This sets up an interesting twist on the concept of family and how it is defined in the modern world that you don’t generally see in a lot of places outside the soap opera genre. How does one define family? Where does the connection between you and the family you were born into begin and where does it end? This idea is taken on in many different genres and stories but it often takes a backseat to the other themes within the shows. It seems to be a foregone conclusion by most storytellers these days that family is what you make it, not what you were born into.
And that’s where this show is different. Switched at Birth takes the concept of how to define family and puts it front and center. From the very beginning, the show focuses on the two young girls who were switched, Bay and Daphne, whose life has been turned upside down by the chance decision of Bay who questioned her place in her own family. After a DNA test reveals the truth about their birth, two families attempt to deal with how their lives are changed.
Everything stems from that one moment and the way in which they deal with the fallout. The families develop all sorts of insecurities and fears because of the new dynamic between all of them. Bay and Daphne start to question who they are and who they want to be and the friends they spend time with, but also who they would be if they hadn’t been switched the way they were. Their parents, Katherine and John Kennish, and Regina Vasquez have to deal with each other and figure out a way to parent their respective children together without crossing any boundaries.
As things progress for the Kennish and Vasquez families, we are introduced to other friends and family members who have their own problems with members of the two families and this helps to broaden the characters and the way they deal with each other. That in and of itself would be enough for most television shows to sustain itself for several years, but Switched at Birth adds another dynamic to the mix which makes it fascinating for me and fans of the show. About half of the characters and some of the cast themselves are hearing impaired or deaf.
Watching the show then becomes even more interesting for someone like me as a writer, because so many of the scenes are told without any audio dialogue. It relies heavily on the actors to show the story and the character’s stress in the moment rather than tell it. They do have subtitles for those of us without a working knowledge of sign language but rarely do they tone things down for people who can’t read them as they go by. I’d also say that I have picked up a sign or two from watching it and I love that they have managed to do that for the hearing and hearing impaired alike. Ultimately they never lose sight of the truth of the show, which is the characters and the question they often ask themselves either figuratively or metaphorically.
Could you live with being Switched at Birth? I probably couldn’t, but I love watching it play out on TV.