Tuned In

The Morning After: Wheel Women

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Sundance

Tiphany and Auti in Push Girls.

Cable TV has given us reality shows about attractive young urbanites in all kind of permutations: geographic (The Real Housewives of Your City Here), ethnic (Shahs of Sunset), and occupational (Million-Dollar Listing, et al.). Push Girls, which debuted last night on Sundance, adds a new dimension—physical—with the story of four vibrant, and pointedly attractive, women in wheelchairs living in L.A.

Plenty of characterizations in the past have presented the wheelchair as a kind of prison; in the documentary Murderball (about wheelchair rugby), it was athletic equipment. But the captivating Push Girls presents the wheelchair as an extension of these women’s personalities—as badass accessory. As one of the four, the flirtatious, outgoing Tiphany, says, “I have 26 inch rims on the side of my ass. It’s hard not to get attention.”

The feat that Push Girls’ debut pulled off is to avoid either pity or denial in talking about disability. Each of the four women has had to adjust to life on wheels (each was injured in an accident, usually a car accident). But after addressing some of the basic, obvious questions about the facts of their lives—the show quickly answers “Can you have sex?” in the affirmative, e.g.—the show becomes an inviting, chatty half-hour that less resembles a high-minded documentary than a better-produced Bravo show. (Sundance is one of a few channels that has expanded the narrative possibilities of reality TV, with shows like the Newark-set Brick City.)

So there’s a lot of focus on dating, friendship and careers, with the complications of disability worked in naturally. In the first half-hour, for instance, Angela—a model who has lost the use of her legs and much of her manual dexterity—is trying to get back into modeling (partly for the practical reason that it’s a more reasonable shot for her than an office job). As she calls around to set up an appointment, a staffer in one office warns that she’ll have to deal with staircases to come in. Angela asks if the office is not wheelchair-accessible. “No, we’re wheelchair-accessible,” comes the answer. “Just, there’s staircases.”

Push Girls doesn’t pretend to show the totality of wheelchair-user existence in one show; like most better reality shows, it’s specific, in this case to the experience of hot Hollywood women going to clubs and pursuing hip-hop dance careers. It is, in other words, one more cable reality show about fabulous women. But in this case, the same old reality show is a refreshing change.

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