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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Sundance Channel's 'Push Girls' push reality TV to new frontiers

 From left: Mia, Auti, Angela and Tiphany roll on! Credit:

Sundance Channel's latest reality series is the progressively titled feminine treatise on life Push Girls. Push Girls  follows four women living their lives in wheelchairs after various fates have made it so. I only heard about this show during my random perusal of my Facebook feed, but as the saying goes, we gravitate to the familiar, and obviously being a wheelchair philosopher amplifies any notice of a new trend with regard to disability in society.

The show itself is like most shows: a documentary style  interspersed with some "off-script" commentary/confessionals and such. But why I like Push Girls personally is the sheer unmitigated and almost casual tenacity of showing people with disabilities as they are, without the need for pandering, proselytizing for sympathy, excessive empathy, political bullhorning or Rev. Al Sharpton-like social justice activism. Push Girls is the story of four women between their mid-30s and early 40s attempting to redefine themselves after life has given them a detour into a journey on wheels as the show's intro bold proclaims, "When you can't stand up -- stand out!"

Each woman in the series has her expression of herself carried out in interesting, yet  very much unforced ways. Auti is a former traditional Hip Hop dancer who has spent the better part of a decade redefining the "dancer" as she continues to do shows and reinvent the wheel (pun intended) through a slinky style of dance that somehow allows for her wheelchair to seem like a prop in a kind of avant-garde, living hybrid car kind of way. Tiphany is a workout fanatic and perpetual flirt as she would tell you in different words. The pilot episode follows her relationship woes with her ex boyfriend and dives seamlessly into her current romance with a woman as Tiphany makes clear to the interviewer that she does not want to define her sexuality anymore than she wants to define herself as "the wheelchair girl" while her roommate Mia struggles to dive back into both her relationship with her boyfriend and, quite literally, into her former life as a competitive swimmer prior to a spinal infection at age 15. And finally there is Angela, a former model whose career took off to near supermodel stardom  at the leafy green age of 18. She is attempting to return, at least somewhat, to her former glory as she looks to get work as a now quadriplegic stunner.

For all the attempts that may be made to sentimentalize the aim of Push Girls, there is a bold simplicity to the show's premise. Simply put, it seems to convey unapologetically that life goes on for these four women not because they were forced into the "strong role" by their loved ones, or that they wanted to go on to inspire successive generations of little girls to redefine themselves, (though inspiration may play a part). More essentially, Push Girls shows life as it is for four women who simply do not know any other way to be. Like many with disabilities, for these women the goal is never really about being an inspiration to anyone, but as it seems, the real goal is for these women is to inspire themselves to be themselves no matter what obstacles, limitations or risk factors may be placed in their paths to a fulfilling life that we all might strive for, disability or no, for the greater good of ourselves and the  simple joy of living in itself.

Push Girls airs Monday nights at 10 pm Eastern on Sundance Channel. (Click here for more).  

Here is the pilot episode via Hulu:

Roll on!

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