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A New TV Series Highlights the Costs of Avoidance

"Avoidance" takes a light-hearted look at extreme avoidance.

BritBox/ Fair use
Romesh Ranganathan (Jonathan).
Source: BritBox/ Fair use

Even though the coffee shop that Jonathan frequents always gets his order wrong, he refuses to say something about it because he’s already waited too long to say anything, and it would be weird to say something now because they’ll wonder why he didn’t say something sooner.

This is just one example of Jonathan’s extreme and self-defeating avoidant behavior from the appropriately named Avoidance, a new comedy series debuting on BritBox on September 20. The series follows Jonathan in the wake of his separation from his longtime partner as he learns to navigate through life on his own for the first time in years while sharing custody of his son, Spencer.

Jonathan is a typical sad sack type and is treated like an unworthy loser by most of the other adult characters on the show. And the show lives up to its name. In the first episode, Jonathan delays telling his son Spencer that Jonathan and his partner, Claire, are separating by taking Spencer to Jonathan’s sister’s house before Claire gets home; when Claire finds out what he’s done, Jonathan takes Spencer to the beach before Claire can get to his sister’s house. Another time, after missing a day of work, he proceeds to miss a full week because he can’t bear to explain to his boss why he missed the first day.

These incidents might make Jonathan seem insufferable, but it’s almost impossible not to root for him, thanks to the sarcastic charm Romesh Ranganathan brings to the character. (Ranganathan is also a co-creator of the show.) The show is a joy to watch due to a small collection of terrific supporting characters, most notably Jonathan’s sister, Dani, and his son, Spencer, both of whom have amusing social dynamics with Jonathan.

The Costs of Avoidance

Avoidance is primarily a comedy with some small emotional stakes. But if it had a lesson to offer, it might be about the costs of avoidance.

It’s obvious that we’re not supposed to see Jonathan’s behavior and conclude that he’s right to never speak up at the coffee shop or to essentially abduct his own son to prevent him from finding out his parents split up.

But the show does encourage us to understand why he does these things. At various points, we see Jonathan imagining worst-case scenarios (usually related to Spencer) if he doesn’t prevent something from happening: He’s driven by fear and an instinct to protect both the status quo and the people he cares about.

Though the series never addresses it, Jonathan’s behavior is not unlike that of people with clinically diagnosed avoidant personality disorder, estimated to affect 1.5 percent to 2.5 percent of the population, and associated with “fears of rejection and feelings of inadequacy.” (For more, click here and here.)

By contrast, at one point, Jonathan’s sister Dani finds herself avoiding initiating a difficult conversation with her wife. She eventually stops putting it off and the conversation sends their relationship into turmoil. This is exactly the kind of outcome that Jonathan would fear most. But we aren’t meant to conclude that Dani made the wrong choice by bringing things out in the open.

By and large, Avoidance seems to emphasize that avoiding difficult things has more costs than benefits.

More from Alan Jern Ph.D.
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