If you’re like me, TV shows about the trials and tribulations of modern dating never get old — hence my addiction to series like NBC's family saga This Is Us. That being said, there's a huge difference between shows that simply rehash a tired-yet-true formula, and those that truly impact their viewers.
Sundance Now's new series This Close is the latter. It's also the perfect Valentine's Day watch, regardless of your relationship status. Plus, if you're a binge watcher, you can stream the entire groundbreaking series on Sundance Now today.
The shows follows best friends Michael (Josh Feldman) and Kate (Shoshannah Stern). Michael is a gay graphic novelist reeling after recently being dumped by his fiancé. Kate is a public relations manager trying to hide her new engagement from her heartbroken best friend. Michael and Kate are also deaf, as are Feldman and Stern, the series’ creators and stars. Together, Michael and Kate weather the highs and lows of romance in episodes that are hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking, and always compulsively watchable.
The only other contemporary show I can think of that strikes a similar balance between humor and heartbreak isThis Is Us. Like This Is Us, This Close examines universal experiences — heartbreak, the joy of a new engagement, the bittersweetness of watching a dear friend reach a huge milestone before you — through a specific and intimate lens. If you’re a This Is Us devotee, you’ll want to stream Michael and Kate’s story immediately.
As a non-deaf viewer, the series' slice-of-life look at two deaf friends depicted experiences I'd never seen on-screen before. Although Michael and Kate's romantic struggles are universally relatable, the story This Close tells is also a highly personal and under-represented one.
The first episode follows Michael and Kate on a trip to Seattle, where Michael is scheduled to give a reading for his book. We see the friends face the condescension of airport personnel, and work with an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter at the bookstore for Michael’s reading.
After his reading, Michael spirals into a heartbreak tailspin, and hooks up with a stranger who notes the novelty of sleeping with a deaf man. Later, Michael drunkenly argues with airport security who grab his hands, preventing him from signing. This Close elegantly captures the nuanced ups and downs of Michael and Kate’s daily life as deaf adults.
It’s rare for TV to depict marginalized communities with as much nuance, empathy, and humor as This Close. But even if the Sundance show didn’t represent a viewpoint rarely seen on screen, its honest, smart depiction of romance would still elevate it above similar series.
Feldman’s depiction of a man grieving the future he thought he had as a husband is shattering. Shoshanna’s storyline is equally as compelling and, at times, uncomfortably relatable: she’s simultaneously excited to marry her fiancé Danny (Friday Night Lights' Zack Gilford), and ashamed of that excitement, unwilling to show it when she’s with her best friend. She’s also aware that Danny isn’t perfect, and that their union won’t be perfect either — but then, as she knows, no marriage is.
This Close reminds viewers that through all the humiliating, heartbreaking, and ecstatic moments of modern love, we are not alone, regardless of whether we're deaf or hearing.
All images from "This Close" via Sundance Now.