Jason Katims talks putting characters with autism at the forefront of new series As We See It
Jason Katims knows how to tell a coming-of-age story, but this time, he's shifting the perspective. Katims, best known for Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, serves as showrunner on the new Amazon Prime Video series, As We See It, which follows three adults on the autism spectrum as they figure out what all comes along with adulthood. (And there's a lot.)
As We See It stars Rick Glassman as Jack, Albert Rutecki as Harrison, and Sue Ann Pien as Violet, three roommates struggling with everything from first kisses to infuriating bosses and what it means to be a responsible adult. The series is at once heartwarming, heartbreaking, and hilarious as viewers are welcomed into a world not often shown on television.
EW spoke with Katims about creating the new series and what audiences can expect. Also, check out an exclusive sneak peek below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Where did the idea for this show originate?
JASON KATIMS: It was a few years ago and my son, who has autism, was starting to be around the age of young adulthood, and I was looking ahead at that, wondering what that would mean, exactly. And I realized there's not much that you see about that. You don't see as many stories about adulthood with autism as you do with children on the spectrum. I started thinking about exploring that in a show. And then, almost coincidentally as I was thinking about that subject matter, I found out about the Israeli format On The Spectrum. I watched the first three episodes, which were the only three episodes that were available at the time, and I thought it was such a brilliant show. From the moment I saw it I was like, "Oh, this is the show that I want to do next."
We've seen shows where one character is on the spectrum, but you all chose to shift the perspective so that the show is about these characters.
Right. We thought if we were going to explore that subject matter, I felt I wanted to do it in a way that was from the point of view of these three young adults on the spectrum. So rather than have it be, "We're doing a show and this person has a son with autism or a brother with autism," it's the opposite. It's about these three young adults on the spectrum and one of them has a brother, one of them has a father. And that's how we came to that title, As We See It, wanting to see this through the lens of these three characters.
I know you all made a point to find actors who identified as being on the spectrum. Why was that so important to you?
I'd like to say I did it for noble reasons, but I thought that it would make the best version of telling the story. From the very beginning, I really wanted to honor this subject matter, I wanted to give it dignity and respect, and I wanted to make the show feel as authentic as possible. It was the first thing that we did when Amazon called to say they were green-lighting the pilot. The first thing I did was I called Cami Patton, who's our casting director, and said, "I want to do a search for these three leads and try to cast them authentically." And from that, we found these incredible actors.
I think people will be surprised by how relatable the stories are to everyone.
I felt like I set out to make a show about three young adults who are neurodiverse, and as I was sitting in the editing room, I was like, "Oh, I just did a coming-of-age story." It feels completely relatable and versatile. But the fact that the characters are who they are gives the show a specificity, gives it a singularity and that's very exciting. It is like every other show, but we also see them struggling with the idea of, "How do I fit in?" They're struggling with the idea of stimuli and things that are maybe more difficult for them or more challenging for them than they might otherwise be. And so, I'm happy about how relatable it is and how much you root for these characters, but I think what gives the show it's specialness is the fact that it's very specific in terms of the observation of these characters.
There's also a lot of humor in the show. Did you all talk about not wanting it to be too serious?
One of the problems when you talk about the show is you go to a place of, "Oh, this is an important show that's going to be a part of learning." And yes, I do think it's important. But even though people will learn a bit, that is not what the experience is like. There's a delightful quality to it. You laugh, never at these characters, but you laugh with them. And my favorite thing is when you find yourself laughing and then two seconds later, you're crying. My hope for what people will find in the show is that yes, it's funny and emotional, but it allows you in. When I look for a show to watch, that's the kind of show that I'm looking for. I'm looking for a show that has humor but also that's human, and I do think that that's very true about this.
You sent a note out to press with the screeners that said you're coming at this project from the perspective of a student, ready to learn. Now that you've completed season 1, what have you learned?
I think I started with a certain admiration for people on the spectrum from the many years I've been immersed in that world, and I feel like I've become more in awe. These actors came to the show with such an incredible openness and trust, and they were able to just dive into these characters. And by the way, they're all playing very different characters than who they are, but they were able to access every part of themselves and bring that to these roles. And so I found myself really in deep admiration of them. And not only that, we hired a lot of people on both sides of the camera who are neurodiverse. So we had people on our crew, we had people in the writers' room and the editing room, on set and in the production office who are neurodiverse, and so many people came up to me and said, "They were the best people in my department." And a lot of them have gone on to work on other productions now and start their careers in entertainment. You find yourself learning that it's not about, "How do these people fit into the world?" But, "How does the world learn to welcome them in?" Basically, the world should make an adjustment, as opposed to them having to adjust, and those are the types of things that I've been taking away from the process.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
As We See It premieres Friday, Jan. 21 on Amazon Prime Video.
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