Friday, August 28, 2020

Love on the Spectrum

I have a child who is autistic. (And yes, I purposely didn't use "people-first language" because my kid doesn't want me to. They're proud to be called "autistic".) I teach sixth grade and have probably taught hundreds of kids with autism over the years, and probably many more who haven't yet been identified. Autism is close to my heart (I previously wrote reviews for Loop and Float, two Pixar shorts themed around autism). So it's no wonder that when Netflix released Love on the Spectrum, several friends suggested I watch it. Don't worry, I was already on it!

Love on the Spectrum
 sits boldly somewhere between a documentary and a reality show. It bounces between cast interviews, and following the cast as they interact with their families, as they get coaching advice from a dating expert, and as they go out on actual dates. At times the show can be heartwarming, lovely, and endearing. Other times, Love on the Spectrum can be cringy, maddening, and frustrating. What it is NOT is vapid. It's not exploitative. It's not just another reality series that tries to make light of its subjects. No. This show treats its subjects with dignity and respect. It's never condescending, never preachy. It works hard to present its people -- and their struggles -- in as real a light as possible. So the end result might have you cheering, hoping, praying, and celebrating. The end result might also simultaneously have you getting awkwardly angry, fidgeting and cringing in your seat, and even cursing at your screen. It's a beautiful mess. But isn't that what life is?

You'll fall in love with Michael, which is fitting since his main goal in life is find love. Michael will be an excellent husband, will treat his wife like a queen, and will debunk his proclamation that "a lot of people our age are not interested in commitment -- they are only interested in intercourse." Michael's interactions with his parents is a highlight of the show. These two people have instilled such an inspiring confidence and sense of love in Michael that it's infectious. Michael is easily a favorite, and you will root for him to find somebody. I mean, is Dawn Wells available? They seemed to hit it off! 

You'll also meet Olivia, the woman who belches without shame and collects tons of cat toys, all named Duchess. There's Andrew, who does the most unique James Bond impression, and will teach you his multistep process for making his favorite drink. You'll watch Kelvin receive dating practice from Jodi, the coach who is just as helpful as she is wonderful. I want Kelvin to be successful and to find somebody. Kelvin's dating practice was enlightening, and I walked away with some socializing tips! And then there's Ruth and Thomas, who are so adorkably cute and awkward and in love and perfect for each other. Keep an eye out for Ruth's amazing business card collection. Chloe is down to earth about finding her own path for love. Maddi is extroverted and has a really hard time hiding her boredom, but she also rocks a Batman outfit! You'll be impressed by Mark's paleontological knowledge, and you'll find yourself wanting and wishing and hoping he finds the right person. 

And then there's Sharnae and Jimmy. It's endearing to watch Jimmy correct Sharnae when she makes mistakes, because it's not from a place of putting her down, but from a place of making sure she feels empowered and just pure love for Sharnae. Watch Jimmy in the the fifth episode (and the Season One finale) as he struggles with having the right socks to match his outfit, and how he uses breathing techniques and a Rubik's cube to cope with his stress. At first I thought it was a quirk from his autism. But as I kept watching, I realized that he was under possibly the most stressful situation of his life, one I can relate to empathically and directly. Bring some tissues for that episode. You'll thank me later.

My only gripe about Love on the Spectrum is that they only depict autistic people dating other autistic people. True, some of the people spotlighted on the show prefer dating people who are also on the spectrum. But many don't. And unfortunately, only showing dates with people who are not neurotypical has the undesired effect of saying "These people are different and separate from the world." But whatever dating preferences these people have, the Love on the Spectrum shows each person as an individual, a unique creation with strengths and weaknesses. It's inspiring to see people face the complex world of dating and socializing, and how to navigate the tricky waters of nonverbal cues and making small talk. Love on the Spectrum is engaging, fun, disheartening, enlightening, vexing, satisfying, moving, funny, aggravating, and stimulating, all at once.

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