Episode two of The Autistic Gardener was aired on channel four, Wednesday at 8:00pm. It followed the same format as last week’s episode, with Allan Gardener and his team of autistic armature gardeners being given just one week and a small sum of money to transform their client’s garden. Things were more challenging this time, as the team were converting a much smaller space and only had a budget of £1200. I really enjoyed episode two, and felt it portrayed autism in a positive way, celebrating the talents and quirkiness of people on the spectrum whilst being honest about the issues we face. However, one thing is starting to grate on me.
Am I the only one who’s sick to death of the constant ad breaks on channel four? They break the narrative and spoil the illusion of whatever you’re trying to watch and (if you happen to be a woman) act as a constant reminder you will never be slim enough, successful enough or air brushed enough. This is ten times worse if you happen to be watching on All 4 (channel four’s website) which often repeats the same semi interactive adverts over and over, inviting you to click on whichever Netflix trailer you want to watch in a way that reminds me of George Plantagenet being invited to choose how he was executed. I know this doesn’t have much to do with the show or with autism, but if I can’t rant on the internet then where can I rant?
Anyway… the adverts were monotonous. But so were the introductions to each fifteen minute section of the show. The writers must have expected a lot of people to be tuning in half way through the episode, because at after each ad break the show was introduced to me as though I hadn’t seen what happened before. The first time Allan referred to his autism as a ‘gift’ I glowed with pride. The first time he joked about his name and his profession both being ‘Gardener’ I chuckled. But by the third, fourth and fifth times those things were repeated I was starting to get bored. Most of episode two was wonderful, but it could have been a lot shorter if all the recap and repetition were cut out.
During this episode the tension was higher, which of course bought out more of the social awkwardness in Allan and his team of armature gardeners. The clients in episode one had been a relaxed couple who, although neurotypical, were quirky and slightly “gothic” just like Allan. Whereas this week’s clients were a slick power couple from London, and while happy with the final result, it was obvious they didn’t quite ‘get’ Allan’s whacky ideas. For a follow Aspie, the difficulties they had in communication were familiar, entertaining and slightly difficult to watch.
There were more communication issues later on, when one of the gardeners upset another, yet remained immersed in his work, blissfully unaware. I’m sure this was something anyone with friends or family members on the autism spectrum can relate to. I must have begged friends, family, work colleges and romantic partners a thousand times to please, please tell me if I ever upset them, because otherwise I’ll probably never know. People with autism find it very difficult to read people’s emotions based on body language, facial expression and vocal tone. Add to that equation the presence of a special interest (in this case gardening), demanding our attention in the same way a syringe full of heroine pulls in the focus of a drug addict, and conflicts are likely to remain unresolved or ignored altogether. I’m glad these communication issues were given as much screen time as quirkiness and special talents. It made for a realistic, well rounded portrayal of autism.
Another area of autism the show portrayed well was sensory issues, with enhanced bits of filming giving the audience a rough idea of what the world might look like through the eyes of someone who is over sensitive to light and, in Allan’s own word’s ‘see[‘s] and hear[‘s] every tiny little thing.’ For someone on the spectrum this kind of attention to detail can make the world an overwhelming place, but it’s also why the Aspie’s in The Autistic Gardner are so good at their jobs. They see everything, and everything they see has to be perfect. The sensory aspects of this week’s garden were breath taking. The presence of delicate flowers and prickly cacti created an interesting contrast in textures, while large red screens filtered the sunlight and bathed everything in a warm glow. I don’t think a neurotypical gardener could ever come up with something so beautiful.
All in all, I really enjoyed this week’s episode. While The Autistic Gardener comes with the numerous add breaks and repetition you’d expect from a channel four show, it’s still entertaining, well made and extremely positive in its portrayal of autism. Watch it if you’re interested in gardening. Watch it if you’re interested in nature. Watch it if you’re interested in autism… Just watch it.