Breaking New Ground Is Risky As Hell
When I first read the synopsis of Cast Offs, I must admit, I was shocked, dismayed and mildly offend at the very idea of what they were doing. After all, when you make a show about 6 disabled people on a deserted island off the coast of Scotland where they have to fend for themselves for 90 days, most people would assume that you're doing so to make fun of them and their disabilities, that whole freak show aspect, but after actually seeing the program, and reading about what it is, i can tell you in all honesty, it is very far from that, there is no carnival or freak show aspect, there is no exploitation of the disabled or any of that patronizing false "we're all special" stuff no one believes in, infact, its quiet the opposite, each of the actors is infact, really afflicted with the disability they have in the series, and are not, as Mat Fraser, a well known musician/performance artist/political activist and also the man who plays Will in the series states, "Blacking Up", meaning for a regular actor to play a disabled person, instead of giving the role to someone with the real disability, each actor draws from that inner knowing and strength of what they go through in everyday life to bring a sort of chilling at times, but mostly 100% authentic performance. This in all honesty is groundbreaking on so many levels, first, its giving a disabled actor a chance to show that they can act on a national, and probably international level, but it also is groundbreaking in the fact that it takes away the vale of stigma that we all have when it comes to those who are different, it shows that we are all really the same regardless of if we are disabled or not, and I think that is the bravest thing i have seen on television in a long time, the courage to do that.
Cast Offs tells the story of six disabled people who are forced to live and work together on an island off the coast of scotland, they're given a shelter, cooking supplies, and animals they must care for and protect against the wild animals of the island because they are infact their food supply, they are also given a versatility phone to use incase of an emergency, or to admit defeat and ask to be taken home off the island. The cast offs themselves are; Dan (Peter Mitchell), sportsman, 26 years old, paraplegic, Tom (Tim Gebbels), actor, 39 years old, blind, Will (Mat Fraser), political activist, 46 years old, thalidomide affected, Gabriella (Sophie Woolley), mother-to-be, 32 years old, deaf, April (Victoria Wright), research scientist, 34 years old, cherubism, and Carrie (Kiruna Stamell), unemployed, 29 years old, dwarfism. As the show goes on, each episode focuses on one of the cast members, and tells their story of the year before they are placed on the island, except for Carrie's, which takes place after she's returned and also serves as an epilogue to the series itself.
The first episode focuses on Dan as well as everyone's arrival on the island, you discover that Dan was in a car accident, which left him with out the use of his legs, and that he's now a wheelchair basketball player, and that his father is very over protective of him in his current state, he's on the island to prove to himself, and to his father, that he can be anything he wants to be still, even if he is just a "man in a chair". Its also very evident him and Carrie are attracted to each other, something that everyone else notices and jokes about right off.
The second episode focuses on Tom, the quick, but dry witted blind actor turned blind marksman, Tom makes a living teaching people with sight, how to act like you are blind, his name is a play on the term "uncle tom" which Will calls him afew times believing he's sold out his own people, Tom lives with his best friend and caretaker, whom he fights with before leaving because Tom had asked his blind exgirlfriend out on a date, tom cooks for her, she then sleeps with him and leaves him the next morning, leaving Tom depressed, a state he hides with his quick twit. Tom actually is the keeper of the riffle and at one point shoots a fox dead to keep it from attacking their chickens.
The next episode focuses on Will, Will is probably the most heartbreaking of the stories, it talks about his life as a political activist for disabled rights, and justice for those, like him effected with thalidomide caused birth defects, it also tells the story of his love for his son who cares for him greatly and sees nothing wrong with him, and how his exwife worries for him and that he's not caring for himself properly, and of how his mother is near death, and how he's not been able to see her in years, and how he drowns the sorrow of all of his mistakes and failures in beer, Will's mother dies while he is on the island, he tucks away his grief and keeps it to himself.
Next is Gabby, the pregnant deaf girl who's here to prove she can do things on her own, and because she feels she needs to prove to herself that she is not a screw up. Gabby's story starts when she was about to get married, she is happy, she is joyful, until an exboyfriend whom she hadn't invited shows up, he had treated her badly and left her, but she still loved him deep down, and in Gabby's words "he showed up just to hurt me, he's a prick that way.", his appearnce not only sets off Gabby's soon to be husband, but also sets Gabby to drinking, she spends the day drinking heavily, and when she confronts her ex out behind the house in private, her soon to be husband misunderstands the situation and assumes that Gabby is going to have sex with him sense they were hiding out of the sight of everyone else. Gabby tries to explain, but he doesn't listen, this causes her to sneak out a window and leave over the distrust. Gabby gives birth on the island, Will and Carrie deliver the baby.
Next is April, April tries as hard as she can to fit in, dispite her disability, she tries to live a normal life, even if she knows it is almost impossible given her abnormality, she has recently lost her husband Andrew, and will not admit to anyone that she's deeply deressed about it, she keeps to herself, and her two co-workers Brian and Keven, both of which have decided to get her to try something new each week, along with the two of them, even forming a facebook group with a large following dedicated to it, with each person trying one new thing a week. Will overhears the production people talking about a birthday and mentioning April, so he thinks its her birthday, stating that she is always in the background and deserves to be center state, he sets about putting together a birthday party, only to discover that its the birthday of April's dead husband, not hers. When Will says he's sorry, she tells him her husband's dead, they then talk, she admits she doesn't want to leave the island, and they make up.
Finally there is the story of Carrie, the sarcastic foul mouthed aussie dwarf, her story is told after they have all returned to civilization stronger as a group, reunited with Gabby and her baby, and not wanting to leave each other, as the others walk together joking about how everyone is looking at them, even having fun with it, Carrie the one that was always quick with a joke stays behind them all and was very quiet. You find out that months after they've returned, Carrie's life is still not really going anywhere, she is still out of a job, and has trouble with every day life, and more so, she's not called Dan, even though by the end of their time on the island, everyone knew they were perfect for each other. We find Carrie attempting to be, of all things, a clown that does children's parties, we follow her to clown class, and to a friend of her's child's party, her first gig as a professional clown, you discover that apparently, even Carrie's closest friends don't have any faith in her, stating all of the jobs she's had over the years, and how they just haven't fit, they book another clown, who happens to be Carrie's teacher, this causes Carrie to get angry, and realizing she needs to finish atleast one thing in her life, she preforms for the children and they love her. She then storms outside, and is sitting on the curb in her clown outfit as Dan wheels up, stating she called him so ofcourse he's come to see her, they embrace and then the scene cuts to each of them talking about where they think everyone else is months later, the last line is Will saying "Oh Dan? He's still pining after Carrie..".
Cast Offs really is a brilliant hidden gem of a series if you take it and look at it as a whole, it makes you laugh, it makes you sad, but more so, it makes you think, it makes you open your eyes and look at the world differently, that we're all that different in reality, just on the surface, it also makes you rethink the way we each treat those who are different, though I'm sure the main idea what to tell us that life really isn't all that different for disabled people, except for the staring and in Carrie's case, the yelling of sexual things by regular sized people, who apparently are into dwarfs. It is truly a brilliant look into words that others are scared to look at, and scared to admit we all wonder about, and is just so very brilliant in its production and concept and writing. Honestly if you haven't seen this series, you are missing out on a great thing, even if for nothing else the hilarious bickering between Tom and Will and Carrie and Gabby, which are always hightlights of each episode. Honestly, give it a try, you'll be glad you did.