The A Word: Season 2, Episode 1
The A Word is back for its second season and nearly two years has passed since we last saw the Hughes family. When we left them at the end of season one the family was fractured and struggling to cope with their issues. Mum Allison was doubling down on being worst “autism mum” stereotype of the year, dad Paul was a bit of a self-righteous know-it-all, grandad Maurice was in a disastrous fling with his music coach, sister Rebecca was neglected and angry and Joe was Joe. Then of course there was Nicola and Eddie whose marriage fell apart just as Nicola found out she was pregnant.
Fast forward and this new series opens with Joe and Allison taking a walk whilst Joe sings along to music. There’s a cheerful little montage into…Joe being on the school roof? Which is basically how this episode really gets started.
“Mr Joe’s dad, Mr Joe’s dad, he’s doing a Joe!”
There are some great quotes throughout this episode and it’s good to see that minor characters from the previous series are still here. The next huge relief is that Allison is so much better in this episode than all of her positive scenes from the previous series combined. After witnessing the same overbearing mother stereotype play out throughout Atypical, seeing Allison in such a different way was a pleasant surprise.
After retrieving Joe from the roof we start to see snippets of the fact that Paul is not coping as well as he thought he would whereas Allison has become more accepting and understanding of Joe and his differences. Regardless, both of them are stunned into silence when Joe announces, “I’m autistic, I’m autistic, nobody wants that”.
This underpins much of the episode as Allison and Paul struggle to work out how to talk to Joe about what being autistic means when they themselves still feel like they don’t fully understand it. As they struggle through role-playing, support groups (or hiding outside of support groups and lying about it in Paul’s case), and dealing with the judgment and narrow-mindedness of other parents they find it difficult to know exactly what to say to Joe. So it’s no surprise that the final scene where they do talk to him about his autism is clumsy and awkward yet feels quite real. There will be complaints from people that Allison uses the word broken and that Joe was portrayed as not wanting to talk about his autism but I think to focus on that is to miss the enormous character growth they have shown in Allison and her relationship with Joe.
With the other family members, Maurice finds himself in an awkward situation with his ex’s son, where Ralph applies for a job at the brewery and Louise then storms in to insist that Maurice not give the job to him. I hope Ralph gets more screen time – whilst the representation of autism grows all the time, other disabilities are still hugely under-represented. It will be interesting to follow the story-line behind why Louise is denying Ralph his autonomy.
Rebecca: You’re becoming alright you know?
Allison: Can I have that in writing?
Rebecca has returned from travelling with a boyfriend, James, in tow. Even in television, I find it very hard to read people or try to guess what intentions characters are meant to be portraying but there’s something decidedly odd about James. I’m not sure his intentions are good. He makes fun of Joe, wants Rebecca to move away from her family as soon as they’ve returned and then, after storming off in a strop, proposes to her. I don’t know – we’ll see what happens next episode.
Finally, in another source of great quotes – Nicola is back and it transpires that Nicola and Eddie have been lying to her parents for the past two years, pretending that they are still a couple. Nicola’s entire persona is fantastic – I liked her character in season one and she’s is just as entertaining in season two.
Nicola: I don’t see the point in you separating at this stage in your lives.
Grace: Because we’re so close to death you mean?
Nicola: Partly, yeah.
I wasn’t exactly enamored by the trailer for this series but this episode was pretty good and I’m already more hopeful than I was for the entirety of season one. The next episode is set to focus on the fact that Allison and Paul have finally decided that the mainstream school just isn’t doing enough for Joe, and the conflicting emotions and feelings Joe and his family members have about him moving schools.
Until next time.