Why As We See It should be your next box set
James R | On 03, Apr 2022
From Atypical and The A Word to Love on the Spectrum, TV shows featuring people with autism have becoming increasingly common in recent years – and this wave of programmes has ushered in an increasingly accurate depiction of autism. Moving away from the single, stereotypical notion that autism automatically makes someone a savant, what we’ve begun to see is the multiplicity of people’s experiences with autism, resulting in a more diverse, complex and compassionate tapestry of different lives and personalities. Amazon’s drama As We See It is perhaps the best of the bunch.
The series is based on the Israeli show On the Spectrum. Created by Jason Katims, of Friday Night Lights fame, the eight-part drama follows a group of roommates: Jack (Rick Glassman), Harrison (Albert Rutecki) and Violet (Sue Ann Pien), all of whom are on the autism spectrum and, perhaps more importantly, all of whom are in their 20s. That means they have to navigate all the challenges that come with coming of adulthood – not just getting a job but, crucially, retaining one, not to mention finding a relationship, dealing with family issues or simply making it a block down the street without encountering an intimidating person or dog.
What’s immediately apparent is just how different the challenges are for the characters, with each one having their own distinct interests, situations and behaviours. Jack is a programmer who is so confident in his own intelligence and coding talents that he doesn’t think twice about calling his colleagues – and even his boss – an idiot. Even when his dad (Joe Mantegna) receives a worrying diagnosis, he struggles with listening to the doctor rather than being the knowledgeable expert in the room. Harrison doesn’t have a job but also doesn’t have many friends, so an unexpected connection that forms with a neighbour from downstairs is an exciting source of hope. Violet, meanwhile, wants nothing more than to be normal and get a boyfriend, to the point where she starts to sign up to dating apps – much to the concern of her protective brother, Van (Chris Pang).
Katims charts these sometimes intersecting journeys with a heartwarming sense of understanding and intimacy, never shying away from awkward conversations or from complications that can turn any situation into something more unexpected or messy. The central cast, all of whom are autistic, are superb, movingly capturing the gamut of emotions that any 20-something has to go through, while also realistically portraying the difficulty they each have in processing them. Glassman’s arrogance is beautifully contrasted with Rutecki’s vulnerable honesty and Pien’s frank frustrations. Watching them interact through meltdowns and laughter is a joy, as they provide annoyances, encouragement and support to each other, sometimes without realising it and sometimes putting themselves in uncomfortable positions to do so.
Acting is mediator is Sosie Bacon as Mandy, their aide who cares deeply about making sure they’re OK. She has her own challenges to deal with, from a possible romantic spark with Van to confrontations with those who are less understanding of the trio. As Mandy learns that it’s less about helping them fit into the world and more about helping the world to understand them, Bacon gently explores the exasperation and exhaustion that can come from being a caregiver, but never at the expense of emphasising the enthusiasm and love she feels about her work. It’s a generous turn that similarly never takes the spotlight away from the central cast, but adds to and amplifies their unique paths towards independence.
Along the way, the show raises countless fascinating, thought-provoking dilemmas. Where is the line between being protected and being prevented from flourishing? Is the desire to be “normal” just a result of the pressures of a wider society? How do you prioritise your own wellbeing and dreams while still avoiding unexpected disruptions to another person’s routine? How do you tell whether your date’s intentions are honourable? How do you know if it’s too soon to message your brother’s girlfriend (Vella Lovell)?
Juliet, Naked helmer Jesse Peretz directs these winding, heartwarming strands with enough breathing space for each one to have an impact. Whether our heartstrings are being pulled by Jack working out how much of his dad’s emotional burden he can take on or we’re smiling at Violet’s eager appropriation of every slang term she hears at work, it’s an ensemble drama in the truest sense of the word, and sets a high bar for TV in 2022, not just in terms of representation of and media portrayals of autism, but in terms of TV full-stop.