*Author’s Note: What follows is not our regular review. It also only represents my views, and not the views of PCU as an organization.*
In the Dark debuted on the CW last night, and I was initially intrigued by the idea of show featuring a lead character who is blind. I was, until 10 minutes into the episode.
The show stars Perry Matfeld as Murphy: a depressed alcoholic in her 20s. She seemingly has no goals in life, works at her parents’ guide dog facility, goes to the same bar every night to get trashed and maybe have meaningless one night stands. Oh yeah, she’s also blind.
Here’s where this show lost me. The writer, Corinne Kingsbury, almost seemed to want to hit as many negative disability stereotypes as possible in the series opener. Between Murphy being rude & using her disability to manipulate those around her, to her wallowing in self-pity by drinking and telling off others who just want to make a connection with her, it’s easy to see that the character of Murphy isn’t meant to be “inspirational” or able to give any insight by her very existence. Still, the character isn’t really even likeable.
It’s hard to believe that this show has not one, but two sight-impaired individuals on the cast & crew who gave insight into the experiences of a blind person. It’s almost as if that was ignored completely. Take for instance, the way Murphy interacts with her environment. While she has been blind for several years (the show stated she lost her sight at 14 years old), Murphy still stumbles about her apartment flailing her arms and seems completely unaware of her surroundings. There’s even a scene where she has no idea where her spare cane is! Here’s the thing: once Murphy is out of her own apartment, she’s deftly cutting in line at the drugstore, or bee-lining it to her usual bar after work. This leaves me wondering, which is it? Is she supposed to be someone who is lost in her environment, or is she adept at moving around while sightless? Frankly, I don’t know any vision-impaired adults who would willingly remain as “helpless” as Murphy seems at home. Every blind / vision-impaired adult I know has learned everything they can to move about their own space and thrive in the world they inhabit.
Murphy also seems to have no idea how to relate to her guide dog, Pretzel (the one good character in the show), and is even called out on it by one of the supporting characters. She gets unnecessarily angry at the poor pooch, treats him like nothing more than a tool, and doesn’t really show Pretzel any kind of affection at all. I legitimately felt bad for poor Pretzel.
Then there’s the rest of the human cast. Let’s start with Murphy’s parents, who are really just caricatures of parents of kids with disabilities (mom is an image-conscious type A personality, while dad enables Murphy’s behavior and pities his daughter). It’s a vast oversimplification of the issues that a family goes through when one member has a disability, and really rubbed me the wrong way. Then there’s Felix, who is Murphy’s co-worker at the dog training facility. He’s just a one-dimensional A-hole who thinks of very little beyond himself (and frankly, reminds me of “Pharma-Bro” Martin Shkreli). He seems to have been tacked on to the cast as someone easy to dislike, and has no redeeming qualities. The only human character that seems to have any more depth is Murphy’s roommate, Jess (Brooke Markham). Her character really does everything she can to put up with Murphy’s crap moods & self-pity, always tries to be kind and helpful, and proves that one doesn’t need to be a size zero to be considered beautiful.
Finally, lest you think I wasn’t going to touch on this… Could the writers & showrunners really not find a blind actress to portray Murphy? I mean, there is one supporting character (played by Calle Walton) and the show’s consultant (Lorri Bernson) who are actually vision-impaired. So tell me, CW & Co. Why not the lead? If “the blind experience” is going to be part of the show’s allure, why then is there a sighted person playing a blind character? This is a perfect illustration of why the hashtag #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs was created. With so many actors with disabilities out there, I find it truly hard to believe that
To my mind, this show proved itself to be completely ableist, offensive, and irresponsible in conveying the experience of the approximately 285 million people worldwide who are classified as visually impaired. In the Dark is clearly a show about a blind person, marketed toward sighted people who don’t know any better. It’s lost me as a viewer, and offended me greatly as a person with a disability. The creators of In the Dark seem to be just that: in the dark about vision-impairment and those who live with it.
Still, I would be interested to hear what you all thought of the premiere episode. Leave me a comment down below with your thoughts!