Thursday, July 11, 2013

New TV Shows, New Characters with Autism

Quick review of two new shows King and Maxwell and The Bridge.

King and Maxwell. A new light fair detective series on TNT. It is the story of two disgraced secret service agents and their quest for employment . Of course their past contretemps takes them into dark, dangerous and payment-lacking places where they are always followed by a very dour FBI agent who is ready and willing to arrest them for any malfeasance. It is based on the best selling books by author David Baldacci. It stars Rebecca Romijn and Jon Tenney.

In the first episode they are asked by the sister of a man arrested for murder to exonerate him. The man's name is Edgar. Edgar happens to be a high functioning autistic who used to work for the IRS in their forensics accounting department. Of course, the minute that I heard "murder and accused autistic" used together my hackles were peeked, especially after the ignorance exhibited by so many pundits and news prognosticators after the horrible events in Connecticut.

As it turns out Edgar was actually part of a secret national defense system in the making, which was causing all sorts of contretemps in the shadowy world of defense spending and the political sphere of military appropriations. In the end King and Maxwell were able to prove that Edgar was framed by a defense contractor in league with an evil Senator. So absolutely much more realistic than trying to pin evil deeds upon autistic persons. Edgar is now the detective agency's accountant.

However, unlike other aspergean characters, Sheldon of The Big Bang Theory and Temperance Brennan of Bones, Edgar while brilliant is shown as extraordinarily naive and rather clueless as to how people perceive him. Unlike Sheldon and Bones he doesn't know that he causes social kerfuffles and doesn't care. He also isn't part of a nerdy group who accept him for who he is and he is not apparently outwardly smart enough at the gitgo for the average person to overlook his idiosyncrasies. Yet, he is brilliant to a fault, with a mind that can detect number sequences and analyze mountains of data in minutes.

They play Edgar as dressed down, very dressed down. Devoid of any interest or knowledge about fashion. The character is generally unshaven and looks a little unkempt. Personally I keep wishing the character would get a haircut or at least stop walking around as if he had never washed his hair. (But that's just the mother in me rearing her helicopter head.) His sister looks after him continually and as explained in the first episode, has done so since they were small children.

Edgar is portrayed as a sweet, caring wholly socially inept individual. He doesn't get the simple social niceties and the unread signals. He gets in trouble in later episodes with the police because as a big, overbearing man he is rather unsubtle in attempting to collect from clients. This prompts a very lovely scene where the character Maxwell attempts to try to help Edgar understand what exactly happened and why he got into trouble.

Edgar is precise in the organization of his work area. He takes an untold amount of time setting up a desk along with the obsessive amount of properly sharpened pencils and keeps his beloved pencil sharpener on hand to refresh those #2 ends. In one episode he gives a traumatized child his adored pencil sharpener to try to help the boy in a time of emotional need. I hope those out in the world, without knowledge or access to persons with autism, can even fathom what a gesture like that truly means in the sphere of caring about someone else and wishing to help them. It's called empathy, something the psychiatric profession likes to tell us autistics do not possess.

Edgar cares about those who care about him. He is on a mission to clear the character King of any wrong doing with the Secret Service. He sees things in a video tape and the mock up of a room that those without an autistic brain would miss. The subtle tell tale signs of a set-up.

Part of the sweetness of the show is King and Maxwell's relationship with Edgar. They are gentle with Edgar. They are not harsh. They are understanding. They try to protect Edgar from the vagaries of the neurotypical world. They try to teach him. They try to help him. Above all they are his friends.

The Bridge. This show caught my minds eye because of how they play up the main characters aspergers syndrome. In fact Alex Plank who created the very popular website for aspergeans WrongPlanet, was a consultant on the show. HERE he is interviewing the star of the show, Diane Kruger, about her character Sonya Cross.

The character Sonya, is a detective in the El Paso police department. She specializes in homicides. She is pedantic, rigid and above all hell bent on finding those who committed crimes. Again she misses the subtle tell tale social signs and consistently needs reminding by her boss of how to act, what to say and what is and is not appropriate in public. He reminds her to make eye contact when talking to a murder victims spouse and has to giver her a lesson in why its OK at times to skirt procedure so as not to offend those she works with. In one scene she sniffs her underarm because she smells and then changes her top in the middle of the squad room. Her boss has to remind her to change her clothes in the ladies-room. She also is very unkempt, cares nothing for fashion and is driven by other factors that she considers important in her day to day existence. She is single minded and obsessive.

Her boss understands her. He is kind to her. He supports her. He teaches her and protects her. He is her friend. The same cannot be said for the other detectives. They call her weird, creepy and odd. They warn a gruff, hardworking and honest Mexican detective off of partnering with her and have a bit of a laugh behind his back when she is assigned to help him investigate a murder that involves both sides of the US/Mexican border.

Sonya's vulnerability shows through however, when her boss mentions to her that he is going to retire soon. She becomes overwhelmed and frightened of a life without him. He reassures her, but tells her that she does have to learn to rely on herself.

I think Sonya is a mix of brilliant and vulnerable that we all see in our children. As we all know too, the only way possible that aspergeans are successful is if they are surrounded by mentors and a support system. It is this human element that helps them navigate the neurotypical world in which we all live. I can see Sonya's distress in loosing that future support, as I worry about the boys' future when there will be no more paras and someone is not watching their backs on a continual basis.

As far as the storyline itself in The Bridge, it is based upon some real life events in Juarez, Mexico. Hundreds upon hundreds of young women have gone missing just across the border and no one is looking into it. There is something scary happening in that town and the show plays up the criminal, cartel and general lawlessness of the state of affairs in Mexico today. We are witness to the huge contrast between how societies work and what people live with just a few miles apart from each other.

For the most part, the characters are all well written and the mystery is quite fascinating albeit extraordinarily creepy. There is much to come in future episodes. Apart from the aspergean tilt, if murder mysteries, serial killers, human trafficking and the vagaries of life are your thing, this is definitely a show for you.


At present you can stream King and Maxwell on your computer through its website or buy it sans commercial at Amazon.

The Bridge is now available for streaming. You will have to enter your birthdate in order to verify you can watch the show. It is rated M for mature and apparently FX takes that very seriously and apparently figures that adolescents don't know how to add or subtract.