Dating shows like “The Bachelor” have always sought trashy ratings more than reality.
They ill-prepare young viewers for the dating world with superficial themes and unrealistic expectations for relationships that often end right after the cameras cut.
However, Netflix just released a wonderful outlier in “Love on the Spectrum,” which is refreshingly authentic with actual empathy for its characters and their families.
Created for Australian television by Cian O’Clery, the four-part docuseries follows various single folks on the autism spectrum as they embark on the dating world for the first time.
Leading the way is Michael, a tender heart with Asperger’s who loves cosplay and cracks up his loving parents with his unfiltered insights. He’ll easily be your favorite in the show.
We also meet Chloe, a partly deaf bisexual who is cautiously and meticulously trying to determine whether she prefers dating men or women throughout the course of the show.
Kelvin lives at home with his Asian single dad, while designing computer renderings of his ideal partner and writing elaborate fan fiction in his journal with much creativity.
Maddi is a bit more advanced and extroverted, making spot-on sarcastic remarks and rolling her eyes at her insufferable parents, who give her aggressive dating advice.
Mark is obsessed with dinosaurs and wants to become a paleontologist, speaking in a slow, methodical way that might be misconstrued as nerdy by non-dino enthusiasts.
Rounding out the singles are Andrew, a tall film buff who loves quoting James Bond, and Olivia, who overcomes bouts of involuntary dancing to act in a community theater.
In addition to the singles, we also meet two couples who have already found each other.
Thomas and Ruth are engaged after four years of dating, supporting each other’s hobbies of toy trains and business cards, not to mention Ruth’s slithering pet snake.
Most adorable are Sharnae and Jimmy, who have just moved in together after three years of dating. Sharnae is perfect for Jimmy, who solves Rubick’s cubes to handle the stress of overcrowded pool tables and the crisis of navy blue socks to find their happy ending.
All of these characters are filmed in various settings: speed dating, blind dates and preparations with a dating expert, who suggests polite behaviors like pulling out a chair, maintaining eye contact and asking intriguing questions. One guy apparently didn’t get the message to pay for his date’s meal. I guess we’re in 2020, but chivalry is not dead!
Most revealing is the window we get into their upbringing due to various parenting styles. We are annoyed by the helicopter parents who would rather show off for the camera, but we adore the parents who show unconditional love, even crying over their kids’ resilience.
If you find that you enjoy “Love on the Spectrum,” I highly recommend the Oscar-nominated documentary “Life, Animated” (2016) about autistic Disney fanatic Owen Suskind, who tugged at our hearts as he vied for the heart of his elusive girlfriend Emily.
Both documentaries explore human truths articulated by beautiful minds, previously played for well-meaning laughs by Hollywood in “Rain Man” (1988) or “Forrest Gump” (1994), but here it’s handled with respect and dignity from the real life people who live it.
As postulated in the sci-fi premise of “The Predator” (2018), autism is merely just the next step in human evolution. Folks on the spectrum may actually be more advanced than the majority of our dumbed-down society. They’re just waiting for the rest of us to catch up.