Last Night’s TV – Cast Offs

by Lynn Connolly

dan cast offs

The first thing that struck me about this new show – and about the only thing, aside from Peter Mitchell’s character, Dan – was the title; is it meant to imply cast-away, as in marooned on an island, which the characters are, or is it a statement/dig about how society views and treats disabled people?

I guess it could be either or both since this new and much hyped comedy sees six disabled people who’ve been taken to an island off the coast of Britain somewhere for a Big Brother-esque reality show.

In each episode, we’ll see the ‘backstory’ of each of the contestants, all of whom actually have the disabilities their characters do. Last night in the series opener, Dan was the one with the spotlight on him, and his story was rather beautifully crafted by writer Jack Thorne.

But I have to say, that’s where redeeming features ended; the idea of the show within a show Big Brother styly is merely the glue that’s holding the disparate characters together, and it’s clunky. It doesn’t feel ‘true’ and is what I suspect it is – just a means of drawing together six life stories.

It might also have been something like six people on a train or something. It didn’t really need to be set within a reality show, but that said, what that aspect of the show did do was – if anyone was in any doubt – prove that the physically challenged can be just as annoying, gross and obnoxious as any other person.

And though there were some truly funny moments in the caustic and rapier wit of some of the characters’ lines, I’m not sure that trying to cram in all these ‘messages’ about disabled people is actually a) necessary and b) working.

The thing is, for people who are deluded enough to think that disabled people aren’t capable of doing pretty much anything an able bodied person can do, then this mockumentary isn’t really likely to convince them otherwise. They’ll just assume that all the things we saw the disabled characters do were in fact done by someone able bodied and they’re just acting out doing the task at hand.

That even applies to the comedic elements in many ways – I think it’s unnecessary to point out that disabled people can be funny. One of the characters fairly early on said to another, “This isn’t a camping trip; we’re here to prove something” and that was really what made this fail for me.

I don’t personally need to have disabled people prove something to me. I already know that disabled people are capable people and just people, and that being the case they have the exact same vagaries of character as we all do. The point I’m trying to make is that it all felt rather forced, and as if the messages we were supposed to get about the characters rather rammed home.

I understand of course that disabled people are very much under represented on TV and it would be naïve to think that the world accepts the disabled as equally as they do the able bodied, but that’s an issue that relates to anything that’s ‘different’ about people.

Blondes are often treated differently because they’re blonde, but would we really need a show in which blondes demonstrate the fact that not all of us are dumb?

Overall, there were some truly great moments in this show, but that’s all they were – moments. As a whole, it felt laboured and at times, tedious.

Perhaps it will improve with time but certainly for me, as I mentioned right at the start of this piece, the one redeeming feature was Peter Mitchell as Dan. Aside from his very strong performance, there was little to commend this first episode.

Lynn is an editor and writer here at Unreality TV and is trained psychotherapist and the author of two books. She's addicted to soaps, period drama and reality TV shows such as X Factor, I'm A Celeb and Big Brother.