Over the course of a rocky 2020, Netflix has been steadily delivering binge-worthy, romance-fueled series like “Love Is Blind,” “Too Hot To Handle” and “Indian Matchmaking” to keep people entertained during pandemic times. Their latest offering, “Love on the Spectrum,” takes the stereotypical format of a reality dating show and explores love and relationships through the eyes of young people on the autism spectrum.
Seven autistic singles living in Australia ― Michael, Chloe, Kelvin, Maddi, Mark, Andrew and Olivia ― are on the search for a partner but soon learn the struggle in the unpredictable world of dating is very real. “Love on the Spectrum” allows viewers to get to know each of the participants and their families as they go on dates, receive expert coaching and try to find a meaningful connection.
The audience is also given a peek into successful long-term relationships between individuals on the spectrum — Ruth and Thomas, and Sharnae and Jimmy ― couples who share insight into finding a companion who fully understands the ups and downs of living with autism spectrum disorder.
If you’re a fan of dating series or romantic comedies, HuffPost reporters Leigh Blickley and Emma Gray are here to walk you through their take on “Love on the Spectrum” and if it’s worth your time.
The Bottom Line
“Love on the Spectrum” is a dating docuseries that is not without its flaws ― and valid critiques from within the autism community ― but it’s a show that loves love and may expand the visions that some neurotypical people have about what romance looks like when you are on the autism spectrum.
Leigh Blickley: Another week in quarantine, another dating show on Netflix. But this one feels so much more meaningful than a few of the others we’ve received in the last few months. “Love on the Spectrum” follows a group of young people with autism who are ready to dive into the dating pool and find true love. Emma, what were your initial thoughts when you heard about the five-episode docuseries, and did it live up to your expectations?
Emma Gray: When I saw “Love on the Spectrum” pop up in my Netflix suggested queue, I was nervously excited. I am a sucker for dating shows, love stories and rom-coms of any kind, so I knew that I would watch. I was also thrilled to see a show focused on a group of people that are so often ignored and rendered invisible when it comes to our collective discussions about love and sex and courtship. However, there is always a risk when a filmmaker goes into a community that the resulting product is tokenizing or insensitive or perpetuates stereotypes. Thankfully, “Love on the Spectrum” does none of that. I found it to be full of heart and I was left wishing there were more than five episodes. What about the series really stood out to you?
The Beauty Of Familial Love
LB: The subjects, for sure. I fell in love with each and every one of these individuals, whose personal stories really touched me as someone who has a connection to the autism community myself. I have seen what it’s like for someone and their family to face the everyday struggles of autism spectrum disorder and I thought the show beautifully highlighted the deep bonds between these 20-somethings and their parents ― the people who truly give up so much to provide their children with unending support and a loved, stable life. It was beautiful to watch. Maddi and her parents really stuck out to me ― they have such fun! Hearing how much Maddi’s mother wants her daughter to find someone to care for and protect her after she’s gone was extremely touching. (Definitely shed a tear or two throughout the show’s run.) And I smiled so wide each time I saw Mark lovingly greet his parents when he saw them, telling them about his dates and what he’s learned from each experience. Did you adore these families as much as I did?
EG: Oh my goodness, yes. Obviously, as a dating show, “Love on the Spectrum” centers romantic love. But what’s also in there is the beauty of familial love. As viewers, we got a peek into what it looks like to be a loving, supportive parent who appreciates your child for exactly who they are. At a moment in our country in which we are spending a lot of time talking about how it feels impossible to explain to people that they should care for others, “Love on the Spectrum” is a cultural product that invites empathy and connection.
I was also struck by the universality of the fears that the subjects of the show ― Maddi! Chloe! Andrew! Mark! I loved them all! ― expressed when it came to love and dating. Yes, people on the autism spectrum often face greater barriers when it comes to following the unspoken “rules” of courtship and relationships, but the insecurities expressed by the subjects of “Love on the Spectrum” felt all too familiar to me. Will my date like me? Will I run out of things to talk about? Is this text just a kindly worded rejection? Will I be OK if I don’t find someone? Will I be alone forever? There are all questions that I asked myself during my years as a single, dating adult.
Dating Woes Are Universal
LB: Absolutely. It brought me back to my dating days as a neurotypical (NT) person and how awkward those first few exchanges are. The pause between questions, the lack of chemistry, the pretending to like whatever the other person is into. We’re all just people trying to connect!
It was also eye-opening to see a community that naturally flocks toward honesty. These young people are completely open about who they are and barely tiptoe around a topic or sugarcoat anything to please another person. As they’ve come of age, Chloe, Andrew, Maddi, Kelvin, Mark, Olivia and Michael know exactly what they like and dislike, and who they want in their lives. We see that with couples Ruth and Thomas and Sharnae and Jimmy, who show the beauty of true understanding and acceptance. What did you take away from watching these now-engaged couples interact?
EG: I was so glad that the show not only followed singles on the spectrum, but also successful, long-term, committed, romantic couples. I think as NT people, it is easy for us to make false, harmful assumptions about people on the spectrum and their desires and abilities. But seeing Ruth and Thomas and Sharnae and Jimmy made it very clear that people on the spectrum are more than capable of forming deep emotional and physical romantic partnerships that grow and thrive. Dating other NT people, I have still had to learn their quirks and adjust my behaviors accordingly. A friend once told me that being in a relationship is like having access to someone else’s user manual. The user manuals of people on the spectrum might be a little different than an NT person’s, but either way you have to learn it.
Learning About The Autism Spectrum
LB: We saw that recently with HBO Max’s “Expecting Amy,” in which comedian Amy Schumer discovers her husband Chris Fischer is on the spectrum. Socially, she sensed he wasn’t in tune with her and once he is diagnosed, they learn ways of communicating better and understanding each other’s ways of thinking. It was beautiful to watch Amy come to terms with it all and realize that most of what she loves about Chris as a partner relates to his autism.
EG: I have had only limited experience with the autism community, so one of the aspects of the show that I found the most interesting was the workshops and coaching led by experts who work with people on the spectrum specifically in the realm of dating. (And TBH, I think we could all use a dating and relationship coach.) The show really drove home that ALL social skills and dating norms aren’t some abstract, impossible to pinpoint thing. We all operate under a shared set of fairly clear-cut rules and ways of having exchanges. And by being explicit about those rules and norms, people on the spectrum can learn fairly easily!
Leigh, what has the reaction to the show been within the autism community?
LB: I’ve read tweets saying the show feels like it was made for a non-autistic audience, which I do agree with. It does feel like it’s trying to inform NT people of what it’s like to date on the spectrum versus being for those with autism. Some people felt like putting a focus on the cast’s “difficulties and quirks” stereotyped those on the spectrum. Also, the lack of racial and ethnic diversity was noticeable.
Others were happy that the docuseries added facts and statistics about autism, especially in terms of women being diagnosed later in life. A critic at “The Spool,” Douglas Laman, who is on the spectrum himself, called the show “a heartwarming, trailblazing ode to neurodivergent romance.”
“Everybody just assumes autistic people can’t hold jobs, engage in romance, or even be women, so it must be true, right? It’s easy to fall prey to that line of thinking but difficult to break out of it,” he writes. “Luckily, ‘Love on the Spectrum’ is here to help remind autistic and neurotypical viewers alike how wrong that concept is.”
EG: All of those critiques make a lot of sense (the show was VERY white!). And admittedly, as an NT person, I do think that I was in the target audience for the show. I would love to see “Love on the Spectrum” get a second season so that the docuseries could dive deeper and answer some of those good-faith critiques.
So, Should You Watch It?
LB: Agreed. It was based in Australia this season, so let’s hope it extends its reach worldwide so we can meet a new crop of love-seekers. (I also need an update/catchup so I know if sweetheart paleontologist Mark found the woman he deserves.)
In terms of if people should watch it ― YES. I found “Love on the Spectrum” not only to be insightful but extremely enjoyable and refreshing. It truly is a delight.
EG: If you’re a newbie to learning about the autism community and/or love a good romantic comedy, “Love on the Spectrum” is decidedly for you. Sure, it’s not perfect, but it’s full of love of all kinds.