As We See It review: Amazon Prime Video show throws a thoughtful lens at life on the spectrum

In As We See It, characters on the spectrum are defined not by autism alone but by their likes and dislikes, fears, challenges, workplaces, and aspirations

Chintan Girish Modi January 26, 2022 12:12:20 IST
As We See It review: Amazon Prime Video show throws a thoughtful lens at life on the spectrum

If you enjoyed Robia Rashid’s Atypical and David Shore’s The Good Doctor, I strongly recommend As We See It – the new series created by Jason Katims. I like all three but there is something particularly significant about the third. Unlike the first two shows, which revolve around one character who is on the autism spectrum, As We See It has three characters with autism. Katims was inspired to make the show because his son Sawyer is on the spectrum.

The lone neurodiverse character in any show filled with neurotypical characters has to take on the job of educating the audience about the neurological condition or the developmental disorder that they have been diagnosed with. This person has the added pressure of coming across as convincingly neurodiverse, which sounds insulting since neurodiverse people do not fit a template. They have their unique personalities, life stories, interests and passions.

Since As We See It has three characters on the spectrum – Jack, Harrison and Violet – none of them is expected to do all the heavy lifting in terms of representation. They are defined not by autism alone but by their daily schedules, likes and dislikes, fears, challenges, workplaces, and aspirations. It is based on an Israeli series created by Dana Idisis and Yuval Shafferman.

Previously, Katins worked on the series Parenthood, in which one of the characters – Max Braverman – has Asperger’s Syndrome. Max was modelled on Sawyer but he did not watch Parenthood. Katins is hopeful that Sawyer will watch As We See It. Earlier this month, in a column for The Hollywood Reporter, Katins wrote, “I would give anything to have what I do be acknowledged by my son.” Sawyer prefers to watch Shark Tank, Cops and Bar Rescue.

Apart from being on the autism spectrum, sharing a rented apartment, and having an aide named Mandy, there are very few things that Harrison, Violet and Jack have in common. They come from different socio-economic backgrounds. Two of them are men. One is a woman. One struggles with obesity. Another is desperate for sex but does not have a partner. The third has a father who is diagnosed with cancer, so he is stuck in a job to pay the bills.

As We See It review Amazon Prime Video show throws a thoughtful lens at life on the spectrum

As We See It | Amazon Studios

Unlike Atypical and The Good Doctor, where neurotypical actors play neurodiverse characters,  As We See It ensures that neurodiverse actors are playing neurodiverse characters.

While this casting decision might be dismissed as ‘woke’ by people who think that representation does not matter, it would be helpful to reframe the discussion in terms of the lack of opportunities currently available for neurodiverse people to make a career in acting.

In his column, Katins wrote, “The leads, authentically performed by brilliant actors on the spectrum, are pitch perfect. They ooze charm and honesty. They say exactly what is on their mind, at times resulting in the kind of irreverent humour that I know would make Sawyer smile. The characters deal with everything Sawyer and everyone deals with this at this age – love, loss, friendship, jobs – but they do it through the lens of being on the spectrum.”

Rick Glassman is excellent as Jack, who writes software for a tech firm that puts his creativity to little use. He sees himself as independent and wants to pass as neurotypical. He is not particularly excited to make friends because technology seems sufficient for company. However, he does open himself to romantic love and filial love as the show progresses. He knows that empathy is not his strong suit, so he decides to work on it with Mandy’s help.

Sue Ann Pien packs in a memorable performance as Violet, the die-hard romantic who wants to lose her virginity. Apart from her work as a sandwich technician at a fast-food joint, she keeps busy looking for the perfect man. Sex and love are inseparable for her but she does not know that others think differently. Violet has a protective elder brother who cannot bear to see her getting hurt but he often forgets that she is not a baby. She needs autonomy.

Albert Rutecki is magnificent as Harrison, the son of rich parents who pay handsomely to provide comfort so that he does not have to take up a job. He likes experimenting with food, and watching television. He spends a lot of time indoors because life outside the apartment feels overwhelming and unsafe. He is willing to push himself for the people he loves. His best friend is AJ, an adorable child in the neighbourhood. Harrison has a crush on Mandy.

There are multiple sub-plots in As We See It, and many surprises to unwrap as you watch. What stood out for me is the fact that each character with a saviour complex is given an opportunity to look within, and examine the uneasy entanglements between power and care.

Is tough love a euphemism for violence? Should emotional blackmail be tolerated? How does consent, or lack thereof, play out in non-sexual contexts? Does anyone have the right to make a decision for anyone else? These are some of the many questions that this show grapples with. If you do watch it, look out for Ewatomi – the character that truly deserves a sequel.

As We See It is streaming on Amazon Prime.

Chintan Girish Modi is a freelance writer, journalist and book reviewer.

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