The first time I sat down to watch Love on the Spectrum, I couldn’t watch more than 10 minutes of it before dramatically turning my TV off and tossing the remote aside in anger. In fact, it wasn’t until my third attempt, with my husband sitting next to me as my accountability partner, that I made it through the entire first episode.
Even if it took me three tries, I’m glad I watched it, because it turned out to be pretty great.
The five-episode docuseries from Netflix follows a handful of people who are on the Autism spectrum as they navigate dating. Oftentimes, shows like these come across as “inspiration porn” or are a complete misrepresentation of the community they’re spotlighting. But the first episode of Love on the Spectrum seems to have mostly avoided those fates.
I was initially turned off because there are some very cringy moments in the introductory portion of the first episode. Instead of explaining how the mind of someone on the spectrum works, the producers seemed to be drawing attention to the ways it manifests behaviorally (which can be very different from the behaviors of a neurotypical person). Without giving the ‘why‘ behind these behaviors, it looked like they were just going to highlight the differences in people on the spectrum and further alienate them.
But once I pushed past those first 10 minutes, I found that it quickly becomes more informational.
The producers add bits of information in a variety of ways throughout the episode. Some is provided through the classic documentary-style voiceover, but the best education comes from the main casts’ families. One set of parents explains the misconception about people on the spectrum not having any empathy, another cast member’s dad touches on how being on the spectrum affected his daughter socially as a child. Hearing these explanations in layman’s terms, from people with real-life experience and knowledge made it feel more meaningful.
As for the cast themselves, all of those featured in this episode are simply lovely. Creating a relationship between someone onscreen and an audience is not easy for a producer, and the lazy approach in this situation would have been to evoke a sense of pity from the viewer. I didn’t find myself pitying any of these people, though. I found myself sympathizing with their search for love, but never feeling sorry for them.
There is, refreshingly, no “inspiration porn” to be found.
Even better (after you get through that introduction part) the cast members are portrayed for what they are — humans. Michael is witty and kind, Chloe is bold and very smart, Ruth makes no apologies for who she is, and Thomas is thoughtful and full of joy. Each person will have you laughing at one point or another — always with them, never at them.
The main thing missing, however, is diversity. The central cast is white and seems to be similar in terms of where they are on the spectrum. My hope for seasons to come is that there’s more representation and that they spotlight someone on the spectrum who’s not so stereotype of Autism we’ve already seen in the media.
In all honesty, I am not usually a fan of series that follow someone’s real-life quest for love, but Love on the Spectrum has my attention.
It’s rare to find anything in entertainment that can put Autism on display without it being a b-storyline or the central focus. Autism is simply present in this show, and that’s what makes it so wonderful.