It's National Down Syndrome Awareness Month, so it seems only appropriate that a show debuting tonight includes a character with Down syndrome, providing work for an actress with Down syndrome. But appropriate is the last word anybody's going to use to describe American Horror Story, an FX series from the creators of Glee and Nip/Tuck that, depending on your taste for this sort of thing, will be either deliciously over the top or poisonously so.
The show, which debuts tonight, October 5, at 10 p.m., deals with a family who moves into a luridly haunted house (and inexplicably stays there, because, come on). Dylan McDermott and Connie Britton star as the Harmons, but the character we're interested in here lives next door. According to an Associated Press review by Frazier Moore, "Jessica Lange plays Constance, a busybody Southern belle with an even more intrusive daughter, Adelaide, who (like Jamie Brewer, portraying her splendidly) has Down syndrome. Adult but childlike, the irrepressible Adelaide keeps busting into the Harmons' home."
Could be interesting. Could be insulting. Glee has done a good job of featuring an actress with Down syndrome, Lauren Potter, in the role of Becky. But critic Alan Sepinwall, writing on the HitFix site, suggests we shouldn't expect the same sensitivity here as he runs down the show's everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach:
"You want to throw out all the goodwill you generated on 'Glee' by writing three-dimensional characters with Down syndrome and give Lange's character a daughter with Down's who's there only as creepy set dressing? Have at it! ... It's rare that I get angry at bad television - usually it just disappoints me - but a scene in the second episode featuring Lange's daughter (played by Jamie Brewer) made my blood boil at its tone-deafness."
Well, there's something to look forward to. Also raising questions about what sort of territory we're getting into here is a New York Times review by Mike Hale that starts: "If you like the jar with the baby's leg, wait until you see the jar holding the baby's head. If one actress with Down syndrome doesn't provide enough Tod Browning-style otherness for you, don't worry -- there are two."
In a world where there are precious few characters with disabilities in entertainment, and fewer still that are played by actors with disabilities, one hates to put propriety tests on every part and plotline. Still, I think we could all do without the use of Down syndrome as shorthand for scary freakishness. If you're watching the show (which I won't be, for reasons that have nothing to do with disability depictions and everything to do with the fact that I creep out easily), share your thoughts about it in the comments here.
(And in other "visibility is a mixed blessing" news, Disability Scoop reports that South Park has an upcoming episode titled "Ass Burgers." Sigh.)
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