Review: 'Love On The Spectrum'

Humans are such a complicated species. We come in all shapes and sizes and colors. We have individually distinctive personalities, a wide range of likes and dislikes and eight billion different life stories that have helped to mold us into the person we are today. But because we're all human beings, we also share some of the same desires. We all get hungry, and shiver when we're cold. We all need to have a purpose in life that fulfills us emotionally. And we all want to be loved.

Finding that special person is tough in the best of circumstances. There are plenty of wealthy, fabulous-looking celebrities who are so lonely their best friends work for them. No matter who you are, discovering who you're meant to be with can feel as complex and unforgiving as a 5,000-piece jigsaw puzzle that's all one color. It's part hard work, some magic and maybe just being at just the right place with just the perfect frame of mind. Your heart has to be ready and that's not easy for anyone to do.

It's especially challenging for men and women who have Autism. Some of the most common challenges of Autism can make the already difficult dating scene even more complicated and heart-breaking. Social anxiety, the uncertainty of even normal small talk and the worries about coming across as "different" can make even casual dating difficult for those on the spectrum.

All of those challenges - from the awkward moments to the little triumphs - are on display in the new Netflix series "Love On The Spectrum." The series aired on Australian television in 2019, but the gentleness and optimism of the participants makes it the perfect show to binge during the pandemic. Seeing these young men and women struggling to find love, continuing to move forward even if it seems to be the longest of shots, it's just the sort of bittersweet optimism that we need right now.

We're introduced to a number of Autistic men and women, ranging from some couples in serious relationships to singles who are going out on the first dates of their lives. The format of the episodes is familiar to anyone who's ever seen reality television. Some backstory with friends and family as well as footage from dates and other social events. But series director Cian O’Clery also serves as the primary camera operator and is careful to never veer to much into any familiar dating show tropes. These aren't super-hot out-of-work actors willing to trade embarrassing themselves on camera in exchange for some second-hand fame. These are real people on the Spectrum who have often already dealt with rejection and feeling as if they are too "weird" to be loved. O'Clery is gentle and respectful with the approach and the result is a show that manages to show these men and women as being as simultaneously as flawed and magical as any of us are on the average day.

There are a number of people who will stick with you long after the episodes are done. 25-year-old Michael wants more than anything to meet someone and get married. He sees it as his ultimate goal. But he's painfully blunt and uncompromising in a way that isn't helpful when looking for love. 22-year-old Ruth is deaf as well as autistic, but she's also in a long-term relationship with Tom. But my favorites and the ones I connected with the most personally are Sharnae and Jimmy, a young couple we meet in the final episode of the season. The interview begins with Sharnae, who is bubbly, bright and quirky in a way that you might see in an actress playing the offbeat best friend in a movie rom-com. Jimmy's autism is slightly more pronounced. When he comes on camera to sit with her, he looks down slightly and she reminds him to look up at the camera. "I'm really struggling right now," he whispers. She says "Look at me. Look here at me. We'll do this together."

As a father with a 15-year-old autistic son, I saw a lot of my son in Jimmy. He's bright and funny and it's easy to see how someone could fall in love with him. But he struggles with anxiety and with unexpected changes in his comforting routines. The couple go on their first vacation together and they plan a rare romantic date. But he realizes he doesn't have socks in a color that compliment his pants and that seemingly small detail derails everything. Seeing Sharnae instantly accept his need to go buy new socks that very minute while also helping him through the moment without any judgement is just incredible to watch. And in the end, Jimmy delivers the best moment of the season by doing something that had to have pushed his social anxiety to a 10. I'm not ashamed to say it made me cry and I suspect you'll feel the same way.

We all deserve love. And in a year filled with a pandemic, economic problems, a Presidential election and so much more, we also deserve the honest and gentle "Love On The Spectrum." I have a feeling this is a show everyone will be talking about this weekend.

"Love On Spectrum" premieres in the U.S. Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 on Netflix.