Cynical critics probably won't like the two-hour season premiere of a new television show on the family-friendly PAX cable network Sunday night (Oct. 13) at 9 p.m. EDT. But critics haven't liked a lot of shows that went on to become hits with viewers. I predict that"Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye" (cq) will have a similar experience: It will be panned by critics but loved by audiences.
The storyline is this: A driven mother does not accept that her deaf daughter will"never hear, never speak, never matter" and never succeed in life. She pushes Sue so that she can speak well and read lips. When Sue leaves home (which is where the first episode begins, aided with flashbacks so we learn of her early years), she goes to Washington, D.C., where she gets a lowly job as a fingerprint analyst and quickly realizes she has been hired as part of an affirmative action plan to fulfill a government handicap quota.
Sue is discriminated against because her superiors assume that, because she is deaf, this is the only job she can do. In our litigious society, we would expect Sue to call a lawyer and demand millions of dollars in damages. Instead, she maintains a positive attitude in the face of low expectations and sets her sights on a higher position.
Actress Deanne Bray, who is deaf and so plays Sue Thomas with powerful credibility, is a charmer. She, and her"hearing dog Levi," will grab your heart from the beginning, just as she grabs the heart of a handsome FBI agent, Jack Hudson (played by Yannick Bisson). Jack watches Sue read lips and immediately recognizes her potential in his criminal investigative unit. In one of many wonderful moments, Sue says to her dog (she chose him because he was abused as a puppy),"You can't let them see you're scared. They'll think you don't belong." Belonging is what Sue wants supremely. After watching this show, it's difficult to see how Sue could not belong anywhere she wants.
There is a great moment of reverse political correctness when a fellow female FBI employee, who is black (played by the drop-dead gorgeous Enuka Okuma), says,"I hate being with people different from myself." It is one of several comic-relief scenes.
There are so many things to like about this show. First, the entire family can watch it, knowing that when God is mentioned, He's a noun and not a curse word. Same with"bed," which is a noun, not a verb (Sue sleeps with her dog). Sue's deafness is portrayed in a positive light, not a handicap. She won't accept the victim label, or the baggage that comes with that classification. She contributes by helping her fellow agents do a better job catching criminals and protecting the innocent.
Though the show is filmed mostly in less-expensive Toronto, there are spectacular night shots of Washington and the show is fast paced and well directed by Larry McLean.
The show's creator, Dave Alan Johnson, says"Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye" sets a precedent because"never before has there been a television show about the real-life experiences and career of a deaf person - who is also portrayed by a deaf actor." There are an estimated 26 million deaf and hard-of-hearing adults in the United States, according to the Census Bureau.
It would have been easy to dwell on Sue's"disability," but Johnson and the writers prefer to focus on her abilities. The show also gives viewers who may not know a deaf person a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by those who inhabit a silent world.
"Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye" entertains and informs. Either one is a valuable contribution by television. Both make the show live up to the network slogan,"feel good TV." What better reason to watch?
(Direct all MAIL for Cal Thomas to: Tribune Media Services, 435 N. Michigan Ave, Suite 1500, Chicago, Ill. 60611. Readers may also leave e-mail at www.calthomas.com.)
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