Channel 4’s drama about disability, Cast Offs, is witty, sexy, well-acted and challenging, writes Liz Sayce
Cast Offs, a new drama from Channel 4, follows the lives of six disabled adults. Played by actors with the same disability, they are marooned on a remote British island for a TV reality show, while scenes from the island are spliced with flashbacks from the characters’ home lives.
Some viewers may balk at the show’s potential for voyeurism or the way conventionally careful disability language is blown away (one character’s reference to “the spastic island” being an example).
The programme veers towards stereotypes of disability – only to smash through them to great comic and dramatic effect.
Abandoned on sands
Wheelchair user Dan is left abandoned on the sands, conjuring images of tragedy and isolation. But moments later wheelchairs are instruments of fun, dashing and dancing here and there.
Carrie, a young woman with cherubism, a facial disfigurement, appears like a demure angel, only to start barking orders to all concerned. The characters are gloriously individualistic: egocentric, irritating, bossy, kind, generous, lazy, reserved and mean.
The humour can be lewd and crude with references to oral sex and necrophilia. It is sometimes dark but also light, like the exchange about meal preparation with one person protesting that they are lactose intolerant and another riposting they prefer their food cooked by other people.
Beneath the humour lies some powerful messages, such as the still unrealised promise from Carrie to the recently disabled Dan, the prime character in episode one, that one day he will find everything will be all right. In other words – but put subtly – living life with disability can be great. And when he pulls a girl in a pub and takes her home, the image of his concerned parents studiously glued to the TV generates humour and tension.
This witty, sexy and well-acted series should be compulsory viewing for social care professionals. The script is as clever as you would expect from the writers of Skins and Shameless.
Like it or loathe it, it gives us all new stories of disability beyond the tired, sanitised, gloomy or “brave” images that have dominated screens for so long.
Liz Sayce is chief executive of Radar (Royal Association for Disability Rights).
➔ For more on Radar’s leadership programme for disabled people e-mail carina.schmoldt
This article is published in the 10 December 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “Casting off the stereotypes”