An atypical portrayal
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Atypical is a quirky and heartfelt TV series on Netflix which follows Sam, a student with autism, as well as his friends, and his family. Throughout the seasons, Sam takes on finding a girlfriend, going to college, and adopting a penguin. This is a holistic review of the show as a whole and its run through four seasons. Within its four seasons this show tackles divorce, disability, mental illness, and queerness while staying reasonably upbeat and just really enjoyable.
As with a lot of TV shows, Atypical is led by its characters. The family dynamic made up of Sam, Casey, Elsa, and Doug is a highlight but it’s really beautiful how the friends and partners of Sam and Casey move in and out of this family dynamic.
The first season of the series is very much about Sam and how his autism affects him and his family. His mum, Elsa, attends a support group with very set ‘rules’ on how to talk about people with autism. This is an ongoing conversation in society as people with autism have different views on how they like to be referred to. The show highlights the nuances of language around autism.
“Autism isn’t an accomplishment. It’s something I was born with. You wouldn’t write an essay about having ten fingers and ten toes, would you? No, because that would be really, really, really, really dumb.”
One major element of the show that I was so proud and amazed to see was the seamless introduction of queerness into the discussion of teen relationships. It wasn’t made into a big fanfare because that is rarely realistic. Often TV shows and movies are only about a character’s sexuality, and this is made into their only personality trait. In Atypical, the sexuality of the characters (Insights will not give spoilers) is just another thing about them.
Of course this TV show could never represent all experiences with autism, which means that the portrayal is limited in places. And there are other reviews out there from people more educated than I am, highlighting flaws in the representation. There are stereotypes and the ongoing humor can come across as a bit insensitive. A major setback is the fact that Sam is played by a neurotypical actor. When the show got negative feedback about this they cast a number of actors with autism in Season two. The intent of the creators is clearly positive these and issues improve throughout the seasons.
Atypical’s target audience is aged 13 and over because of inappropriate language, quite a few sexual references, as well as mention of mature issues.
Atypical seasons one to four are streaming now on Netflix