Switched at Birth, “This is Not a Pipe” (1.01)

The Switched at Birth logo.

A review of the new ABC Family drama, written by Lizzy Weiss and directed by Steve Miner

Switched at Birth feels like an ABC Family show in all the right ways: the look, the tone, the type of storytelling. It’s inoffensive and cute, with a good cast and a decent script. Though I doubt I’ll watch week-to-week, nor do I think there will be enough meat to review it week-to-week, I can see it having plenty of mileage in its storytelling.

The plot was pretty simple. Two families discover their daughters were accidentally switched at birth, and must deal with the emotional fallout of the event while figuring out their relationships with one another. To be honest, the first half of the episode felt like it really rushed through the process. The entire premise is established within four minutes, from Bay (Vanessa Marano) discovering the blood type discrepancy to the two families meeting, eight weeks later. From thereon there’s a lot of exposition about who is who, and its only halfway through that the relationships begin to become interesting. However, once the set-up is done, it is interesting to watch these characters deal with how they are supposed to feel about people they’ve never met – or about ones they’ve known their entire lives.

ABC Family shows seem to have an impressive mandate to include, rather than avoid, progressive content. Huge and 10 Things I Hate About You both did so as well, with Huge challenging fatphobia and 10 Things  including a positive, explicitly-feminist character. Switched at Birth may be about its titular conflict, but the show spends an ample amount of time using that to look at class issues and offering up a strong deaf character. Daphne Vasquez would still be a vivid and interesting character without her deafness, allowing her to be more than just ‘the deaf girl’; meanwhile because she is deaf, that opens up new conflicts and dynamics that are pretty interesting. While the show occasionally felt like a PSA about deafness, I anticipate many of its viewers will find the information interesting.

That said, the character only worked so well because of Katie Leclerc, who is fantastic here. Charming, likeable, conflicted, she is one to watch. In fact, if there’s one thing this series did right, it’s casting. Vanessa Marano caught my eye when she was on Gilmore Girls as a little kid, and everything I’ve seen her in has demonstrated a talent at playing abrasive, yet likeable, characters. Lea Thompson and D.W. Moffet are great at making sure their ‘rich parents’ characters are people, when it would be so easy to turn them into caricatures. And Constance Marie, who plays Daphne’s mother, and Lucas Gabreel, who plays Bay’s brother, are both excellent in their roles, and have very good chemistry with Leclerc.

My one big problem is the Kennish family, who are walking the line very unsteadily between ‘interesting’ and ‘unlikeable’. D.W. Moffet plays a character here with some similarities to his Friday Night Lists character Joe McCoy: rich, arrogant, manipulative and brashly unable to view a point of view other than his own. While John Kennish is a little less cartoonish, and has more emotional distraction to contend with, his conversations with wife Kathryn (Lea Thompson) were deeply frustrating at times. Their possessiveness over both Daphne (Katie Leclerc) and Bay (Vanessa Marano), while treating Daphne’s mother Regina (Constance Marie) with such distrust, was really ugly.  The way Regina reacted to Kathryn at the end of the episode was cold, but after the things Kathryn had said to her – accusing her of being an alcoholic parent, telling her she was going to retain an attorney and take Daphne away from her – it was completely reasonable. Even Bay, who is the type of character I typically enjoy, felt frustrating. There was a particular carelessness to her actions that bugged me. There is a difference between a likeable rebel and one who treats others badly, and I felt Bay edged more toward that type of character. However, each is played by an actor capable of making the character more sympathetic as time goes on, so it remains to be seen where they will grow to.

All in all, a good start. I’m interested to see what happens when they’ve moved away from all this establishing work and begin building relationships amongst the cast.

3 Responses to “Switched at Birth, “This is Not a Pipe” (1.01)”
  1. darci says:

    I think I’m really going to enjoy watching this show…just got tipped off to it by a friend the other day, and from the beginning it really intrigued me, especially the character of Daphne.

    I love how in the beginning they quickly established that although Daphne’s deaf, it’s not a hindrance, nor does it define her as a person, it’s merely a part of who she is – that whole scene right at the beginning when she played basketball with Toby was great ( watch it at – I love her facial expressions when she’s telling him he can’t talk trash all he wants, also love that they used Pablo Sebastian’s “Hurricane during the scene, too that song fit so well)

    Overall the pilot was a little too much information/characters to digest and could’ve been better served by not trying to introduce everything, but still they did a great job of establishing the main characters and getting me hooked. Can’t wait to see what happens next.

    • R. Lackie says:

      Hey Darci! I felt much the same way you did about the pilot. The scene with Daphne and Toby was, I think, the standout scene from the pilot. I think the exposition was a necessary evil to set everything up properly, and the show grow a lot when it isn’t overburdened by having to dole out info every scene.

      Definitely keep watching, Darci. I just watched episode five, and this show is still really great. The characters and their dynamic are fresh and the writing is fun. And there’s plenty of Daphne!

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