YouTube channel delivers with show about daughter's wrenching decisions over aging mom

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Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Mary Gustafson, McKnight's Staff Writer
Admittedly, my expectations were pretty low when I first saw a press release about "the #1 scripted drama series on YouTube" called “Ruth & Erica.” The Internet-only show follows a “woman struggling with her mother's reluctance to make the life changes necessary in light of her increasing frailty.”

I became even more skeptical when I read that the show is being produced by the YouTube channel WIGS, which stands for “where it gets interesting.” The channel produces documentaries, short films and scripted comedies and dramas featuring women in the leading roles. To me, this characterization screams “Lifetime TV & Movies For Women.”

I was prepared for poorly written and produced melodrama, but that's not at all what I found.

The first two of the 13 total webisodes was posted online this week, and they boast an all-star cast, including Maura Tierney (for all you “ER” fans out there), Philip Baker Hall and Lois Smith — definitely not a cast of amateurs. After I got past the advertisements and promotional videos for the show, it quickly lost the “Lifetime” movie vibe I felt in reading press clippings. What's more, one character's casual dropping of an unexpected f-bomb in episode No. 2 made it clear this was no Lifetime series.

The first installment, which was only seven minutes long, portrayed a scene that I suspect most nursing home residents and their families would recognize right away. Tierney's character, Erica, confronts her elderly mother about continually allowing Erica's father (Hall) to drive, despite his having fallen asleep at a stop sign. Ruth (Smith) can't bear the indignity of taking her husband's keys away. Nor can she admit that his progressive dementia has changed anything in their previously comfortable lives.

In the second episode, Tierney's character unloads her fears about her parents' decline over a gin-and-tonic at a bar, a scenario I'm sure a lot of caregivers can relate to.

It's hard to form an opinion of a television (or Internet) show based on only 15 minutes worth of action, but I have a feeling this series will continue to surprise me.

It feels wrong to hope that one or both of Erica's parents will require a nursing home stay, but I'd be curious to see how this show handles it. Would the show portray a nursing home as a place where negligence runs amok, or would it stay away from stereotypes and show us a Green House-style community? Would it touch on the use of antipsychotics for nursing home residents or perhaps how overburdened nurses and CNAs are?

Either way, I hope it continues to challenge viewers' perception of aging and, of course, long-term care. The profession deserves some time portrayed in a positive light.

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McKnight's Daily Editor's Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor on Monday and Friday; Staff Writer Tim Mullaney on Tuesday, Editor James M. Berklan on Wednesday and Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman on Thursday.

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