Overview/ Review (with Spoilers)
After the end of Kyle XY and Lincoln Heights in 2009, and the birth of Pretty Little Liars as well as The Secret Life of the American Teenager, it seemed ABC Family was going to become the new go-to location for cheesy teen soap operas. Ones in which it would be very much like what we saw on Network TV. A bunch of your everyday middle class, or upper middle class, families dealing with sensationalized and elaborate versions of the average teen lives. Yet then in the summer of 2011 was born Switched at Birth and the channel which seemed a little bit like a joke decided to be asked to be taken seriously.
After a happenstance discovery that one Bay Kennish’s (Vanessa Marano) parents aren’t her biological parents, things are traced back to the hospital in which we learn a tired and stressed out nurse accidently switched Bay and Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc). Bay grew up with a baseball legend and homemaker for a mom in a very nice suburban area. Daphne, on the other hand, grew up with her mother and grandma in an urban area where struggle was a constant thing. Especially since her father, who is introduced into the series in the 2nd half of the first season, abandoned them as he questioned Daphne’s parentage and with her becoming deaf, it was too much.
So, as teenagers, after this big reveal, the show focuses primarily on Daphne getting to know her father John (D. W. Moffett), her mother Kathryn (Lea Thompson), and her brother Toby (Lucas Grabeel). As for Bay, her getting to know her mother Regina (Constance Marie) is very limited. Yet, over 4 seasons, we see the girls grow together, bond with their birth families, as well as get into a slew of trouble, Daphne especially since she seems to constantly fall for guys who get her into a heap of trouble. All of which, thanks to John, or Bay covering for her, she usually gets out of without a scratch. As for Bay, she too has boy troubles, but hers are a bit more complicated. Arguably, Bay’s love life is more rooted in real situations while Daphne handles crafting drama for the show. Though I should note, their parents have quite a bit of drama themselves. Regina, be it with her ex Angelo (Gilles Marini) – Daphne’s father, or the few other men she dates, usually has something going on and with her often at odds with the Kennish family about how to raise their daughters and her business ventures, she rarely has a moment to just breathe. As for John and Kathryn, their issues and drama only truly become notable toward later seasons as Kathryn starts to want to be more than John’s wife and as John loses his position as the unquestioned patriarch. Leading to marital troubles.
The Various Underrepresented Characters
Let’s run things down real quick, we have multiple Latinas on one show who speak Spanish, aren’t whitewashed, and have full lives filled with triumphs, failures, and aren’t stereotypical at all. One of Daphne’s love interest is a guy in a wheelchair, albeit I think the actor himself wasn’t bound to a wheelchair, but how often do you see, for an extended period of time, a character who is in a wheelchair? Much less one that becomes a love interest? On top of that, we have both heavyset guys and girls featured, as well as finding love. Though, best of all, the deaf community is strongly presented and seen in ways unlike any show before or likely since.
Noting Various Social Issues and Topics
Be it the complications of rape, body image issues, child abuse, sex, the need and desire for community, such as a school for a specific culture, the importance of faith, and so much more, Switched at Birth addressed these topics. Many of which didn’t seem purely used to exploit the ignorance of their viewing population but to sort of expose and educate the populace. For whether it was the refuting of various deaf stereotypes, dealing with Black and Hispanic stereotypes, or things such as fatphobia, the show figured out a way to work these topics in without coming off like an after-school special – often to my surprise.
Just About Anytime Someone Got A New Boyfriend
Though often these boyfriends triggered cute moments or some sort of social topic, they also were a major source of the show’s drama. Hell, after the switch issue was fully handled, they were often the sole source of drama. This is especially true for Daphne and Regina, though Daphne especially. For Daphne just has bad taste in guys. If it isn’t one who is legally too old to date her then it is one who nearly has her end up in prison. For her, as soon as you see her with a guy, it is just expected something bad is going to happen. To the point it makes you wish one of these shows would be willing to commit a girl Daphne and Bay’s age to being single.
The Development of Toby
I’m writing this whole – Thus Far – Series Overview/ Review from memory, so please forgive me if I’m forgetting something. With more than a year gap since the last season, the show isn’t fresh in my mind. However, what I can fully remember is how Toby felt underdeveloped. To me, Toby always seemed like the type of character who could have and should have been written off. Mostly because, he was the normal one. Which, while you understand why such a character would be created as the girls, and their parents, went through so much drama, it wasn’t like he was the voice of reason or anything like that. If anything, at times it seems like he was trying to compete with being them by doing things like getting married for all the wrong reasons, becoming a DJ simply because he had the privilege to do so, and a lot of stuff which Toby didn’t have the personality to recover from. For while, I’ll admit, Bay and Daphne did way stupider and hard to justify things, by the end of the season usually they were back in your good graces. As for Toby? He remained the child who you wished was never written.
Too Many “What If” Episodes
At least once, if not twice, a season there would be a “What If” episode which honestly seemed to solely be about filling the episode order. They didn’t add new perspectives or anything, like Daphne and Bay not being switched, among other topics, but simply seemed like throwaway episodes.
On The Fence
Relationship Musical Chairs
For a handful of the guys, like Emmet (Sean Berdy) and Travis (Ryan Lane), it seems they are thrown into relationships often. Ones which become cute and likable, yet seem to just be placeholders.
Characters Can Become Quite Hard To Accept At Times
Perhaps one of the hardest things to deal with in this show, which is also praiseworthy in a way, is that no character every stays in your good graces. Each one is flawed and has moments, sometimes long, multi-episode periods, where you not only can’t understand them but hate them. For example, Regina is basically a contestant source of hate since she is made to defend her decisions often. Be it helping a guy who wanted to gentrify her old neighborhood, arguing about not spoiling the girls or knowing about the switch and not saying anything. Though the same goes for John who often loses his temper, and absolutely in the case of Daphne and Bay. As noted, the girls are the main source of drama on this show and Daphne especially. To the point it’d be hard to find, after nearly any episode, having one group all agree that any character was in the right. For they make every decision so human, even if it is soap opera drama, that it leads to diverse opinions from fans.
Overall: Positive (Watch It)
The main reason I even watch and give a chance to FreeForm shows is because of this one. It made it seem that there was some network out there which wanted to take the same drama and meaning almost exclusively seen in coming of age indie dramas and wanted to bring it to the small screen. Now, I’ll admit this show is far from perfect, and the list of Criticisms and On The Fence topics could be much longer, but so could be the highlights. For what this show does that many don’t is it tries to explore new topics, storylines, and characters. Most of which are done with some sort of real commitment and not just a “Hey, you know bipolar people exist?” and that is the feature of one episode and never talked about again. This show, for the most part, has good continuity and when it brings up a culture or community, it never felt like it was done to exploit and move on. Like it handles deaf issues and the deaf community, it does its best to take on the full weight of the issue and unload it over the course of multiple episodes. Giving it’s just due.
So with the final season approaching, for old time’s sakes, you’ll be seeing reviews. Not the old ones since I’m missing episodes, but definitely of the final season.