“Ruth & Erica” launched this week on the YouTube Internet channel WIGS, which, according to the press release, is now the most popular channel for scripted drama on YouTube. The show portrays the dynamics of a family facing the challenges that often accompany aging and ill health.
When I asked author and director Amy Lippman (Party of Five) what prompted her to write a drama about aging, she told me, “Over the past few years, I've become increasingly aware that my conversations with my friends were veering away from our usual talk about our kids to talk of our parents, how they were aging, and how their aging was affecting us. We were constantly seeking advice from each other: what were our responsibilities toward our parents?
“How entitled were they to make their own decisions about their future if those decisions had direct consequences for us?” she continued. “When was the right time to insist they become less independent for the sake of their safety and our convenience?”
I then asked Lippman if she had any personal experience with loved ones who had cognitive issues or Alzheimer’s disease. From her response, I gathered she was quite fortunate.
“My own parents recently made a decision to sell their house of forty years and move into a senior community,” she said. “But they were fortunate to have many excellent options, and most importantly, to make that decision together when they were both in excellent health. But for dramatic purposes, it was easy to imagine a less ideal situation, where those choices needed to be made by one spouse for the other, or by a daughter for her parents who didn't share her perspective on their increasing fragility.”
Lippman went on to comment about what she calls the “shock” of seeing our parents decline, something many of us with aging elders can relate to.
“While we expect our children to change over time, we somehow expect our parents to stay the same, and the shock of seeing them diminished in any way, physically or mentally, is inescapable for most of us,” Lippman said. “It forces us into roles we never envisioned for ourselves: caretakers of our caretakers. This passing of the torch struck the writer in me as incredibly poignant, and the logical extension of it was to imagine a scenario where a parent literally becomes the child, which is so often the case with Alzheimer's.”
The “Ruth and Erica” story
“Ruth and Erica” features a woman struggling with her mother's reluctance to make the life changes necessary in light of her and her husband’s increasing need for help. This 13-episode Internet series stars Lois Smith as Ruth (Twister and True Blood) and Philip Baker Hall as Harry (Magnolia). They are the aging parents of adult child Erica, played by Maura Tierney (ER).
Ruth has normal aging issues. She is also under enormous stress as she tries to smooth the road for her husband, Harry, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Judging from the first episode, which is the only one I’ve viewed in full so far, Ruth is mired in denial and very protective of Harry. The episode includes a tense confrontation between Ruth and Erica about Harry’s driving.
Erica, a lonely landscape architect, is trying to balance her work with caring for her parents in a different city. Other feature roles include Michael C. Hall as Eric’s love interest, Dexter, who is a former drug addict and Ruth’s not too effective real estate agent (this is Hollywood, okay?). There are also cameos from Rosalind Chao, Jane Kaczmarek and Steven Weber.
Alzheimer’s disease continues to make inroads into popular culture through movies, television and novels. This Internet series adds to the list and hopefully will educate a number of people who are looking for an interesting drama, whether or not they are part of the demographic that would ordinarily watch a show about Alzheimer’s disease.
Each episode can be accessed after it airs, so there’s no problem catching up if you miss any of them. Having personally viewed one episode, I was drawn in enough to want more. I intend to give the series a try. Getting high profile actors on board with this important subject is wonderful.
Published On: September 25, 2012