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Finally, a realistic autistic character on television

“Make eye contact.”

When Lt. Hank Wade (Ted Levine) of FX's "The Bridge" offers this reminder to Det. Sonya Cross (Diane Kruger), instructing her to look the widower of a recently murdered judge in the eye during her investigation, it's one of the first hints that she is on the autism spectrum. And it's a relatively subtle one. Unlike other shows that use (some might say exploit) the characteristics of autism for comedy or are conveniently inconsistent in the expression of autistic traits, FX's "The Bridge" appears to be committed to creating a nuanced protagonist with autism without making it the defining feature of the series, or even the character.

Since "Rain Man" premiered 25 years ago featuring an Academy Award-winning Dustin Hoffman as an autistic savant with profitable memory recall, Hollywood has mined the entertainment possibilities of characters with autism. That’s not surprising considering that some traits associated with autism can make for colorful characters who are obsessively logical and unusually blunt or comically awkward and completely unaware of social cues. Some of the most popular shows on television prominently feature characters on (or at least implied to be on) the spectrum: Max Braverman on "Parenthood," Temperance Brennan on "Bones," and, perhaps the most popular of all, Sheldon Cooper on "The Big Bang Theory." No one can accuse Hollywood of producing a shortage of characters on the autism spectrum, but how authentically the disorder is portrayed is another story.

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