“Every minority group has the right to tell their own story,” Shoshannah Stern says of Sundance Now’s original series This Close. The original dramedy created by, written by, and starring Stern and Josh Feldman, both of whom are deaf, is the streaming service’s first ever straight-to-series order. It’s based on a series of shorts featured at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival’s Short Form Episodic Showcase, about best friends Kate (Stern), who is newly engaged, and Michael (Feldman), who is attempting to move on from his ex-fiancé.
“I see this as a model really for something that wasn’t there before,” Stern told TV critics at TCA. “This is the first show written, produced, and created by deaf people. I hope it won’t be the last show. I’m hoping it shows representation matters.”
The six, half-hour episodes features an ensemble cast that includes Zach Gilford as Kate’s fiancé; Cheryl Hines as Kate’s PR maven boss; Colt Prattes as Michael’s ex; and Marlee Matlin as Michael’s recovering alcoholic mother who is trying to reconnect with her son.
A TV critic asked the two leads about playing their “condition” for laughs and wondered if it was way of “coping.”
“If we don’t have the right to make fun of ourselves, who does?” Stern responded.
Rest of the actors got asked if they knew any sign language before being cast. Prattes said he had a “little bit of background” from previous theater work,” of which he remembered “just enough to muddle through the audition.”
Director Andrew Ahn noted their call sheets included a new sign word each day, in the course of which they learned “toilet” and “ready” and “actor.” “It was a way to show on set we care. And, as a director I learned a lot of sign language by editing the show. I know the lines of the show – and nothing else,” he joked of his sign language knowledge.
“I did not tell Josh or Shoshannah that I took ASL in college because I didn’t want them to think I remember any of it,” confessed Hines, adding, “I remembered ‘toilet.'”