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Terri Mauro

Special-Needs TV: Goodbye to 'Alphas,' Hello to 'Legit'

By January 17, 2013

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TVIf you've been looking forward to a third season of the Syfy series Alphas, which featured a character with autism and a general neurodiversity theme, I've got bad news: the network announced yesterday that the series has been canceled. If you've never heard of or seen the show (and obviously, that's quite a lot of you, or the thing would have had the ratings necessary to get renewed), you can read a little bit about why this is something to be sad about in two posts I wrote about the show's first season. Or read this testimonial that Shannon Des Roches Rosa, co-editor of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, wrote when the show was named a finalist for a 2012 Readers' Choice Award last year:

"Alphas is unique in that it presents autistic people as complex human beings -- even if, ironically, its two autistic characters have superhuman 'Alpha' abilities. Gary, the main autistic character, is a full member of a special task force. He is not presented as 'less than' -- in fact his team mates consider him a friend, and characters who patronize him eventually realize their pity is misplaced. He is also not merely a foil for the non-autistic characters, but has his own character development -- telling his mother to stop smothering him, learning to drive, standing up to bullies by declaring 'I'm autistic!' The other autistic character, Anna, is notable for being a second autistic character in a TV series, and because her autism is nothing like Gary's -- a take-home concept for viewers. Anna is also profoundly intelligent despite not speaking or making eye contact (though I wish she didn't have to be an evil genius). I watch Alphas because it challenges autism stereotypes in a way no other series does."

If you'd like to leave your own kind words in memory of the series, there's a Readers' Respond page ready to receive your tribute.

Coincidentally, today also marks the debut of a new series featuring a character with special needs -- Legit, on FX at 10:30. According to a review by Alan Sepinwall on HitFix, it's "the story of a selfish pig who decides to do something nice for someone else," and of interest to us is that particular someone else, a man with severe muscular dystrophy who the main character determines to spring from a nursing home and give a fuller life. As Sepinwall describes, the character of Billy, played by DJ Qualls, is "confined to a motorized wheelchair and is capable of very limited movement: he can manipulate a computer mouse, but needs you to put his hand on it, and his only way to 'leave the room' if he's mad at you is to turn his head." The comedy sounds a little too raunchy for my taste, but if you get a chance to watch the show, leave your impression in the comments here or on a TV review form.

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