‘The A Word’.
(photo credit: PR)
Keren Margalit created the remarkable television series Yellow Peppers in 2010, about a family who run a farm in the Negev and how they cope when their son is diagnosed with autism. One of the reasons the show worked so well is that it was about the whole family.
Although autism and how it affected everyone was the key plot, it showed that autism was just part of the family’s life. It wasn’t a movie-of-the-week look at finding a solution to a problem but a rich portrait of life in small-town Israel.
Now the series has been adapted for British television into a wonderful series called The A Word, which will begin airing on Tuesdays at 10 p.m. starting on January 3 on YES Oh, and will be available in full on YES London.
In The A Word, a family lives in a beautiful area of rural England with their five-year-old son, Joe (Max Vento). The father, Paul (Lee Ingleby), wants to open a gastropub, whatever that is (other characters are also skeptical), while the mother, Alison (Morven Christie), runs a food truck. They have a teenage daughter who pretty much takes care of herself, leaving the parents free to focus on their son. Joe is obsessed with pop music, and he listens to song after song on his headphones, often singing out loud. His parents are proud of how bright he obviously is, but they worry about how he doesn’t play with other kids and often doesn’t listen to them. Still, when Nicola (Vinette Robinson ), their sister-inlaw, who is a doctor, suggests that they get him evaluated, they are angry. Alison, especially, can’t accept that Joe has a problem, since she has spent so much energy rationalizing away Joe’s difficulties.
But when Joe’s grandfather (Christopher Eccleston) takes the boy in for an evaluation, she comes to accept that Joe is on the autism spectrum and becomes extraordinarily proactive, getting the entire family involved in his treatment.
As the mother of a son with autism, it’s hard for me to even explain how right the series gets all this, particularly the character of the mother and how she changes, since I went through something so similar.
In the past, movies and television portrayed people with autism as either extremely low functioning and limited or savants like in Rain Man; but many people with autism are somewhere in the middle, like Joe.
The series is brilliant in how it shows Joe singing pop songs with lyrics about complicated relationships, like The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me,” although when he is not singing, he can barely say a word. I do think the series will work for anyone, whether or not they have a personal connection to autism.
The actors are all first-rate.
Christopher Eccleston is one of Britain’s best actors. He recently starred in the HBO series The Leftovers, but I first noticed him when appeared in Shallow Grave in 1994, Danny Boyle’s directorial debut. Eccleston plays the key role of the grandfather that Yehuda Barkan had in the original, a sentence I never thought I would type, but there it is.
Another series with an Israeli connection, The Affair (it was co-created by Hagai Levi), returns for its third season, on Sundays at 10 p.m. on HOT Plus starting on January 1, and on HOT VOD.
Season Three opens when Noah (Dominic West) is released from prison for the crime you know all about if you watched the previous seasons, and starts teaching at a college in New Jersey. Sadly, what was once a sexy show featuring lots of amazing real estate (Montauk beach houses, boho Brooklyn townhouses) has gotten a bit grim.
The key plot of the third season is about Noah’s being stalked by a prison guard (Brendan Fraser), who brutalized him when he was behind bars. He also starts a flirtation with a cute French literature professor played by Irene Jacob, but somehow the fun has evaporated, at least based on the first three episodes of this season.
I am sticking with it for the time being, hoping that it returns to the escapism that drew viewers to the earlier seasons.