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The Complex World of Friendship with 'This Close'
February 14, 2018  | By David Hinckley

A lot of shows bill themselves as unusual love stories and to be fair, a lot of them are. You’ve still never seen one quite like This Close.

A six-episode series premiering Wednesday on Sundance Now, This Close revolves around the best-friend love between Kate (Shoshannah Stern, top) and Michael (Josh Feldman, top).

Kate is straight, Michael is gay. Both are deaf. Kate speaks verbally, Michael does not. Michael was engaged to Ryan (Colt Prattes) and they just broke it off. At the same time Kate (left) got engaged to Danny (Zach Gilford, left) and she hasn’t figured out how to tell Michael yet.

So there’s a lot of relationship psychology in play here, and Kate and Michael spare us none of it. They’re high-spirited, unfiltered and profane, and if Stern and Feldman seem to slip easily into these roles, it could be because they created the series and wrote it.

This Close is also interesting because at a time when a number of mostly humorous TV shows are running an hour rather than the traditional sitcom half hour, this one sometimes seems to be shrinking a drama down to 30 minutes.

To be sure, it has enough laugh lines, funny exchanges and humorous situations to qualify as comedy. At the same time, it’s tackling relationship issues as seriously as, say, This Is Us. Character in point: Michael’s mother Annie, a recovering alcoholic played by Marlee Matlin.

Kate works at a PR agency for Stella (Cheryl Hines), a genius at making things sound good. Michael just had his first graphic novel published, and the storyline in the opening episode has Michael and Kate flying to Seattle so he can do a Q-and-A session at a bookstore.

As that appearance unfolds, it gives us a good preview of the show’s fuller scope.  

Michael is nervous about appearing in front of a group of strangers. Kate reassures him. Michael brings in the anxiety of his personal situation. When fans of the story ask him why some of his characters are gay, but none of them are deaf, he replies that it would have been harder to sell. Not a good answer.

Kate gets all this. People who don’t know Michael sometimes do not, which compounds the inherent humor of the way deaf people find themselves treated by much of the hearing world.

Many hearing people seem to think deaf people will understand them if they just talk LOUDER. Or talk more slowly. Or perhaps they try to improvise hand gestures, which tend not to be related to standard sign language.

All of that pops up here, and it’s more amusing than annoying because Kate and Michael are so well versed in their responses.

So the first episode is really a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party where we get to know Kate and Michael. The storyline kicks into gear with the second episode, when Danny arrives.

Gilford plays him nicely, with a few appropriate imperfections. We’re also watching by then, of course, for what his presence will do to Kate-and-Michael. They want it to be nothing, which doesn’t mean that’s possible.

It’s not the first time that question has arisen on a TV show. Here, with these characters, it becomes unusual.

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