When I first saw the advert for BBC Three’s Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant I was concerned that it looked an awful lot like my sitcom Assistive Devices. Given that I brought my sit com to the BBC’s comedy department an was told it was “too gentle for our audience” with its bloody tampons, black midget strippers, and drag queens, I was afraid that BBC took the idea of bad PA’s and ran with it. Even if the topic is the same, I’m not worried about the station running with any ideas regarding the disability community at this point. This show was more of a hobble rather than a run.
I think the employers they selected for the show are great. All of the people with disabilities have their own full lives. One’s a stand up comedian who wants to pull, another’s a lesbian receptionist who is drop dead beautiful and very independent emotionally, another is a put together IT guy. The carers are very realistic of, well, 20 year olds who are flaky, silly, and unsuited for a lot of jobs really. Which is kind of who you end up employing if you need a carer most of the time. So in that regard, the show is spot on.
My biggest problem is it the scripted narration. How many times does the female Siri-like, impersonal narrator have to remind the audience that an employee has bowel and bladder problems? If the audience doesn’t understand what that phrase means the third time the narrator brings it up and after someone empties a catheter onscreen, their not going understand it the tenth time the exact same phrase is used either. Either use different language, go into a little bit of the biology as to why these people have these problems or move on and wait for the audience to figure it out themselves. Using the same words over and over doesn’t foster understanding or empathy. If someone really doesn’t understand what’s going on, all repetition is going to do is reaffirm people with disabilities are a monolithic “other” too complicated to be understood by likes of you- BBC viewers.
Another major problem arises in the show when one of the hired PA’s simply doesn’t come into work one morning, leaving her client high and dry. You pretty much know that this young woman isn’t going to last from the second you meet her, she can’t bring herself to be of much assistance to her employer in the “bowel and bladder” department, even gagging while practising care giving on a dummy. But simply not show up to work the next day and leave the person who is dependent on you without any sort of help goes beyond gross misconduct. It’s inhumane. This unconscionable act isn’t given it’s proper weight as the employer just sits there and calmly says “I am very angry” and the rouge employee tearfully tells us “I feel really bad.” You left someone utterly dependent on you lying in bed this morning with nothing to eat or drink and without a clue as to what’s going on and you feel bad?
Fear not, all is made well when the runaway PA shows up at the guy’s house a week later with a box of cookies by way of apology. And he tells her “that’s ok. Learning what your limits are is just part of growing up.” And then they hug! Speaking as a disabled person who has had PA’s go AWOL three times in the past decade, I can honestly say: you want to do a lot of things to the people who abandon you, hugging is not something you consider. And as I’m watching this unrealistic train wreck of a love fest unfold I realise, this behaviour is being shown to an entire country. BBC Three has just taught the whole of the UK that abandoning disabled people in their beds is not a major problem, just be sure to bring the person’s whose life you ruined a box of cookies next week!
I don’t want the BBC to be tackling disability if they are gonna bugger it up this badly. In a single show they’ve made disabled people scary, with their incomprehensible “bowel and bladder issues,” and also negligible as you can just abandon them, and bring over a tin of biscuits later to make it all ok. Are there any producers with disabilities who need PA’s working on this show? Did the production team simply think that by making a show about people who need carers they would simply be checking a box and not need to carefully consider the message they are sending out to the population at large by telling these stories poorly?
Until the BBC sorts this out, I’ll stick to making sitcoms on YouTube myself, no matter how ‘subtle’ they may be.