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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Love on the Spectrum is a reality dating show featuring participants who are on the autism spectrum and interested in finding love. Their desires and their struggles are treated with dignity and seriousness; there's no question that they're deserving of love and family members and loved ones support their efforts to find it. Participants discuss their lives and their feelings in talking-head interviews, we also see them at home with their families, out in the world, and on dates. As is typical on a dating show, dating and romance are central; expect romantic complications -- including emotional pain, awkwardness, and rejection -- as well as flirting, kissing, and references to sex. There are infrequent references to body parts, like when a man says he likes his wife's "cute patootie." Language is also infrequent: "s--t." Some drink beer and liquor at parties or gatherings; no one gets drunk. Participants and their loved ones are frank about the struggles caused by autism, as well as about their desires for love and sex; significant levels of empathy and integrity are evident in the way participants accept themselves and are accepted by others; communication plays a large part in their romantic successes. The series' decision to let people with autism speak for themselves makes the whole enterprise feel genuine and non-exploitative, as well as heartfelt and emotionally involving.
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What's the story?
Like its participants, LOVE ON THE SPECTRUM is far from ordinary. Like other dating shows, it introduces interested singles with people who are open to dating them; unlike others, the people on the show are on the autism spectrum. We meet people like 25-year-old Michael, an aspiring future husband who hasn't yet had a date, and Chloe, who never had friends at school but has dated both men and women successfully. They and others answer questions about their feelings on love and how to get it in interviews, and then allow documentarians to tag along as they go about their lives and head out on dates.
Is it any good?
Most people want love and neurological differences don't change that, so something this heartfelt and lovely series gets very right is presenting its participants' romantic interests as absolutely typical. And yet, since many people on the spectrum struggle to make friends -- many of Love on the Spectrum's interviewees refer darkly to being bullied in the past, or of having no friends at all -- and since romantic relationships tend to be even more fraught, part of the show involves watching perfectly nice people strike out. As delightful as it is to hear Michael rhapsodize about how happy he intends to make his future wife, and to confidently sum up his appeal to his parents ("An A-plus partner looks like me," he says), his painfully awkward first date is hard to watch. And yet, Michael works up his courage to try again, as we all must, in this way like so many others, typical.
Love on the Spectrum has its beautiful moments, though, too, and they're all the better because they feel earned. The successful relationship of Ruth and Tom is an early series highlight; we see them canoodling at home, and witness Tom's proposal, pulling up on the bus he drives with a ring for his intended. Then we ride along as Ruth and Tom celebrate their anniversary, conveyed to a picnic with a view of the urban skyline by a uniformed chauffeur. "Do you like it?" Tom asks nervously, not sure how to take Ruth's facial expression. "It's very a la The Bachelor," she answers bluntly, dashing his hopes. But wonderfully, Tom values his wife for her quirky reactions. "You're a very special girl, Ruth," he says. "You're very different and very unique. "And you're a handsome boy," Ruth replies. "I'm a handsome boy," Tom agrees. Expect regular "is someone cutting onions in here?" reactions while you watch.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about autism and Love on the Spectrum's portrayal of people with autism. Are they treated with dignity and respect?
How are viewers supposed to feel about Michael, Chloe, Maddi and the other participants we meet? Are we supposed to like them? Relate to them? Laugh at them? How can you tell? How do TV shows and movies communicate how to feel about the people on-screen? How does a documentary setup change how its participants are portrayed?
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