There’s a scene early in This Close Season Two that mirrors one of the series’ first. In it, Michael (Joshua Feldman) is in the hospital and being led away by an orderly who doesn’t know he’s deaf. As such, he has his right wrist bound to the bed, which is the equivalent of being gagged. He doesn’t know where he’s being taken or why, and he has no way to communicate his fear or ask questions. In Season One, Michael (because of his in-flight drunkenness) is handcuffed, which his best friend Kate (Shoshannah Stern) tries to explain is taking away his ability to speak. In both cases Michael is frightened, upset, and without a voice.
What This Close has done and continues to do is give a voice to creators and stars Feldman and Stern to tell a story that is not defined by their deafness, but where that is an integral part of the series they have crafted. In most ways, This Close is just the tale of two best friends in Los Angeles navigating the stresses of their professional and personal lives. But there’s a unique lens to that tale because of the fact that most of the characters—whether they have hearing or not—are using sign language, and that affects the way they are perceived and accepted (or not) in the world around them.
Despite an exceptional amount of warmth, the half-hour series remains more of a drama than a comedy, especially in a new season that finds both Kate and Michael drifting away from each other and from what they seem to want for their lives. Michael and Ryan (Colt Prattes) make a sudden and major commitment to one another in the season opener, and for the remaining episodes we see how that relationship is still figuring itself out. As we saw in the first season, Kate and Michael’s extreme closeness makes it hard for either to be in a relationship with anyone else, which eventually causes Kate and Danny (Zach Gilford) to break up. In the wake of that, Kate explores other relationships with past loves and some new interests, but none bring her any closer to what she’s looking for.
There is a casual, relatable tone to This Close that can be both challenging and comfortable in how it makes us confront our own versions of these mistakes or our biases. Sundance TV is about as close as television gets to an indie film aesthetic, taking chances on series whose subject matter or formats are unique and always worthwhile—this series is no different. Though the channel has cut back some on its originals over the years, its legacy of series like Rectify, Hap and Leonard, and international acquisitions like Les Revenants and Deutschland 83, are among television’s best. This Close is also one of these unique jewels, and well worth watching for something that feels, and is, completely different from most other TV.
And yet, in the patter of the drama and the vignettes that define these characters, there is a familiarity to the people and situations that transcends the story itself. Like in its first season, This Close’s short runtime and episode number don’t give it a lot of room to explore all of the nuances of these relationships with narrative specificity. It uses silence a lot (especially when characters are having extending conversations), and doesn’t mind slowing down and reveling in experience over plot. This Close is, once again, more about feelings than getting from one point to another, though it ends with another cliffhanger of sorts that feels a bit cliché. But even when the storylines are a little too expected or confrontations feel forced, Feldman and most especially Stern do an outstanding job of immersing us in the emotions of the moment in ways that smooth over those rougher edges.
In the new season, we learn more about Kate and Michael’s individual and shared pasts, what brought them together and has bonded them so deeply, as well as what has led to Michael’s addiction issues and Kate’s hesitation to own her deafness. Like Season One, both characters are trying to find themselves, but this time around there is more of an emphasis on outreach as well. Some of the most affecting scenes are ones where Michael and Kate see possibilities to elevate others by using their talents, instead of just getting mired in their own drama. There’s also even more education this season about what those without hearing have to deal with in terms of medical care (waiting on interpreters, which are costly for hospitals and thus they are reticent to call them in), or cases where families or foster care refuse to learn ASL, or in figuring out how to incorporate a disability into your career without becoming defined by it.
Ultimately, This Close continues to explore the uncertainty of growing up and learning who you are in very grounded and emotional ways, as Season Two leans in more than ever to the idea of how to love yourself, love others, and be loved by others. Kate and Michael aren’t there quite yet, but they are (yes, I’m going to say it) this close.
This Close Season Two premieres Thursday, September 12th on Sundance TV.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV