TV Viewpoint: The Human Cyborg Shows Us What It Is to Be Human

In our world of mé féin-ery, it’s sometimes difficult to put yourself in another person’s shoes. It’s even more difficult to put yourself into another person’s wheelchair. It’s very hard to imagine the difficulties and everyday hurdles to overcome as a person who is disabled, and it’s not until an individual experiences, it themselves that they become apparent.

Peter Scott-Morgan is a scientist who was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease in 2016. His decline, like many other sufferers of the condition, has been rapid, since his first twinge of something being wrong while unable to shake water off his legs after taking a bath.

His mission as a man of great faith in science, and as an incurable optimist who looks on the bright side of life, has since been to design and be the guinea pig for radically experimental technological treatments for his condition, to allow him some of the freedoms he enjoyed while an able bodied man, and to pioneer treatments for those coming after him.

In Peter: The Human Cyborg, which aired last Thursday on Channel 4, we accompanied Peter and his husband as they navigated the rocky road to management of the disease. Peter is an upbeat beacon of positivity, which Francis is his calm, grounded rock. They’ve been a successful team for 40 years, and it’s their love story that ultimately carries the documentary.

The extraordinary optimism on show throughout the two major operations we see Peter go through; the first to adapt his digestive tract more functionally for his condition, the second a laryngectomy that takes away his voice, is inspiring. Here is a man whose eager brain is determined to outwit his body.

One thing that is skimmed over is the cost of the prototype; Scott-Morgan enthusiastically hopes that his pioneering developments will help those who are dealing with similar disadvantages in the future. But I’m not sure your average Joe will have the funding for an exoskeleton, an interface with a replica of their face to do the talking for them when they’re rendered unable to do so, or even a computerised voice that sounds the same as they do.

At the same time, the programme was uplifting, about seeing beyond the horizon to the silver lining on the clouds. And that it did well. Peter may be down, but he’s certainly not out.

I Hate Suzie is a new comedy drama on Sky Atlantic, which started last Thursday at 9pm. It deals with a situation that has and will strike dread into the minds of those in the public eye; a phone hacking scandal. Elation at being cast in a Disney movie turns to shell-shocked horror when Suzie Pickles discovers via a tabloid entertainment site that her phone has been accessed and there are photos of her in a very compromising position doing the rounds online.

Billie Piper plays Suzie, in a virtuoso performance, with cameras constantly up close and personal in her face to make full use of her hugely expressive face. She is at her country house with her husband and son when she receives the news of the casting, exhilaration oozing from every pore as she fetches a bottle of bubbly (at 9am) to celebrate.

When she next checks her phone she gets the awful news, made worse and much harder to cope with when a crew arrives to take her photo for an article. Desperate attempts at politeness and creating the artifice that everything is a-ok commence, and the chaos seems all too real, rather than piled on for effect.

The first episode takes place more or less in real time, in the morning it takes for the news to do the rounds, reach her manager, the crew and then her husband, despite Suzie’s best efforts to disconnect the Wi-Fi. For it turns out that the man in the photos isn’t him, and the timeline during which they were taken, ascertained by the colour of the highlights in her hair, is within the last three months.

It’s a compelling start, and will hopefully continue the conversation started a few years ago about a similar, real life scandal concerning a host of Hollywood A-Listers; that of consent, right to privacy and knowing where to save private photos safely. I Hate Suzie is not only thought provoking, but wickedly funny, and handles all the nuances of the narrative capably.

First published in The Tuam Herald on 02 09 20

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