Review: ‘This Close,’ a Serious Comedy About Life and Deafness


Deafness has its benefits, as seen in a shot of Kate and Michael blissfully sleeping on an airplane amid screaming babies and hacking coughers. It also confers the ability to say nasty, smutty things about hearing people right in front of them, which is always good for a laugh. And a lot of things are just funnier when they’re signed rather than said, like “I might or might not have clogged your toilet” or “What, are you going to yell at me now?”

The director Andrew Ahn (“Spa Night”) gives the show a languid indie-movie feel. He’s also clearly thought about how to adapt to, and exploit, working with deaf actors. “This Close” is quiet, but not to an extreme — there’s a lot of plaintive pop music on the soundtrack, and Ms. Stern voices much of her dialogue.

Visually, however, it has a silent-movie quality, with the camera nearly always focusing on the hands and mouths of those speaking or signing, to catch the many varieties of expressiveness. (This takes literal form when a character gives a theatrical, Chaplin-esque performance of signing at the dinner table.) Silent communication also allows for several conversations to take place simultaneously and privately right next to each other, something Mr. Ahn employs for humorous effect.

Perhaps more contrived, but still effective: the moment we first hear the normally silent Michael’s voice, which doesn’t come until the season is nearly over.

Ms. Stern, a veteran actress known for her roles in “Jericho” and “Weeds,” and Mr. Feldman, a writer with little acting experience, are both good, as are Cheryl Hines, Keiko Agena and Mr. Prattes in supporting roles. The pioneering deaf actor Marlee Matlin appears as Michael’s mother, giving a nicely engaging and relaxed performance.

As sharp as “This Close” often is with the details, it also has a dangerous tendency to slide toward clichés about things like sex, drinking and workplace dynamics. The closing moments of the season feature a cliffhanger that may reflect a serious danger for deaf people (and that gains an extra dimension from Kate’s obliviousness to what’s happened) but is a head-smacker in dramatic terms. Still, it would be nice if there were a Season 2.

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