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I’m sure there are plenty of universally nightmarish scenarios for parents, and I’m willing to bet, learning that your child was switched at birth and you’ve been raising someone else’s child ranks pretty high up there. ABC Family’s new drama series Switched at Birth tells the story of two teenage girls who learn they were raised by the wrong parents.
Vanessa Marano (Gilmore Girls) plays Bay Kennish, a teen in a wealthy family, attending a private school and getting her kicks and expressing herself through street art. Daphne Vasquez (Katie Leclerc) is the daughter of a single, recovering alcoholic mom who’s struggling to get by financially. Daphne has been deaf since she was three, due to a bout of meningitis and she attends a special school for hearing impaired kids.
When Bay begins to question her place in her family, pursuing the matter results in it coming out that there was a mix-up at the hospital and that Bay and Daphne were raised by the wrong parents. Let the drama begin (and it really does).
The series doesn’t spend a lot of time focusing on the actual revelation of the mix-up. Things get going fairly quickly as the families discover the truth and try to move forward with the new reality of their situation. Constance Marie (George Lopez) plays Daphne’s mother (Bay’s biological mother) Regina. John (D.W. Moffett) and Kathryn (Lea Thompson) are Daphne’s biological parents. They have been raising Bay, along with their son Toby (Lucas Grabeel), and living a comfortable life due to John’s former sports career and a successful chain of car-washes. John and Kathryn’s short-term resolution to the situation with the girls is to invite Regina and Daphne to live in their guest house. The close proximity will give the two families a chance to get to know one another as everyone adjusts to the situation.
Getting along proves to be something of a challenge for these two tentatively merged families. While Daphne seems willing to get to know Kathryn and John and her “new” brother Toby, Bay isn’t quite as quick to adjust. Regina and Kathryn butt heads almost right away over their differing parenting styles and more importantly, on where the lines are drawn with regards to getting to know their biological daughters and stepping in to parent them. John takes an interest in Daphne’s hearing problems and disagrees with Regina over whether or not to pursue options that might restore her hearing.
I think Switched at Birth is going to fit in well on ABC Family. The series juggles various aspects of this story, from how it affects both families together and separately, to how it affects Bay and Daphne on a more personal level. Worlds are colliding here and the while the story dives headfirst into the drama, these characters are going to need time to sort it all out. Fortunately, there are enough interesting characters and realistic reactions to everything among them to give Switched at Birth a compelling start and plenty of places to go.
I suspect younger viewers will get caught up in Bay and Daphne’s end of the story, which includes some romantic elements introduced as Daphne hits it off with Bay’s sort-of-ex boyfriend, and Bay quickly befriends an attractive older-brother-type friend of Daphne’s. We’re also introduced to Daphne’s (also deaf) friend Emmett, played by Sean Berdy. While Daphne is able to speak exceptionally well for a girl who can't hear, Emmett can only sign to communicate. Berdy more than makes up for his lack of voice with excellently expressive facial expressions. We're also clued in to his and Daphne's silent conversations through subtitles as they sign. And, since we’re on the subject, understanding things like proper etiquette with regards to hearing impaired people and the challenges that come from having to lip-read in order to get by, add an interesting angle to the story as we come to know and understand Daphne’s world amidst everything else that’s going on in the show.
Older viewers are more likely to appreciate the family aspect of the story and the fantastic performances by Thompson, Moffett and Marie as they portray three parents attempting to sift through a nightmare, trying to find the best way to deal with the situation and move forward for the good of their families and themselves.
Switched at Birth premieres Monday, June 6, 9:00-10:00 p.m., ET on ABC Family.