who represents those able-bodied who through accident are cast into disability. He IS disabled but young and good-looking – he becomes what “we” might become. I was slightly surprised by how accepting he is of the others’ disabilities. He falls in love with Carrie (who has dwarfism) – she certainly is charismatic and has an interesting edge. We learn later that she – especially – lacks in confidence and perhaps hides this behind a “tough” persona. She’s intriguing and appealing but there was no sense of how difficult Dan might find it to form a relationship with her. Okay, why Dan? Why not BOTH of them? Because Dan is a “man in a chair” (and thrust into dependence on others, seeing the world from a seated position – suddenly being viewed differently), young, good-looking – who you almost expect to stand up any moment. With Carrie he embraces not only another disability but such an apparent one. Though he too has become of “restricted height” there must be uncomfortable moments in his head as there are in society’s – for instance when Carrie leaves the clown’s house in her (the last) episode a black chap makes a lewd comment and uses the word “perverted”. In this episode Carrie struggles with her success as a clown as she is treated “as a child” by the children at the party she performs at – and that “childlikeness” is part of her success. In these times of – shoot first ask questions later – what would happen if a gang of rednecks happened on Dan kissing Carrie, seeing them from the rear as if Carrie really WAS a child? 

Gabbie, the deaf girl is very un-pc and acts to reassure us that our own un-pc thoughts are understandable. She is the one who looks completely “normal” though suffering from a really alienating disability. Again this makes us question ourselves – makes us either dismiss or really attempt to understand what having a disability might be like. Television is a medium of sight and sound – how can it convey deafness other than by us muting it? Gabbie’s quite a handful – is billed as a “mum-to-be” (I shall keep mum) and is also very funny. April, the remaining female character suffers with Cherubism. Her face is unusually large with a very heavy chin and her eyes heavy-lidded. Is this where the term Cherubism comes from? April is the mother-figure to the others, she’s level-headed, quietly spoken – but also has her moments! Her disability (and we need to consider the use of that word) – is her appearance. It does disable her and God only knows what kind of taunts she has had to put up with – but we find from her back-story that she has been married (again I won’t say more in the hope the series is repeated). April challenges us with our concepts of beauty. I noticed so many adverts during the series showing beautiful/sexy/good-looking girls; even for an average-looking woman this must be a constant pressure. Somehow April has learnt to deal with off-hand remarks and even the vanity of her gay friend and work-colleague. I found it tough relating to April – our fundamental sense of identity is both our mind and our physical being. How much of our inner self is sculpted on our outward self? 

If the series is somehow extended – and that would be great – I would watch. But it would need to be as tightly and incisively written and not shift into sentimentality or mawkishness. We have now seen a series about and performed by disabled people that can both entertain and teach us something without any sense of being preached to. Further, joyously, it isn’t pc. It’s about people having to cope on an island who are additionally hampered by disability – it’s not a freak show…simply characters in all their faults and glory that have to get on in this world. The ups and downs of their lives are made more so because they have that extra struggle – I think this engages us with their lives both further and deeper. Yep, I’m a fan!


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