I’m sure you hear all the time from your friends and co-workers who watch way more TV than you about which shows you’ve just gotta watch. But has anyone told you that ABC Family’s Switched at Birth is absolutely one of those can’t-miss shows? The story revolves around two families whose lives are upended and forever intertwined when they learn their teenage daughters were switched at birth—and it’s a story you just have to see.
Here’s why you really need to carve out some space on your DVR and jump on this impeccably written and beautifully intricate show:
1. It’s the only show on television performed partially in American Sign Language.
Aside from the fact that ASL is a fiercely underrepresented language in the media, it’s a real treat to get to witness the beauty of the language on weekly basis. And it’s not just a novelty on Swtiched; the impact of being deaf and the real-life challenges a deaf individual confronts are the major backbone of the show.
The show personalizes these struggles in such scenes as Daphne’s refusal to sit in a disabled seat, being unable to hear how much noise a chip bag makes and ruining a movie shot, and being overlooked for an opportunity to be a chef or doctor because of this supposed “disability.” And you can really see actual progress in each hearing cast member as they improve their ASL abilities, and that just makes my heart flutter.
2. It has a stellar cast.
With veterans like Lea Thompson, D.W. Moffett, Marlee Matlin, and Constance Marie, Switched at Birth has one of the most excellent cast rosters of any TV show, and that’s just the adults! The younger stars are just as seasoned—Lucas Grabeel, Vanessa Marano, and Katie Leclerc have an unbelievably extensive filmography among them. Everyone on this show is a total acting juggernaut, and with impeccable writing and deep subject matter, viewers are treated to exquisite performances each week in an ensemble any show would be lucky to have.
3. It manages to handle social, economic, and diversity issues with a beautifully careful touch.
This show tackles tough subjects so thoughtfully, it blows my mind. The ability to pull off a story arc about something explosive or controversial is not always easy, especially if you want to get out of there with your dignity as a show intact. Switched at Birth has tackled topics like social, racial, and disability discrimination, domestic violence, mental health, underage sex, cheating, broken marriages, religion, death, and more—and it has only just begun its fourth season! And each time, the situations and dialogue are carefully crafted; the characters are always genuine and realistically motivated. It never feels like an after-school special, and that’s quite a feat.
The upcoming two-part special (beginning Tuesday, Feb. 3) will continue this trend by tackling the issue of rape and consensual sex: Bay finds herself in a traumatic situation in the wake of a raucous college party.
4. It’s not afraid to go for the jugular.
Given the types of conversations Switched at Birth likes to dive into, it would be easy to just gloss over what its main characters might do or should do according to typical TV tropes. There are few things I hate more than a show taking the easy way out of a hard story or character choice. Switched at Birth does the exact opposite, and I truly cherish it. The writers are not afraid to show our favorite characters in a bad light, have them make truly terrible decisions, or go against everything we have ever seen or hoped to see for them.
But that’s because this show is so rooted in real life, so adamantly unafraid to cross those lines. It’s what the story requires and what a real character in that situation would do. Is it hard to see the straight-A student in an explosive, drug-addled, violent descent? Sure, but I’m glad they went there! A mom’s mistake in almost shooting her own daughter? Bad choices when slipping back into alcoholism? The death of a patriarch? All tough to watch and tougher to pull off, but I’m so thankful for the exceedingly rich journey we all take together because of it.
5. At its heart, Switched at Birth is about family.
This show is at its best when showcasing its special family relationships. It’s so rare to find solid family units on television, and rarer still to see relationships in which the unconditional love and support outweigh the backstabbing and ugliness that can so often overtake a family drama.
I’m not saying that everyone is perfect, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. A cohesive family unit (and really, times two) is such a refreshing thing to see on television. Whether you relate to those connections because you see similarities to your family, or if you find something comforting and hopeful to aspire to because your upbringing was far from it, Switched at Birth lures you in with its unprecedented portrayal of intricate family relationships.
The sisterly bond alone between Bay and Daphne is unlike any other I’ve seen dramatized. And with two sets of parents with vastly different parenting methods, Switched at Birth still manages to make tuning in every week as much about the overall family interactions as it is about the baby-swapping drama.
So am I saying that you absolutely must watch this show? Well, yes. You really should. It’s terribly underrated, and it deserves your love! But more importantly, it really is that good, so you’re simply doing yourself a favor.
Switched at Birth airs Tuesdays at 9/8C on ABC Family.