Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 January 2020

A modern story about anxiety: why Netflix's new series isn't your typical children's show

Netflix's next breakout star Mauricio Lara talks about making a very modern comedy about anxiety

The show follows Dude the dog and three school friends, from left, Amara (Sophie Kim), Noah (Jace Chapman) and Simon (Mauricio Lara). Courtesy Netflix
The show follows Dude the dog and three school friends, from left, Amara (Sophie Kim), Noah (Jace Chapman) and Simon (Mauricio Lara). Courtesy Netflix

Netflix’s The Healing Powers of Dude isn’t your ordinary children’s show. First of all, there’s its rather unusual premise, with Noah Ferris, 11, played by Jace Chapman, suffering from such crippling social anxiety that his parents decide to get him an emotional support dog named Dude, who is such a calming influence on Noah that he soon decides to take the dog everywhere, including to school.

But The Healing Powers of Dude isn’t simply about the trials and tribulations of Noah, who despite some teething problems at his new school soon strikes up some powerful friendships. We’re also made privy to the inner thoughts of Dude, with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Out of Sight and Chicken Little star Steve Zahn voicing the pup, who, it turns out, is just as anxious as his owner.

What really sets The Healing Powers of Dude apart, though, is its modern, open and progressive look at how debilitating anxiety can be for those who suffer from it. Not only does the show’s treatment of the condition help to normalise it, but it reminds viewers how many sorts of people are afflicted by anxiety in all its forms on a daily basis across the world.

Far from using Noah’s struggles as a jumping-off point that it never truly examines, The Healing Powers of Dude isn’t afraid to mix moments of lighthearted comedy with some nuanced and dramatic scenes, all of which the show’s creators, Erica Spates and Sam Littenberg-­Weisberg, handle in a caring and eye-opening manner.

For Mauricio Lara, who plays Noah’s best friend Simon, that’s exactly what sets The Healing Powers of Dude apart from other children’s shows and sitcoms. “It’s different because it is talking about some very serious topics,” he tells The National. “But instead of just using numbers, studies and statistics, it shows what it is actually like living with social anxiety in our new era of social media and technology.”

Mauricio Lara has starred in '9-1-1', 'The Conners' and 'Young Sheldon'. Courtesy Russell Baer.
Mauricio Lara has starred in '9-1-1', 'The Conners' and 'Young Sheldon'. Courtesy Russell Baer.

The Healing Powers of Dude doesn’t only focus on Noah’s social anxiety. Mauricio, 13, who has starred in TV shows such as 9-1-1, The Conners and Young Sheldon, says the series tackles issues relevant to people of “all intellectual and physical disabilities”, something he is proud of. “The ball has already been rolling on this topic and I am so grateful to be able to be a part of something that contributes to it,” he says.

No matter where you are in life, you can relate to it in some way. It talks about what it’s like to have crushes and all the ups and downs that come with them. It’s a lot of fun.

Mauricio

He says the show is perfect for the whole family to enjoy together, as it mixes drama with genuinely heartfelt moments and surreal, laugh-out-loud humour that viewers of all ages will find hilarious. “No matter where you are in life, you can relate to it in some way,” Mauricio says. “It talks about what it’s like to have crushes and all the ups and downs that come with them. It’s a lot of fun. But then it also goes the other way and talks about bullying and how people deal with or don’t deal with it and the toll that it takes on a kid.”

Mauricio is clearly living out his childhood fantasy, as he has grown up wanting to be on TV in some fashion. Over the course of the past decade, his career hasn’t only brought him success and fame, it has also been the perfect outlet for all of his jokes and energy. That’s particularly satisfying for Mauricio, who says he is adamant about making sure his work has a positive influence.

“That’s why I got into acting. I really liked the idea of making people laugh and putting a smile on their faces, because doing that also makes me feel happy and smile.”

'The Healing Powers of Dude' deals with childhood anxiety and emotional support. Courtesy Netflix
'The Healing Powers of Dude' deals with childhood anxiety and emotional support. Courtesy Netflix

Mauricio has popped up many times in TV sitcoms over the years. However, he says it isn’t always easy for him to get into the minds of the characters he plays. To really get to the heart of his roles, he says he has to become a little morbid and pinpoint a shortcoming or vulnerability in the character that he can then expand upon. “All people have a weakness and when I understand what that weakness is, I understand that character more and the decisions that they make.”

That was a little difficult for his role on The Healing Powers of Dude, though, because what originally stood out about Simon was how “incredibly nice” he is. “He’s the type of person that would do anything for his friends,” Mauricio says. “All he wants to do is make friends, too, which at least made it pretty easy to portray him a fun way.”

Unsurprisingly, Mauricio says he is hopeful The Healing Powers of Dude will be renewed for a second season, although he admits he’s completely in the dark about whether Netflix will order more episodes. If the streaming company is looking for some ideas about where the show could go after its first season, Mauricio says he has a few things in mind.

“I would love to see more of Simon’s home life. As viewers will soon see in the show, he is a pretty interesting guy,” he says. “That would definitely be something fun to explore in the future.”

For now, though, Mauricio is simply grateful to have made a “new family” during production of The Healing Powers of Dude, which will surely only grow as more people watch it. But is there one particular lesson that Mauricio hopes viewers will take away from the series?

“For me, the biggest takeaway is just how important it is to have the right people around you, because whoever is around you will shape who you are and who you will become.”

The Healing Powers of Dude is available to stream on Netflix from today

Updated: January 12, 2020 07:50 PM

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