Confess, Fletch is a fun movie. There’s not a ton to it, really, at least not much beyond “Jon Hamm kind of solves a murder and art theft, sometimes while wearing Hawaiian shirts and/or a baseball cap,” but who cares, you know? There are scenes where he and his former Mad Men co-star John Slattery sit around and trade one-liners for a bit, too, which made me break into an involuntary cheeseball smile as wide as a freeway. I love those guys. It’s a perfect little Friday night movie, one that asks the simple question “What if we put a really cool dude into a series of dicey situations and let him wiggle out of them all by being a really cool dude?” Sometimes that’s all you need from a movie. “Cool Dude Does Cool Stuff” is a legitimate genre of film. We’ll come back to this in a minute.
The fourth and final season of Atlanta premiered last week, too. This is bittersweet because, on one hand, it’s good to have one of the most creative and well-made shows in the history of television back on television again (and back in Atlanta after a brief detour in Europe), but on the other hand, it’s kind of a bummer to see it go. Atlanta is such a good show, profound and weird and serious and occasionally very, very goofy. Go back and watch the Teddy Perkins episode sometime. Even today, years later, with a slew of other shows taking influence from it and trying to reverse engineer the formula, it remains one of the most unique half-hours of television ever made. That’s pretty cool.
One of the plots in the season premiere features Darius (LaKeith Stanfield) trying to return an air fryer to a store that is in the middle of being looted. It does not go well. As he walks out of the store with the air fryer still in his possession, a cranky white lady in a power wheelchair attempts to stop him, thinking he is also one of the looters. Darius wiggles around her and walks off and she spins around and follows after him through the parking lot as he heads to the car.
A few minutes later, as he’s sitting in gridlocked Atlanta traffic…
It all leads to a game of cat and mouse through Atlanta, with the woman following Darius and Darius trying to explain himself and get home with his godforsaken air fryer. It’s really effective in places, with the humming of the chair in the background serving as a kind of twist on the horror movie device of a monster growling offscreen whenever the person being chased thinks they’re safe. None of this is a problem. But here’s where things get tricky.
The depiction of people with disabilities kind of stinks throughout Hollywood and has for a while. I am admittedly biased on this because I have a disability (spinal cord injury, power wheelchair, etc.), but that doesn’t make the first thing I typed less true. Disabled characters are often portrayed as miserable sadsacks or inspirational angels with very little exploration of the area between those two extremes. Sometimes they get to be, like, employees of a laboratory who look through a microscope or sit at a computer and give important information to the main character. Sometimes they get to be billionaires or science geniuses or both, in a way that almost offsets their disability from a practical standpoint. You know, like this guy.
I hope this doesn’t come off like I’m picking on Atlanta too much. I meant what I said about it being a really good show, still, today, which is almost a miracle for a show that takes the kind of big swings it does. None of what happened in the episode was, like, offensive to me. The point of the whole thing was to drive home what an obnoxious Karen this woman was and how another historically disadvantaged group of people does not often get the benefit of the doubt from society. Again, the stuff with the humming chair offscreen was an effective piece of business. People in wheelchairs can be assholes, too. Lord knows I have my moments.
This brings us back to Fletch, though, and it gets me to what I think is a reasonable request in the grand scheme of things: Let’s make a movie or a television show that’s about a cool dude in a wheelchair. That’s all. No superpowers or billions of dollars. No moping or misery, or at least not more than we need to get back to the thing where the dude in the wheelchair is cool. Have him solve an art theft, or commit an art theft, or commit and solve an art theft. There are lots of options here. It is very doable. There doesn’t even need to be an art theft, I guess. The main thing is the part about being a cool dude, kind of like if The Dude in The Big Lebowski were the one in the wheelchair instead of the other rich and angry Lebowski. I would really appreciate if someone stole some art at some point, though, if only because I love a good art theft movie.
(Quick note that is probably important: I am using terms to describe a male character here only because I wanted to use “dude” in the headline. It can absolutely be a lady in a wheelchair, too. And there should be a word that describes a cool woman as effectively as “dude” describes a cool man. Let’s work on this one, too.)
Three notes, in conclusion:
- This is not just an issue for characters with disabilities, by any means, as Hollywood has a long history of “minority character as criminal or thinly-drawn prop to tell the main character’s story” as its fallback for inclusion
- We can and should tell lots of stories about lots of people, good and bad, because that’s a cool thing to do (and something we are making progress on, in general, I think), but this is just the one I want to highlight to today because I watched both Confess, Fletch and Atlanta in the last week and I’ve been thinking about them a lot
- If someone out there is going to do this, the thing about the cool dude in the wheelchair, please cast an actual actor in a wheelchair to play the cool dude, just so I don’t have to pitch and write a second article like this about how you messed up my idea
This was a pretty good conversation. I’m glad we are getting it all out there. Let’s circle back to it all in maybe a year to see how things are working out.