Tuesday, February 10, 2015

When Sweaty Betty Met the Boy With One Shoulder

One of the principal pleasures of life in the UK is UK television, and nothing is giving me greater pleasure this visit than The Undateables and the rather less gently entitled Too Ugly for Love, which, at their best, either break your heart or fill it with joy as people with Crouzon syndrome-distorted faces, autism (The Undateables' favourite!), or what used to be called retardation, for instance, go on first dates arranged by the program. 

Here we meet Vicki, whose hyperhidrosis causes her to sweat 10 times more than normal. Here, a handsome young chauffeur lacking not only his right arm, but the shoulder too, the result of an awful motorcycle accident.  Here, a dwarf, Ali, who invariably inspires widespread patronizing amusement among the girlies when he goes clubbing with his pals, but who’s never actually been on a one-to-one date. Here the stammering black Adonis Matthew, who brings a tape measure on his blind date so he can ensure that his blind date’s shoulders are at least 15 inches wide. (See him light up with pleasure on discovering that she has an inch to spare!) Here the young Liverpudlian Jennifer, whose alopecia compels her to wear wigs and false eyelashes. And here Antony, who must choose his wardrobe to conceal his colostomy bag. 

i find myself leaning forward on the sofa, trying to will the blind dates of the most sympathetic of them to agree to second meetings. I realize that I have clenched my ancient fists when one of them is paired with some cute (or, in UK usage, fit) young thing who exudes smugness and lack of empathy. I die just a little when Mr. Colostomy decides to divulge his embarrassing secret just as his and his date’s dinners are placed before them, or when Ms. Alopecia shoots herself repeatedly in the foot. 

She’s really pretty, Ms. Alopecia — bald or bewigged — but tenaciously refuses to believe it. She meets a palpably nice guy, reveals that she works for an alopecia charity, and is fatally dismayed by his failure to put two and two together — to intuit that she chose the charity for which to work on the basis of suffering from the disorder herself. Honestly, how many of us knows offhand what alopecia even means? Wouldn’t 95 percent of us presume that it was an upscale dog food? 

The shy among us die a dozen deaths as we watch the autistics and learning-disableds struggle to converse with each other in those excruciating moments after first meeting. Was it so very different for us? “Stop!” we hear ourselves shouting in our minds’ ears as, for instance, an Asperger’s Syndrome girl nervously ruins the chic coiffure her sister devised for her in the opening moments of her date with a racecar obsessed autisitc boy . Poor sweaty Vicki befuddles her date by refusing his request for a high five (for fear of revealing her sopping underarms), and excuses herself for a trip to the ladies’, there to replace the drenched paper towels she wears in her armpits, and we die a little as we wonder if her date will decide to run out on her. A young woman who was horribly burned at eight, and who has to undergo annual operations to keep her many scars from contracting, meets a young man who works in a hospital. When he isn’t remotely fazed by her telling him of her disfigurement, we want to leap up and dance jubilantly around the room.

Shaine, the world’s sweetest young man, who doesn’t allow his retardation to keep him from composing little poems for everyone he encounters, is matched with a young lwoman of like impairment too shy even to make eye contact with him. Over the course of a couple of dates, he nonetheless comes to hope that she might agree to think of herself as his girlfriend. She rejects the idea, and he, the gentlest soul on the planet, lets fly the most emphatic malediction of which he seems capable: “Oh, crumbs!” 

Nothing I’ve seen on TV since the episode of NYPD Blue in which Jimmy Smits’ character dies has brought me as close to tears.

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