A few days ago, Megan over at Silver & Chalk alerted me to the new reality show Push Girls, debuting this week on the Sundance Channel. Push Girls follows the lives of four Los Angeles women who use wheelchairs.
Reading advance press about the show, I had a few misgivings. Aside from the obviously exploitive tendencies of "reality" programs, I also noticed a lack of diversity among the women--all of them are in wheelchairs because of paralysis. Another red flag was how the women were described as "four best friends." Really? I don't even know three other people in wheelchairs.
Skeptical but curious, I watched the premiere episode last night (the shows airs on Mondays at 10pm, but if--like me--you don't have the Sundance Channel, you can watch archived episodes on Hulu). I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.
Well, actually, the opening sequence was pretty cringeworthy, with the four women striking various outrageous (eye roll) poses and declaring, "I push...beyond limits," "I push...beyond my wildest dreams," etc. and announcing repeatedly, "I'm a push girl!" (I had a Mean Girls "fetch" moment thinking, "Stop trying to make 'push girl' happen. That's not a thing.") But once I pushed...beyond the corny opening (tagline: "When you can't stand up, stand out!"), I enjoyed the show.
In the first episode, we meet the four women and get a look inside their lives. Tiphany, a self-described "serial relationshipist," goes clubbing and deals with some dating drama; Angela, the most severely disabled woman in the group (she's quadriplegic, while the others are paraplegic) is worried about money and wants to return to her former career as a model; Mia, who became paralyzed not in an accident like the others but because of a random spinal aneurysm that ruptured when she was 15, has a boyfriend who wants her to move in with him, but she's scared of losing her independence; and Auti and her (able-bodied) husband are debating whether or not to have a baby.
Throughout the half-hour episode, the women meet for brunch, work out, shop for groceries, etc., and their wheelchairs are obviously present, but they're not the focus. The camera lingers more on the women themselves than on their chairs, except when it's of particular interest in the scene, like when Tiphany pulls her chair out of her car so she can pump gas.
Several times in this episode, the girls talk about how important appearances are in Los Angeles, and let's be honest, this is a reality show, so none of these women are ugly. But I liked what Mia had to say about this. Dubbed over a scene of her and Tiphany exercising at a gym, she says:
Being in a wheelchair does create an image in other people's minds. So I think it's nice if they see somebody that looks like they've taken an effort in their appearance. I think most people haven't seen sexy in a wheelchair and that's why they can't fathom it.
Word. I'm anxious to see what direction this show takes. And while I do wish a wider range of disabilities were represented, many of the challenges these ladies face are universal to anyone who uses a wheelchair. For example, when Angela phones a modeling agency about a casting call and tells them she's in a wheelchair, the woman on the phone politely informs her that the agency has stairs. Angela asks, "Oh, so you're not wheelchair accessible?" and the woman says, "No, we're wheelchair accessible, just...there's a staircase." Haha! (Yes, people really say this kind of hilarious shit all the time.)
I'll definitely be watching more episodes of Push Girls and blogging about them in the near future. Stay tuned!