This is a show about a family with lots of issues but a couple has a five year old son with issues and they are in denial. I watched the first show tonight. It is especially difficult for me because I have a son with autism and went through similar things except instead of me and my wife being in denial, it was everyone else including doctors, hearing specialists (my son first was diagnosed with a hearing impairment at 9 months) and other family members. The show brings back the pain of having your child react so oddly and other kids start to grow out of wanting to be around your kid and you are excluded and looked at pathetically by everyone else. That is the start and the first show along with some other family drama. Hit home for me and my wife.
Review: ‘The A Word’ Takes Unblinking Look at Autism
Lately, television has quietly been doing better by people with disabilities, a trend that takes a significant step forward with “The A Word,” which begins Wednesday on SundanceTV.
This lovely six-part British series, anguishing but also sometimes drolly funny, is about a family slowly coming to the realization that its youngest member, 5-year-old Joe (Max Vento), is autistic. Written by Peter Bowker and based on an Israeli series, the show is like a scientific experiment. It takes plot elements familiar from any generic drama — an affair, a controlling patriarch, economic struggles — drops an autistic child in the middle of them and observes the ripple effects, which are considerable.
At the center, with Joe, are his parents, Paul (Lee Ingleby of “Inspector George Gently”) and Alison (Morven Christie of “Grantchester”). The series opens with Joe’s fifth birthday party in a beautifully written scene that goes right to the heart of the confusion and denial that parents feel when they begin to suspect that their child is different. The party guests are playing a freeze-when-the-music-stops game, but Joe is off in his own world, not paying attention. What Alison does to try to make sure he isn’t the first child tagged out on his own birthday is utterly human, and painful to see.
Denial dominates the first two episodes, continuing in various ways, even after the couple receives an accurate diagnosis. Their initial meeting with a specialist is a textbook example of parents’ refusing to acknowledge the obvious, even though they have sought out expert advice.
The A Word makes autism a family affair
Autism—or at least aspects of autism—has become somewhat of a go-to “character quirk” for TV writers. Represented as much by savantism as anything else, it’s used to imbue characters with an otherworldly ability in a gambit to make them unique when in fact these characters often come out the same: A character is given an aversion to social interaction in order to bestow them with incredible means of deduction or investigation. Think Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory, Brennan on Bones, Dr. Spencer Reid on Criminal Minds. It’s less a disorder and more of a superpower.
The A Word, based on Israeli show Yellow Peppers, deals with autism in the concrete. Five-year-old Joe Hughes (Max Vento) is not like his schoolmates, and everyone in his family seems willing to accept that there’s something wrong except his parents, Alison (Morven Christie) and Paul (Lee Ingleby). Joe is obsessed with music: He’s never without his trusty headphones, and most of what he says are song lyrics. He doesn’t take direction, not because he’s obstinate, but because he can’t. Joe is also a wider part of the family portrait, which is one of The A Word’s greatest strengths. It shares that quality with another dramedy that used an autism-spectrum disorder to great narrative effect: Parenthood. Like the Bravermans, members of the Hughes family have lives that both are and are not affected by Joe’s disorder. Joe’s diagnosis comes just as his uncle Eddie (Greg McHugh) returns to the picturesque vacation town of his youth to live with Alison and Paul. Eddie’s business has just failed, and his wife, Nicola (Vinnette Robinson), has just cheated on him with a colleague, but they’re trying to make a go of it, something that everyone in the small town full of strangers seems to know about. Joe’s sister, Rebecca (Molly Wright), neglected by her parents who are distracted with Joe’s disorder, is contemplating whether to sleep with her boyfriend, while their grandfather, Maurice (Christopher Eccleston), is contemplating whether to sleep with his voice teacher.
Importantly, The A Word is a tapestry—not one scene—reflecting that autism diagnoses affect how families live and view the world but do not necessarily consume them. There are still problems to have, petty and otherwise, in the day to day. This structure allows The A Word to take a break from the serious and real in order to be funny. Eccleston’s Maurice, a resolute man who wants to help his grandson and daughter but is seemingly incapable of tact, is a necessary humorous diversion, as is the wonderful McHugh, playing the nice guy who always finishes last.