Review of ‘As We See It’ – The Hollywood Reporter

No one illustrates the precariousness of sentimental television better than Jason Katim, perhaps because no one does it better.

When Katims starts playing – Friday night light, Parenting – The veteran from the Edward Zwick / Marshall Herskovitz school makes shows that earn every laugh and every tear. When Katims is free – Fox is sad Almost Family, the first half of the short-lived Get up on NBC – the results can be unbearable.

As we see it

The bottom line

A heartfelt mix of mostly earned tears and laughter.

Release Date: Friday, January 21st

Cast: Rick Glassman, Sue Ann Pien, Albert Rutecki, Sosie Bacon and Chris Pang

Creator: Jason Katims from the Israeli format

Following recent detours – Almost Family still makes me angry – Katims is back on solid footing with his new Amazon half hour As we see it, based on the Israeli format. Probably to be called a “comedy” by virtue of its half-hour playing time, As we see it generates more smiles of recognition than guffaws and probably more tears as well. It’s a fundamentally heartbreaking show that can easily cope with some early narrative chunks, and which, at the end of its first season in eight episodes, presses a series of emotional buttons with confidence.

Jack (Rick Glassman), Violet (Sue Ann Pien) and Harrison (Albert Rutecki) have known each other since preschool, but they are not exactly friends. They’s in their mid – 20s now, and in different places on the autism spectrum, they share an apartment in LA’s Canoga Park neighborhood. Jack is an ingenious computer programmer whose ability to maintain a job is hampered by his inability to suffer fools. Violet works at Arby’s and flirts with the boring messenger, much to the annoyance of her controlling brother Van (Chris Pang). The least independent of the trio, but with the richest parents, Harrison has daily goals that include battling external stimuli to navigate around the block, though he would rather watch game shows on TV. Their lives are made easier by Mandy (Sosie Bacon), a helper whose poor MCAT results have put her medical school dreams on hold.

The word “normal” is rightly stigmatized in disability circles, and Katims uses it here as a rapist. “Normal” is the construction that our main characters strive for, and “normal” is the weapon that outsiders use to rate and contain them, a gatekeeper regret for when other remarks are too inappropriate.

The irony that Katim’s consistently plays with is that the dramatic “needs” that his main characters face, of course, could not be more “normal”. Jack worries about his father’s (Joe Mantegna) cancer and he wants a Roomba. Violet gnaws under her brother’s judgment, but just wants to find a boyfriend on a dating app. Harrison is stressed about changes in his family and needs a friend who appreciates his reservoir of knowledge about the American Revolution.

At the same time, autism presents challenges for each of the main characters, but not in a uniform way. Harrison may need dark sunglasses and noise-canceling headphones to get to the corner, but Violet can go to cacophonous nightclubs in her quest for romance. Jack may struggle with tone and social cues, but that does not stop a slowly evolving relationship with Ewatomi (Délé Ogundiran, excellent), a nurse who works with his father’s oncologist. There is no single autistic “symptom” and no universal “autistic reaction” to anything, and As we see it captures this truth, which is sometimes learned by viewers and characters on screen at the same time.

The opening episodes are at times a bit methodical in how they approach the adversity that the characters on the spectrum and their loved ones face. Each episode seems to have a quota of one experience with overt bigotry, one or two encounters of well-meaning oblivion and a certain mix of hard-to-see melts and heartbreaking hugs, all built over 30 minutes with Mandy at the center.

What happens, though, is that what starts as formal becomes impressively cumulative and probably less dependent on Mandy – who barely even holds it together – as a point of stable maturity. As it goes, the series increasingly puts a premium on kindness stemming from situational adversity rather than noble reactions to excessive ignorance. The series is not without its very manipulative beats, but when I was sniffed, it was almost always caused by minor moments of basic kindness and human understanding.

TV shows are slowly recognizing that the best way to represent autism is actually to represent the variation expressed by the word “spectrum”, a consciousness that is reflected in programs such as One word, Everything will be okay and Atypical. The latter drama, which ended on Netflix last year, was a favorite because of how well it used universal human error to raise its stakes, and how it built an ensemble of characters, on and off the spectrum, I wanted to protect.

Atypical was asked to cast a neurotypical actor in the lead role, which made autism something performative. By selecting actors on the spectrum for most of its lead roles, As we see it get proven that accurate casting is not a stunt. Glassman, Pien and Rutecki are big and nuanced leaders, where praise does not require any qualification at all. Glassman does not compromise on Jack’s antisocial tendencies, as he does as funny and touching. Pien’s involvement in the Violets’ sometimes extreme reactions can be hard to see, but they are all organically escalated and complemented by calmer scenes. And I had not realized how good Rutecki was until the last couple of episodes, which are one win after another for the character.

This feels like a real outburst for Bacon, which I had primarily noticed for her similarities with each of her high-profile parents. She exposes all of Mandy’s insecurities and never tries to get you to apologize for the character’s mistakes. She has a different chemistry with each of her three main co-stars, and whether those interactions boil down to “sweet” or “strangely funny”, they all work. Bacon and Pang are also very good with the complicated dynamics between Mandy and Van, the kind of overly predetermined not-quite-love story that I often hate but that I felt As we see it done work.

As we see it finds a good balance between when it wants you to laugh and when it hopes you will cry a little. Never for a second do you forget that the performance is trying to make you have, as the kids say, all those emotions, but the torment and mawkishness are kept to a minimum. It does not want to be revealing, just sincere, and in that I think it succeeds.

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