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The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The A Word centers on a family living in England's Lake District that's coming to terms with the recent discovery that their 5-year-old son has autism. That said, the show also devotes a lot of screen time to adult problems such as adultery and casual sex (including high schoolers who are thinking about having sex, albeit with protection), so it's far from family fare. Characters use words such as "hell," "damn," "whore," "hooker," and "hard on," and you'll see scenes involving implied and simulated sex (thrusting in bed, moaning, and the like) but with no sensitive parts shown. Some characters also drink socially and smoke cigarettes.
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What's the story?
When concerned family members suggest that something might be wrong with the way 5-year-old Joe (Max Vento) interacts with those around him, the boy's disbelieving mother (Morven Christie) and father (Lee Ingleby) are forced to confront THE A WORD -- an autism diagnosis -- and rethink the way they've been handling his various "quirks." But in addition to dealing with treatments and therapies, they must also contend with small-town sensibilities.
Is it any good?
Though it takes on a worthy topic, this uneven drama ultimately gets in its own way with too many subplots that divert attention from the most important thing: Joe's autism. And these side stories aren't even all that riveting -- in particular, the aftereffects of adultery as explored through Joe's estranged aunt (Vinette Robinson) and uncle (Greg McHugh), who have conveniently moved back into town, bringing all their problems with them -- not to mention the odd comic relief of Joe's grandfather (Christopher Eccleston), who takes singing lessons on the down-low while dodging the sexual advances of his teacher.
Vento's affecting portrayal of Joe and his parents' imperfect handling of his diagnosis should be enough to sustain our interest for an entire season. But all the extra stuff going on just feels like filler that pushes this potentially poignant drama a bit too far off the mark. In the end, the best thing about The A Word is its infectious soundtrack, which not only is flat-out great but also fitting, considering music is Joe's preferred way to express himself. In those moments, when the volume's turned up, we can most clearly hear his voice.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The A Word and how it portrays the real-life highs and lows of living with autism spectrum disorder. Which character do you find yourself sympathizing with the most? Is every character meant to be likable?
Did you know much about autism spectrum disorder before watching The A Word? How did Joe and his family's experiences compare with what you already knew? Can dramas like this one truly help people understand ASD better?
Is The A Word appropriate for families? Who's the intended audience? How can you tell?
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