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You'll want to see the new show from Jason Katims
Jason Katims, the writer and executive producer of the new Amazon Prime Video dramedy As We See It, has a lot of experience living with and writing about people with autism. His experiences raising his son Sawyer informed the character Max Braverman (Max Burkholder), a child diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, on Parenthood, his excellent NBC dramedy that ran from 2010 to 2015. Now, Sawyer is grown up, and Katims has drawn from his personal experiences once again for a new show about young adults on the autism spectrum — and it matches Parenthood for heart and warmth. As We See It is an authentic and respectful look at the lives of neurodiverse people and their loved ones that's life-affirming and tear-jerking.
The series is about three 25-year-olds on the autism spectrum living together in an apartment in Los Angeles. Jack (Rick Glassman) works as a coder and has a tendency to offend people with his blunt way of speaking. His father Lou (Joe Mantegna) has cancer, and they both worry that Jack won't be OK if he's not around anymore. Violet (Sue Ann Pien) works at Arby's and is obsessed with the idea of going on dates and having a boyfriend and being "normal," which causes a lot of tension with her extremely protective brother Van (Chris Pang), who struggles to balance having his own life with caring for his sister. And Harrison (Albert Rutecki) is trying to overcome severe social challenges and venture outside the apartment independently. They're helped by their aide Mandy (Sosie Bacon), who is torn between her desire to advance her career and her devotion to these three people who rely on her.
Glassman, Pien, and Rutecki — who all identify as living on the autism spectrum — all give excellent, very different performances that capture the fact that autism is indeed a spectrum. Pien in particular is tremendous, with nuances of vulnerability, frustration, and sweetness. Violet's complex dynamic with her brother Van is the show's richest source of drama. Their argument over Violet using dating apps in the pilot that culminates in Van saying something cruel to her and Violet melting down made me cry both times I watched it, which is a tribute to Katims' writing and Pien's performance.
In addition to their ability to tug on the heartstrings, Katims' shows are known for their distinctive visuals that come from the use of handheld cameras. The cameras are not as shaky as they are on Friday Night Lights, but they do move enough to let you know you're watching a Jason Katims show. The pilot is directed by indie movie and prestige TV comedy veteran Jesse Peretz, who gives it warm light and a soft color palette. The show looks better than the usual intimate real-world drama of this type.
In addition to its on-screen talent, Katims says As We See It employs neurodiverse people in the writers' room and on the editing staff as well. It all comes together into a big-hearted and inclusive show that celebrates people for their differences and complexities.
Premieres: Jan. 21 on Amazon Prime Video (all eight episodes)
Who's in it: Rick Glassman, Albert Rutecki, Sue Ann Pien, Sosie Bacon, Joe Mantegna
Who's behind it: Jason Katims, EP of Friday Night Lights and Parenthood
For fans of: Real life situations, having their tears jerked
How many episodes we watched: 5