Go ahead. Stare. The wheelchair-using friends in a new reality-TV series love being the center of attention.
LOS ANGELES - Four gorgeous women click cocktails at a patio bar as one flirty blonde with a Valley Girl-endorsed name (Tiphany) disses her soon-to-be ex-boyfriend for wanting to sleep with others. It's an all too familiar conversation on reality TV, one that would be drowned out by Kardashian gossip and "Real Housewives" catcalling if it weren't for this quartet's unique bond: None of them can get up from the table.
"Push Girls," which premieres Monday on Sundance Channel, could have easily been a woe-is-me series about these wheelchair-using friends who had big aspirations before tragic circumstances robbed them of the ability to walk. In fact, the first episode opens with each sharing her story (three were hurt in car accidents while the fourth ruptured a blood vessel in her spinal cord).
But these women are too feisty to throw themselves a pity party. They want to drive the same hot cars, party in the same hot clubs, date the same hot guys and wear the same hot dresses as every other wannabe in Tinseltown.
"Basically, we're four queens sitting on our thrones," said Auti Angel, a former dancer for gangsta rap godfathers N.W.A. who interrupted an interview earlier this year to pop a wheelie.
Not that the show's stars can simply roll with it.
In one scene, Tiphany Adams, an aspiring fitness model, has trouble negotiating a staircase to a nightclub. Mia Schaikewitz, a onetime competitive swimmer, faces the perils of returning to the pool for the first time since her paralysis. Angela Rockwood Nguyen, a former lingerie model, has to deal with a stack of bills, a separation from her husband (a former star of TV's old "21 Jump Street," Dustin Nguyen) and the reluctance of the modeling industry to bring her back into the fold.
During a photo shoot on the show, Nguyen started suffering from spasms, which, if not treated quickly, could lead to a stroke. A photographer looked on with more than a glint of pessimism in his eyes.
"It's like a guy with no arms wanting to pitch," he said to the cameras in a separate interview.
But the women agree that their biggest challenge is making sure they don't lose their self-confidence along with their mobility. Scenes in which Angel teaches hip-hop to paralyzed kids and Adams flirts with a gas-station attendant show that they haven't lost their sass.
"One thing I learned is that a lot of people lose themselves," Nguyen said. "I think the common denominator with us is, yeah, our wheelchairs, but also our spirit and how we just live life to the fullest. If this happened to an 11-year-old, I would tell them to not stop believing in what you want to do with your life and your dreams. Don't focus on what you don't have; focus on what you do have."
Mentoring actually becomes an integral component later in the series when the quartet befriends a 20-year-old woman paralyzed by a car accident during her senior year in high school.
The opportunity to inspire others is a big reason Schaikewitz signed up for the show.
"At the time it happened to me, I wished I had had a role model or that I knew somebody else that had been through it and had gone on with their life," she said. "And I remember at that moment thinking, 'Gosh, I hope to be able to do that for other people someday, and not necessarily people that are paralyzed, but anybody that's gone through a challenge.'"
Executive producer Gay Rosenthal said the show's ability to inspire others is why she thinks it will play to a wide audience.
"Everybody has adversity and challenges and heartache and obstacles," she said. "When you look at this and watch them you'll say, 'Oh, my God, if they can overcome this, I can overcome that.'"
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