Big Bang Theory, The Middle, The IT crowd and Parenthood. The first three are light-hearted sitcoms: they don't specifically mention autism, but two (arguably three) of the characters are clearly on the spectrum. As I've already reviewed books and blogs about autism (apologies to those favourite bloggers who I only found after I wrote the blog reviews: I will make an updated version), it only makes sense for me to do television, too, because I spend a lot of time watching TV and I have a strange, almost savant-like ability to remember everything I've ever seen on it (I wish I could bring that skill to the office to help me remember more important things).
The Big Bang Theory
In a sitcom about nerds, Sheldon is a theoretical physicist who obsesses over his daily routine. He can never be swayed whenever his mind is made up. Examples:
- In one episode, the gang take an 8-hour train ride from LA to San Francisco instead of a 1-hour flight because Sheldon is obsessed with trains. As explained by another character: "Three of us wanted to fly and Sheldon wanted to take the train, so we're taking the train."
- He talks out his toddlerhood potty training routine while he's peeing, ending with "Shake twice for Texas".
- He never sways from his schedule of when to eat certain foods: Upon learning that his roommate's girlfriend had made waffles for breakfast on a Tuesday, when waffles are reserved for Saturdays and Tuesdays are meant to be oatmeal days, he says: "I must admit, they do smell good." Pauses. "Too bad it's oatmeal day." Dumps them into the trash can.
- He could never learn to drive. Several situations revolve around him convincing people to drive him somewhere. There is a whole episode dedicated to him attempting to learn how to drive, and he's hopeless: he doesn't get it in the end.
- [upon being told he's impossible] I can't be impossible because I exist. I think what you meant to say is: "You're improbable"
Here's Sheldon's answer to Rock, Paper, Scissors:
The show never explicitly states that Sheldon has Asperger's, but it's so obvious to me that he does.
The IT crowd
Another sitcom about nerds, this one about the IT staff at a British company (though it's never clear throughout the show what the company does exactly). The Asperger's suspect in this episode is called Morris Moss. If you've never seen the show, here is a sample of Moss's symptoms:
For all the off-the-wall Asperger-type behaviour, I don't think Moss is autistic. He occasionally shows an understanding of human emotions and can choose to make connections with people. Here, Moss uses a website called Bluffball.co.uk to pretend he's interested in soccer and make new friends:
This lands him in hot water when he actually gets dragged along to a soccer match:
Autistic or not (I'll let you decide), what I like about this show is the implication that all his strange quirks are a part of Moss which he embraces: he wouldn't be happy any other way. A bit like my boys: I can't imagine them any other way.
I also like the implication that Moss's neo-autistic behaviour is just another one of the many crazy personality types. Everyone in the show is nuts!
This is a show about a family with three children who don't quite live up to their parents' expectations. The oldest is a football hero who is forever embarassed and annoyed by his parents' mere existence. The second oldest, while much more respectful and loving of her parents, has never succeeded in anything in her life. And the third child is Brick:
The show takes everything that's funny about Aspergers and rolls it into the one character. No tantrums or speech therapies or massive meltdowns. Just weirdness and obsessions and an innocence that comes from not comprehending the concepts of making friends, empathy or lying. Pretty much what one would expect from seeing an autistic child in a funny, light-hearted show.
This soap opera about an extended family has a character named Max, a boy who is diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome early in the series.
Okay, I'll admit it: I never watch the show. And the bits I do catch (my wife watches it while I'm reading blogs on my lappy on the other side of the room) seem to have no connection to real life. Like the scene where the parents are told the therapies will be expensive: "I don't care! We'll spare no expense." Or the scene where they find a great school but learn the waiting list is years long: the parents get the boy into the school straight away by showing up, meeting the principal and acting cute and annoying. Or any scene which implies the parents can forget all their autism-related problems when they're alone in the bedroom.
Oh well. They are trying to make a successful show, after all. If they made the autism too real, it wouldn't be popular, watchable television. What I find interesting, however, is that the creators have snuck in a family of minor characters with their own autistic kid: people who the main characters have befriended through their common bond of living with autism. The father has autistic traits (he's obsessed with those funny, low-riding bikes and he talks about them constantly), the son likes to roll around in the grass like an animal, the mother is a bit nutty… My wife gets all worked up when she sees this family because she thinks the characters are all stereotypes, and she hates the way the main characters look down their noses at this other family, as if to say "Oh my God, I hope we don't turn into them". I think the other family is a more realistic portrayal of a family with an autistic child.
But I won't say more on the topic because, like I'd said, I've hardly watched it. I would love to hear your opinions on the matter, though.