The NBC series “Ordinary Joe” is a fascinating TV drama that takes the leap of bringing spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) into a significant part in the overall plot. Warning: There are a few spoilers ahead!
In the new series “Ordinary Joe,” viewers follow the same characters through different timelines — all of which are centered around Joe Kimbrough. In one timeline, for example, Joe is working in law enforcement. In another timeline, he is a famous musician. As the episodes unfold, each timeline progresses in its own way. The episodes are edited together so the parallel timelines are connected.
When I discovered one of NBC’s newest shows featured a child actor living with SMA, of course I wanted to see the depiction of the character. So far in the series, Christopher (played by 13-year-old John Gluck,) has been categorized as someone with a neuromuscular disease, but not specifically SMA. To my own surprise, not only is Christopher integral to different aspects of “Ordinary Joe,” but he is also a well-developed character.
Regardless of the confirmation of Christopher’s diagnosis, a ton of signs point to his having SMA. Specifically, the third episode involves a timeline where Christopher’s mother, Jenny, has a birthday approaching. The main character, Joe (Jenny’s husband in this timeline), has the idea of having a weekend getaway without Christopher.
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Jenny explains to Joe that she would have too many concerns about taking a trip without Christopher, which is all too accurate in the eyes of someone with SMA. Many of Jenny’s concerns involved real-world logistics, such as Christopher being properly fed with his feeding tube or being turned over at night to prevent sores. That scene felt particularly authentic since it showed there was actual research done for the character.
I was prepared for Christopher to have his disability robbed from his character in alternating timelines. I figured that Christopher would be walking or just nonexistent, but surprisingly enough, he found his place in more than one timeline.
I respect the way that character interactions involving Christopher feel genuine. Some people have a subconscious habit of speaking differently around disabled individuals. Thankfully, “Ordinary Joe” avoided that direction in the acting.
In addition to Christopher, “Ordinary Joe” features creatively interwoven stories that make the watching experience even better. I have a great amount of respect for the series as a viewer with SMA. I hope that “Ordinary Joe” continues to be successful without changing its treatment of Christopher. So far, the series serves as a nice model for showing people how to interact with younger disabled children.
“Ordinary Joe” can be streamed for free on Peacock, or with a premium account on Hulu and YouTube TV. Tune in on Monday nights on NBC at 10 p.m. EST and PST or 9 p.m. CST to stay up-to-date with the series.
Columnists on mySMAteam discuss SMA from a specific point of view. Columnists’ articles don’t reflect the opinions of mySMAteam staff, medical experts, partners, advertisers, or sponsors. Content on mySMAteam isn’t intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
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