Abridged Quincy: A Test for Living

Bloggified by Jake on Wednesday, July 31, 2013

In the third episode of the fourth season, Quincy dedicated an hour to explaining autism to viewers. Eight years later, Dustin Hoffman would win a much-deserved Academy Award for his portrayal of Tom Cruise's autistic brother in Rain Man. Unfortunately, Hoffman must have been too busy shooting Kramer vs. Kramer in 1978 so the casting agents for "Quincy" had to go with a kid who was told to continually wave his hand in front of his own face. He also has an over the top freak out scene that makes the entire episode worth watching. You've certainly heard the comment that an actor was "chewing the scenery." In this case, he chews his co-stars.

On one hand, the show's producers' hearts were in the right place. Autism is still widely misunderstood today and they worked with experts in the field to help educate viewers, but so often the show misses the mark. The premise is based on the idea that an autistic kid died because he was sent to a home for retarded kids and was able to slip away because the caretakers didn't bother to stop him from seeing the combination to a lock on the back gate since they assumed he'd never be able to memorize it.

Quincy and his expert-on-autism friend become convinced that the exact same fate is preordained for another possibly autistic boy who is going to be sent to a home for mentally retarded kids. Because the show is about autism, it gets a pass because people are too concerned about being labeled "insensitive" to criticize. But if the episode was about a guy being hit by a meteor or struck by lightning and Quincy spent 45 minutes shaming the browbeaten bureaucrats who are in charge of an overwhelmed, underfunded observatory or weather station for not being able to take precautions specific to one other person he has convinced himself could someday get hit by a meteor, it would be laughable.

Furthermore, the fact that the "happy" conclusion of Timmy's story arc is "Good news! Your child will never be able to interact with society! He still poses a threat to your friends, neighbors, and yourselves! But there is a 30% chance he might be able to dress himself someday if he gets very specialized training, which he won't be able to start for a year so you'll still be caring for him, the doing of which has essentially destroyed your marriage and driven you to the brink of insanity." And the parents are fucking thrilled! Their prayers have been answered and they're ready to consummate their "not getting a divorce" right there in front of their puzzle-putting-together son and a room full of middle aged men behind a one-way mirror.

Perhaps the epitome of how much the show's good intentions miss their marks comes in the denouement when Quincy tries to make up for Timmy's sister's ruined birthday party. It's supposed to be touching and sweet, but what is creepier than the notion of a 50-something-year-old "friend of the family" getting an eight-year-old girl all dolled up in a fancy dress and taking her to a bar down by the harbor where four other men she's never met are eagerly awaiting her arrival with a birthday cake and her parents are nowhere to be seen?

Bonus Content
You may be thinking, "Hey, that actor playing the autistic kid looks familiar. And so does the girl who arrives at the birthday party a minute and a half in. Where have I seen both of them in another scene together?" That's because two years after this episode aired, they did this:

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