Usually, when I review media, it’s books. They’re my thing, if you will; my comfort zone. But when I began watching Parenthood, I knew I had to let you all know about it. So, I present a new series(? perhaps that’s optimistic for me) called Shows Making Strides, highlighting TV shows that have represented neurodivergent characters. This week: Parenthood.
The show centres around the Buckmans, a midwestern family all dealing with their lives: estranged relatives, raising children, pressures of the job, and learning to be a good parent and spouse. Max Braverman (played by Max Burkholder) is the youngest child of Adam and Kristina Braverman, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s in the second episode of season 1. The show follows many different storylines, Max’s being just one of them, but it’s his I wanted to focus on in this post.
Parenthood shows not just how Max’s Asperger’s affects him, but the rest of his family and the people around him too. His sister Haddie feels jealous of the attention he is given by their parents, and gets frustrated when her parents have to miss important events in her life like sports games because Max needs to be looked after. Kristina and Adam note the effect so much stress has on their sex life as well as how Max’s strict schedule can sometimes be limiting. Regardless of all of this, however, what is also shown is that their family love Max not despite his quirks but because of them. His family would go to the ends of the earth for him. Though Max’s grandfather is very conservative and starts the season believing some strict parenting can “cure” Max, he soon comes to agree that Max is perfect as he is.
“Some people say that having Asperger’s can sometimes be a bad thing. But I’m glad I have it, because I think it’s my greatest strength.” – Max Braverman, Parenthood.
Many of the challenges Max faces will be familiar to autistic children and their parents. In episode 3, he smashes a fish-tank in a meltdown and his mainstream school tell his parents they can’t cope with his needs. He finds making friends extremely difficult, though his therapist does begin to bring him out of his shell in this aspect. Subjects like bullying, meltdowns, phobias are all covered, as well as the abyss of finding out your child is neuroatypical and not knowing how best to help them.
Despite being a very realistic portrayal, that takes great pains not to sugar-coat or romanticise Asperger’s, there are moments that will definitely remind any viewer on the spectrum just how powerful it can be to embrace their neuroatypicality. When Max runs for school council in later seasons, he gives a speech about how his Asperger’s is sometimes really good, because he can remember things easily and is very intelligent.
Max Burkholder (who plays Max Braverman on Parenthood) has been very vocal about how important he finds it to play the character not the condition on set of Parenthood. In an interview with Disability Scoop (which I’ll link below) Burkholder said that “I just think what Max might be feeling. He has special interests, like he loves bugs, anything about bugs. So whenever there’s something about bugs I try to seem really interested. But he doesn’t like to be touched so I make myself think that if this person touches me, it’s going to hurt a lot.” He also revealed that every few episodes, he meets with a doctor who has experience with Asperger’s to discuss how his character would react in the scripted situations, and what he might be thinking, as well as the kinds of things he might say if Burkholder needs to ad-lib. He talks about how he is more aware of sensory things now, knowing that his character would find them far more intense than he himself.
(Disability Scoop interview here: https://www.disabilityscoop.com/2010/11/09/parenthood/11084/)
If anyone is in need of a new TV show to obsess over during the summer holidays, look no further than Parenthood. If you have any shows/films/books you think Safe Cinemas ought to talk about, tweet us at @SafeCinemas and let me know!
Stay safe, friends. x