Cast Offs. Image shows from L to R: Tom (Tim Gebbels), Gabriella (Sophie Woolley), April (Victoria Wright), Will (Mat Fraser), Carrie (Kiruna Stamell), Dan (Peter Mitchell). Copyright: Eleven Film.

Cast Offs

Channel 4 comedy drama. 6 episodes (1 series) in 2009. Stars Tim Gebbels, Sophie Woolley, Victoria Wright, Mat Fraser, Kiruna Stamell and Peter Mitchell.

Press Clippings

My disability is not a joke

Last week, comedian Frankie Boyle caused a furore when he joked about Down's Syndrome; he was challenged by the mother of a child with Down's. Here, one woman shares her experience of being the butt of jokes about her disability.

Victoria Wright, The Guardian, 14th April 2010

While not the most viewed show of the year, Channel 4's Cast Offs was undoubtedly one of the most acclaimed. Although the premise sounded tacky - a faux-documentary about a bunch of handicapped people stranded on a desert island - the execution was first-rate and at times, genuinely moving. More broadly, it demonstrated that with some real thought and consideration, Channel 4 is more than capable of fulfilling the PSB part of its remit.

Neil Wilkes, Digital Spy, 1st January 2010

Farewell, then, Cast Offs (C4), almost certainly the best show about a bunch of disabled people left to fend for themselves on a desert island I've ever seen. The final episode focused on Carrie, who started off as one angry dwarf before nuzzling into the lap of her wheelchaired hunk (sex dwarf!) by way of a happy ending. As I generally supply my own subliminal soundtrack to TV shows, the opportunity to segue Ben Folds Five and Soft Cell was one to cherish.

Anyhow, Cast Offs was excellent, a captivating and insightful roam among funny, conflicted folk too often pushed to the margins of society. It's just a shame C4 banished it to the margins of their own schedules.

Keith Watson, Metro, 10th December 2009

This delightful and subversive mockumentary bows out tonight with a touching story about feisty dwarf Carrie (Kiruna Stamell), a woman who makes up for in attitude what she lacks in stature. "I'm not disabled, just a bit on the short side," she spits as she embarks on her umpteenth career (as a clown) while burying her feelings for Dan (Peter Mitchell), a wheelchair-bound ex-rugby player. The scripts have eschewed politically correct point-making in favour of bitingly funny comedy drama. Bravo. Another series and quickly, please, before hunky newcomer Mitchell is snapped up by Hollyoaks.

Vicki Power, The Telegraph, 9th December 2009

Final edition of an excellent series that has presented characters so strong, difficult and at times sexually charged that you forget they are disabled, while at key points being sharply reminded of the challenges they face. Carrie, the dwarf, on whom the last episode focuses, is a case in point. Months after the island, she is training with Mark Heap's professional clown to become a children's entertainer. As well as finding her a handful, Heap gets a sense of what it is like for a person like her to walk through the world. Meanwhile, back in time and on the island, everyone puts aside mixed emotions to say their farewells.

The Guardian, 9th December 2009

This creditable series has achieved what it set out to do - to present the lives of disabled people in a way that is both involving and unpatronising, its unidealised characters strong, rounded, feisty and wartsy, rather than mere victims or ciphers. Tonight, the focus is on Will, the thalidomide geezer, who is a political activist and keep-fit fanatic with just a slight hint of pain in the backside about him. And he has one of the best lines in the series thus far, regarding Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot: "the blacking up of the 21st century".

The Guardian, 1st December 2009

Cast Offs is Channel 4's new late-night comedy drama about six disabled young people (played by disabled young people) marooned on an island for a reality TV show. It got off to a slowish start as Dan, a 26-year-old paraplegic, gave us perhaps too authentic a sense of how long it took to get a wheelchair up a sandy beach. But things perked up once he met his fellow castaways - Tom, a blind actor who was chronically lazy, Gabriella, a deaf woman who was not very nice to the others, Carrie, who had dwarfism and was also a bit oo-er missus on the sexual front. Yes - why be defined by your disability when you could be defined by something less "abnormal"! The show was created by some of the writers on Skins, so the chums were soon discussing genitalia and running naked into the waves. And what about Dan's disabled basketball team, out binge-drinking and falling over in public? What were we to think: that not being able to walk was no bar to being a public nuisance? Perhaps we were.

Phil Hogan, The Observer, 29th November 2009

Brash guitar music blares in the background as we are informed, via shouty, capitalised intertitles, that "18 months ago Channel 4 marooned six disabled people on a remote island ... our cameras followed them during their time on the island and in the year leading up to them being stranded. Will they survive as ... Cast Offs?".

For anyone who caught Britain's Missing Top Model, last year's excruciating reality show that pitted disabled women against each other for the doubtful prize of a career as a fashion model, the Cast Offs format seems dismally credible. However, few people can have been taken in, even momentarily, given the interest that this mock-doc has attracted in the run-up to its broadcast.

Cast Offs is Castaway meets the aforementioned BMTM: six fictional characters with different disabilities ranging from blindness to paraplegia and dwarfism are challenged to live self-sufficiently on an island off the coast of Britain. Each episode traces the back-story of one of the characters through flashbacks while keeping track of the present-day goings-on among the group.

It's not that this is the first time we have seen disabled characters on our screens - TV and film are peppered with tragic victims and sage martyrs, firmly defined by their respective disabilities and almost always portrayed by non-disabled actors. Which is why Cast Offs - a show written by, acted by and about disabled people - has been hailed as landmark television.

But while the involvement of individuals with real-life disabilities is itself a milestone, it's the licence that this gives the programme to tread some ultra-sensitive ground that makes it such an exciting prospect. The occasional drama has approached the subject of disability thoughtfully, but the idea of placing it within a darkly comic frame remains contentious.

With this in mind, I was prepared for my moral compass to be set spinning - if it's OK for disabled people to crack jokes about each other's disabilities, is it OK for me, a non-disabled person, to laugh at them? It was both a relief and a disappointment that I never had to confront that question fully, because too little of it made me chuckle.

The segments on the island are the weak links, a problem since this is where the interaction between the main characters occurs, giving rise to the supposedly "edgy" humour as they squabble. But while the spectacle of a deaf woman goading a blind man for his inability to master sign language or telling a dwarf that her lips are too small for her to read makes a good point about tolerance within the disabled community, for me it wasn't funny enough to conceal the skeleton of the sermon beneath.

The at-home scenes worked better, sending up the misplaced concern and breathtaking ignorance of the surrounding able-bodied characters. A particular treat was Tom, a blind struggling actor, coaching a pompous RSC buffer to play Gloucester, post-eye-gouging, in King Lear. ("How would you look if you were standing on a cliff? Would you know you were on a cliff?" asks the actor. "Well, yes, after I'd fallen off it, I might think 'that's probably a cliff I've just fallen off'," shoots back Tom.) As the thesp fluffs his lines, Tom takes over the role with a quiet, moving delivery.

The potential strength of this absurd interlude is its stealth. A brief spark meets touchpaper and suddenly the most monolithic of ideas - in this case that blind people are possessed of some magical sixth sense - begin to crumble. So when Tom's love interest later asks plaintively "Why aren't you playing that part?", it dulls an already beautifully made point.

Cast Offs is an important moment in the intertwined histories of television and collective attitudes towards difference. But its value is as a cultural artefact rather than a piece of comedy drama. It's a shame, because there is the potential here for it to have been both. Edgy comedy is something that Gavin and Stacey, meanwhile, has never purported to be. At this point I should probably declare, for those who haven't deduced my nationality from my name, what may well be a genetically predisposed affection for the show.

Rhiannon Harries, The Independent, 29th November 2009

Real risk stalks Cast Offs, Channel 4's magnificent attempt to desentimentalise disability through a drama that places six "differently abled" young people in a fictional reality show in which they must survive for three months on a British island (not Barry). Is it going to be in bad taste, incredible, patronising, wince-making?

The greatest risk may be that, having refused to make its cast heroes, the writers may have made them too unlikeable to care about. Tuesday's opener concentrated on Dan, a sporty young man left paraplegic by a car accident, who is much less prepared than those around him, such as his father and his mates on the wheelchair basketball team, to locate the funny side (to what, exactly?). As Dan, Peter Mitchell produced, however, a performance that was deeply sympathetic. The flashback in which he brought a girl back to his parents' home from the pub - his father silently egged him on from the room next door - was as agonising as the date scene in Mike Leigh's Bleak Moments. Cast Offs has its faults, such as that not enough care has been taken with the reality show element, but it is doing most of what it attempts very well. The only offence caused is that, having taken so many creative risks, Channel 4 has not risked showing it before 11pm.

Andrew Billen, The Times, 28th November 2009

A blind one, a dwarf, a paraplegic, a deaf one, a thalidomider and a woman with cherubism - it's fair to say that Cast Offs ticked most of the disabled boxes. But one charge you couldn't lay at the door of this saltily written spin on Shipwrecked was tokenism: moving and funny by turns (yes, of a wheelchair) it offered a frank and funny portrait of survivors on the margins of society.

Taking TV's current obsession, the reality-show satire, and rolling with it, Cast Offs features six disabled characters cast away on a desert island (probably a Norfolk beach but, hey, who's quibbling?). Flicking back and forth between the show and individual backstories, you got a picture of people, not a set of conditions. It was a bit cheap kicking off with the story of sports jock Dan, a wheelchair basketball ace, because he was clearly the character most likely to appeal to anyone unsettled by disabled issues. But, by fair means or foul, I'm hooked.

Keith Watson, Metro, 25th November 2009