“As We See It” is personal to its creator Jason Katims, of “Friday Night Lights,” “Roswell,” and “Parenthood” fame, and it shows. Yes, his delightful Prime Video series is the latest of many projects with characters or storylines exploring the autism spectrum, but it is the rare show that truly gets it right. At its core, the challenges Jack, Harrison and Violet face are rooted in experiences to which we can all relate. Trying to establish your own independence while also finding a personal sense of joy and peace is not just daunting if you are on the autism spectrum; it’s a daunting prospect, period. Katims, whose own son on the spectrum is in the exact age range of the “As We See It” characters, recognizes this and zones in on it to make “As We See It” one of the most promising shows of the new year.
Because “As We See It is “inspired by” the award-winning Israeli series “On the Spectrum,” now streaming on HBO Max, the two naturally share similarities. In the original, the three main characters (who go by different names) are also roommates who are struggling for independence, plus some specific plot points overlap. Perspective and tone, however, distinguish the two shows. “On the Spectrum” is strikingly darker, with more gravity. That doesn’t mean “As We See It” doesn’t address complex and difficult topics. It’s just that the approach is noticeably lighter and more engaging, inviting viewers along for the journey instead of keeping them at bay as voyeurs.
Jack (Rick Glassman), who has a computer job, appears to be the most independent of the three. But, as the show reveals, he is very much codependent on his father (Joe Mantegna), who is getting older and wants to be sure that his son can stand on his own. Jack’s main problem, though, is his lack of people skills which make him appear off-putting. Lack of friendliness is not a problem for Harrison (Albert Rutecki) — he is too afraid to go outside to even get to that point. Meanwhile, Violet (Sue Ann Pien) is amazingly social enough for all of them but obsessed with having a boyfriend and a “normal” life that includes sex.
Her incredible openness and tendency to trust very quickly get her in trouble in a world that is not as kind as it should be. Most impressively, all three lead actors identify as being on the autism spectrum, avoiding the criticism that has dogged other shows. Hopefully, their heartwarming and complex portrayals will expand opportunities for other actors on the spectrum.
Helping them achieve their goals is their life coach, Mandy (Sosie Bacon), who gets way more personally involved than most in her position, especially as a young woman in a serious relationship whose goal is to become a doctor. Bacon, an alum of “13 Reasons Why” who was most recently seen as Carrie Layden in HBO’s Emmy-winning limited series “Mare of Easttown,” portrays Mandy masterfully, bringing attention to this important work while inviting comparisons to Helen Keller’s teacher and companion Anne Sullivan.
Mantegna strikes the right chord as Jack’s father, who worries if his son will be independent enough to survive without his guidance — a parental concern not limited to those who have kids with disabilities. In comparison, Violet’s brother Van, brought to life by the very familiar Chris Pang (“Crazy Rich Asians,” “Palm Springs”), seems determined to keep his sister and only living relative under lock and key. Their power struggles make for some of the most engaging and even hilarious exchanges. Meanwhile, Harrison’s family prefers to love from afar.
By placing entertainment value front and center through universal themes, Katims demonstrates exactly why he has been such a memorable figure in television. Like “Parenthood” and “Friday Night Lights,” “As We See It” leads with heart and presents characters viewers will truly love and root on to win. It’s a recipe for great TV that just happens to also promote change and equity.