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‘As We See It’ delivers a touching coming-of-age look at life on the spectrum

<i>Ali Goldstein/Amazon Prime Video</i><br/>'As We See It' delivers a touching coming-of-age look at life on the spectrum.
Ali Goldstein/Amazon Prime Video
Ali Goldstein/Amazon Prime Video
'As We See It' delivers a touching coming-of-age look at life on the spectrum.

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Best known for “Friday Night Lights,” producer Jason Katims has crafted another small coming-of-age gem with “As We See It,” adapting an Israeli series about a trio of 20-somethings on the autism spectrum, trying to find purpose and independence. Heartbreaking and touching in its central characters’ vulnerability, this Amazon series deserves to be seen and celebrated.

Featuring actors who are indeed on the spectrum, the show focuses on three young adults sharing an apartment, overseen by an aide, Mandy (Sosie Bacon), who deeply cares about them, while wrestling with a decision about whether to move on in pursuit of another opportunity.

For the main characters, things taken for granted represent major challenges, whether that’s holding down a job — and curbing the impulse to tell your boss that you’re smarter than he is, as Jack (Rick Glassman) does in the premiere episode — or simply walking to the corner, for Harrison (Albert Rutecki) a process made terrifying by loud noises like revving motorcycles or barking dogs.

Violet (Sue Ann Pien), meanwhile, is working at Arby’s, where the absence of the usual filters prompts her to ask out a guy who is just ordering a sandwich.

“I’m 25, I want a boyfriend,” she explains later. “It’s normal to have a boyfriend, I want to be normal.”

But “normal” doesn’t come naturally, and there’s the constant worry that others will take advantage of what open books these characters are. That’s a concern for Violet’s brother, Van (“Crazy Rich Asians'” Chris Pang), who is responsible for her with their parents gone, and Jack’s dad (Joe Mantegna), whose cancer diagnosis heightens his apprehensions about not being around to look after him. “I need to know you’re going to be OK,” he tells his son.

“As We See It” possesses the bittersweet tone of an indie movie, unfolding in eight half-hour chapters. The performances are understated and natural, and the situations occasionally uncomfortable, with Violet learning the hard way that her work “friends” aren’t necessarily people upon whom she can rely.

The balancing act for this sort of concept hinges on making these characters seem real without condescending to them, a line that Katims and company walk with considerable sensitivity. It’s worth noting that the show also follows others that have explored autism, including Netflix’s “Atypical” (a soapier construct) and its reality-dating acquisition from Down Under “Love on the Spectrum.”

Like the latter show, this fictional version makes dating a central point of conflict, a process made considerably more difficult for people prone to say exactly what they think, and who can start contemplating wedding invitations at the first sign of potential romantic interest.

“I’m very bad at reading signs,” Jack confesses.

That he is. But when it comes to portraying characters who, as the title suggests, see the world a little differently, “As We See It” is very good in all the ways that matter.

“As We See It” premieres Jan. 21 on Amazon.

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