Atypical: Season 1 Review
Netflix has a new hit series on the rise, and it is bound to warm your heart, make you laugh, and open your eyes to a stigmatized topic. Atypical follows a relatively mundane middle-class family with two teenage children, one of whom, Sam, has autism. Sam, 18 years old, is extremely high-functioning, holding a steady job and attending a mainstream high school with his younger sister Casey, a sophomore track team star. Being a senior in high school and having never dated, Sam decides to invest his time in finding a girlfriend. While the show does center around this recurring storyline, Casey, the mother, and father each have personal screentime and their stories and personalities develop as the show goes on.
Atypical’s producer, Robia Rashid, has been involved in other popular comedies, like How I Met Your Mother and The Goldbergs, and it is clear that she follows a certain pattern in production. Her productions are often entertaining, realistic, and usually revolve around a specific friend group or family with a strong affinity to one another. Each episode is a mere 30 minutes, which is plenty of time to fall in love with the characters and laugh out loud at their delightful personalities.
Although the title and description of the show might lead one to believe it is entirely about Sam, as a viewer, one really gets to invest in each storyline and empathize with the characters. Even Sam’s therapist, Julia, has her own narrative, intertwining with the family at many points. Each character is relatable, likable, and shows a humourous side. No persona feels unnecessary or merely used as a prop and their drama never got boring and rarely feels dragged out-- the writer kept the plot moving and developing constantly.
While there are many aspects to Atypical, the show primarily focuses on Sam and his attempt to not just find a girlfriend, but keep her. However, instead of making the show into a quasi- documentary, Rashid beautifully normalizes the topic by creating an environment in which one does not feel estranged or uncomfortable, giving the show a unique twist. Similar to many boys his age, Sam focuses on schoolwork and works an after school job, all while attempting to survive the multitude of girl issues in which he has involved himself. He cares about looking handsome to impress the ladies, and has his passions, hopes, and dreams. Sam exhibits many differences from his peers with his monotone voice, strong sensitivity to noise, and particular obsessions that he cannot control, yet it is endearing to be able to relate to him on the level the show portrays.
The show challenges any stereotype that assumes people on the spectrum are not involved in everyday activities. The first episode opens up with a surprising statistic about marriage among people on the spectrum--nine percent get married. Julia, the therapist, insists this low number is not due to lack of desire to get married but rather that they are never taught how to maintain and healthily deal with the social aspects of a relationship. Comprehending this information instantly sheds light on the importance that people view persons with autism as very similar to us, even if externally they may act differently. The show embraces this idea wholeheartedly by ensuring Sam dates a girl not on the spectrum, as it reinforces the idea there can be attraction and communication between two different types of people.
The cast contained some unfamiliar faces, including Brigette Lundy-Paine (The Glass Castle) and Amy Okuda (The Guild) that are relatively new to the limelight, possibly contributing to some of the dry and empty acting scenes. Surprisingly, the experienced actors including Jennifer Jason Leigh (Weeds) and Michael Rapaport (Prison Break) were not much relief from the poorly executed roles. There were moments in which the actors could have put more emotion into their performances, and it was disappointing when it seemed the characters were more concerned with fitting lines in than presenting them as realistic. Anger and frustration often seemed apathetic and dull, and, while reading from a script works for practice, it does not sit well in the actual performance.
To Rashid’s credit, she did a remarkable job casting Kier Gilchrist as Sam, the main character. Gilchrist prides himself in playing unusual and challenging roles, portraying a teen in a psychiatric ward in It’s Kind of a Funny Story and the son of a woman with multiple personality disorder in United States of Tara, and for good reason. Playing a character on the spectrum means he will have to realistically feel overwhelming emotion and respond to social cues in an abnormal fashion, both of which take practice and focus. Gilchrist put much heart and devotion into his character, taking great care to maintain communication with the audience about what is going on in Sam’s head.
Bad acting made some of the characters dislikable, but, for the most part, there were no antagonists that ruined the fun and warm environment of the show. That is not to say that the show was boring in anyway-- rather that the family and friends were humans with flaws, and that was apparent throughout the season.
All in all, it was an entertaining show that could make one question their previous beliefs about how an atypical family might appear, leaving one guessing which path the storyline would take. The protagonists were amusing while still containing depth, and, while the acting left a little to be desired, overall, Rashid and the crew did a wonderful job. While I hope Season 2 brings more talent, I would highly recommend taking the time to watch the first season of Atypical. If anything, you will undoubtedly get a good laugh and explore an important conversation.