By Chris Byrd | Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — An estimated 5.4 million American adults live on the autism spectrum. Television programming has gradually come to reflect this reality.
Now in its fifth season, the ABC drama “The Good Doctor” revolves around an autistic surgeon, Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore). And, though not identified as such, many have speculated that fan favorite Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) on CBS’ popular comedy “The Big Bang Theory” (2007-19) may have had Asperger’s syndrome.
Focusing on the condition more broadly than those programs, the dramedy “As We See It” explores the lives of three 20-something Californians who share an apartment with their life coach. Derived from an Israeli series, the show begins streaming Jan. 21 on Amazon Prime in eight half-hour episodes.
Informed by his experiences as the father of an autistic child, veteran writer and director Jason Katims (“Parenthood”) created and executive produces the series. However, the evidently good intentions behind the program — the cast of which is partly made up of autistic actors — are undermined by its morally wayward content and crass presentation.
Harrison (Albert Rutecki), the first of the trio of housemates to whom we’re introduced, struggles even more than his peers to contend with a world he finds hostile, loud and unsettling. This is illustrated by the opening scene in which, even with his counselor Mandy’s (Sosie Bacon) encouragement, Harrison finds the task of walking a single city block too overwhelming.
In his unfiltered candor and tendency to belittle others whom he deems intellectually inferior, computer programmer Jack (Rick Glassman) may remind some viewers of Sheldon. These traits imperil Jack’s job security at the Cooper Dam Publishing Co. But his dad Lou’s (Joe Mantegna) cancer diagnosis represents an even greater challenge for him.
Lou worries that he won’t be able to find someone to help his son manage his affairs. Yet, asserting his independence, Jack becomes desperately determined to increase his earnings so he can take care of himself.
Family tension also is an issue for Violet (Sue Ann Pien), who believes her overprotective older brother Van (Chris Pang) is intent on thwarting her desires for a romantic connection and greater autonomy. Violet’s storyline typifies the show’s ethical and artistic defects.
As imagined by the screenwriters, Violet is a one-note caricature of a young woman frantic to lose her virginity. Her misguided behavior matches the needlessly graphic terms in which she expresses this ambition.
Thus a casual encounter with deliveryman Julian (Casey Mills) ends in a predictably disastrous way, with Violet believing he’s her true love and him brushing her aside. As a result, Violet has a meltdown and loses her job at Arby’s. Van then brings the wrongdoing to a crescendo by seeing to it that Violet obtains an abortifacient “morning-after pill.”
The affront to pro-life viewers from this plot detail is aggravated by the vulgar and offensively misogynistic language with which the dialogue abounds — and by the frivolous references to pornography and masturbation it contains.
Katims would have been better off concentrating on the goal of championing the autistic community and highlighting the challenges the relatives of those who belong to it face. On this subject, the writers are sometimes quite eloquent — as when Lou, speaking of the disorder, says: “It’s a hell of a burden, but it’s also a gift.”
Similarly, those crafting the program would have been wise to devote more attention to Harrison’s eminently sympathetic character. As this sweet, gentle man achieves seemingly little victories that nonetheless mean a great deal to him, those who have stuck with “As We See It” will cheer him on enthusiastically. Yet they will have to endure much distasteful material to do so.
Byrd is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.