The second episode of Peter Bowker’s The A Word begins with Joe (Max Vento) going to his new school. This involves a change of routine which is confusing for him. Alison (Morven Christie) is still torn between sending her son to a specialist school and keeping him in the mainstream system. She is naturally worried that it might affect how he is treated by others, even though she knows he will be given the additional support he needs. Paul (Lee Ingleby), after visiting the new school, wants to take him out of it again, for fear of him getting worse by being surrounded by others like him. The dilemma the parents face is in balancing their desire for mainstream schooling over what is best for Joe. Alison feels she has the best of both worlds with a specialist unit in a mainstream school.
Joe however becomes distressed going to new school for the second time and is anxious when Alison can’t tell him the name of the band playing on the radio. Thinking that this will distress him all day Alison runs to try and find out what the song was but by the time she gets back Joe is working on a game with his teacher which helps her realise the value of having this kind of specialist support rather than the family trying to work everything out for themselves.
The good news is that Joe gets to hear a modern song in this episode and there’s a comic exchange when Alison goes to a record shop to find out what the song was on the radio. She buys a selection of new music for him to listen to in future. This will be better for Joe perhaps but will be a loss for Paul as this was a connection that they had allowing him to share his music with his son.
The long drive to the new school is already taking its toll on family life. Alison is spending more time with Joe travelling which will intensify their relationship but this could potentially be at the risk of excluding everyone else as she is now sharing experiences with Joe that Paul is not a part of. Paul having to work at the restaurant means that he only sees them briefly when they get home at night. Paul and Alison are trying to keep their relationship going but it looks like the family will be even more fractured as time goes on and there is greater potential for them to lead separate lives.
Now that Sophie (Lucy Gaskell) is working at the restaurant, Paul gets to see what happens when her son Mark (Travis Smith), who is also on the spectrum, has a melt down. Mark is a lot older than Joe and physically stronger than Sophie which alarms Paul. He thinks this is what Joe will be like when he grows up and seems to wonder how he would cope. Lucy Gaskell plays bolshie characters so well (notably in the brilliantly soapy ‘Cutting it’) and shows Sophie taking it in her stride – obviously from years of practice. Paul seems to be fascinated by how she is coping with her son on her own – she is a few stages further along than he and Alison – and, going by the trailer for next week’s episode, danger is lurking (Don’t do it Paul!!!)
Ralph (Leon Harrop) has started a new job with Maurice and is shown to pull his weight from the start. He is ready for his independence but is touchingly mindful that his mum may not be, commentating that she doesn’t cope well with change. The Polish duo at the brewery (Tommie Grabiec and Adam Wittek) are becoming a bit of a Greek chorus commenting on the drama unfolding in front of them and it’s increasingly funny to watch.
The on/off relationship between Maurice and Louise (Christopher Eccleston and Pooky Quesnel) develops further this time as she reveals her cancer diagnosis. Louise wanted to keep it to herself and initially refuses help from Maurice. His wife died of cancer and she feels this would be too much for him to go through again. But why would you keep Maurice away? He knew to bring lib balm and water spray to hospital, he’s a keeper!
Meanwhile Nicola’s father is still determined to get her and Eddie back together and takes him for an excruciating chat over a drink. This time however it looks like Eddie (Greg McHugh) has finally started to move on from Nicola (Vinette Robinson) and has begun dating someone else.
There’s a lot going on for every member of family but Bowker keeps Joe’s autism at the heart. There’s a he sweet exchange with a schoolboy and “Joe’s granddad” (Maurice) who thinks Maurice has forgotten that Joe doesn’t go to the school anymore and offers to help him. This, along with other incidents throughout the episode, tries to show that people can and do accept illness, those with different abilities and special needs and it eventually just becomes a part of life. It can also be a rewarding experience for the carers and those around them.
We are starting to see more of the other characters’ storylines this time and I like the way the series is developing. Whether watching The A Word for its depiction of autism or just as a family drama, there is a lot worse on TV but at the moment nothing better.
Contributed by Cecilia
The A Word Continues Tuesday at 9.00pm on BBC One.