Louis Theroux: Extreme Love Review

LOUIS THEROUX – EXTREME LOVE: Thursday 19th April, BBC2, 9pm

Previously, many of Louis Theroux’s documentaries have had a certain degree of humour to them, even those that have focused on very dark subjects. It’s largely what’s so appealing about him as a broadcaster and it’s helped define much of his best work. But, as you’d imagine, there’s little room for humour in Theroux’s latest programme on autism.

Extreme Love: Autism sees the documentary maker visiting one of the best schools in America for the disorder, where he meets the students and their families. One child in a hundred has some form of the condition, Louis explains, and those who have been diagnosed can behave in ways that are profoundly troubling for those around them.

“I don’t get a lot of enjoyment out of them,â€? says Paula, a teary-eyed mother, speaking of her two children, both of whom have autism.

Paula explains that she constantly struggles with her son Marcelo, who frequently throws temper tantrums, often in public. Just before having his hair cut, for example, he becomes enraged and lashes out at his sister. Fortunately Theroux is on hand with a brilliant solution and whipping out his iPhone, asks: “Do you like Peppa Pig, by any chance?â€?

Does Marcelo like the British animated television series Peppa Pig? No, seems to be the resounding answer. In fact, he seems positively angered by Peppa, much too Louis’ disappointment. He does, however, eventually calm down long enough to receive a quick trip as Theroux allows the series’ twinkly theme tune to play.

The documentary focuses equally on some of the positive aspects of the disorder as well. We’re introduced to Nicky, a precocious teen who speaks Japanese and has written a novel. Like many of the students in the documentary, he’s fantastically bright. He’s also surprisingly social, especially in contrast to some of the other students.

Louis, perhaps to some people, could seem quite condescending, but that doesn’t appear to be his intention. His interactions with these children are mostly touching and sometimes humorous, if not understandably tentative upon occasion. His time spent with a teen called Brian, however, are difficult to watch.

Theroux starts out seeming a little patronising, at one point asking him, “Can you push the domino?â€? as the two sit down to play a game. But he soon admits to Brian’s mother that he’s a little nervous. Her son, we learn, can become violent at times and he’s certainly big enough to cause serious damage if he wants to.

“I’ve lost some serious chunks of hair,â€? she explains.

Overall, this is a documentary concentrates on the strains that autism can put on relationships rather than the condition itself, but Theroux’s knack for telling the human story which lurk between the lines. It’s well executed, thought-provoking and touching, but very different to the journalist’s more light-hearted investigations into the weird and obscure. Whether it’s a field that suits him is another matter..