An Atypical Success

Review: Atypical
Created by Robia Rashid
Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Keir Gilchrist, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Amy Okuda, Michael Rapaport

Life is tough for Sam Gardner. He finds himself having to traverse the difficulties of high-school and his relationships, while living on the autism spectrum. Originally known as Antarctica, to mirror Sam’s fascination with the continent, Atypical covers Sam’s life and the interconnecting stories from his family and friends.

While Sam’s family is supportive, a shift in circumstances in his life means that a whole new slew of problems present themselves. On the suggestion of his therapist (Amy Okuda) who he harbours feelings for, he decides to give dating a try. This effort is not helped by his clueless best friend whose advice often steers Sam in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, Sam’s sister Casey, one of his sources of support at school, has a shot at getting into an elite private school on full athletic scholarship. Making matters worse, Sam’s parents’ relationship is on the rocks as his mother Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) begins an affair with a bartender as a way to cope with her stress.

All of these various threads are woven together well, and Atypical manages to balance each characters’ perspective. The comedic setups are well-written and delivered, with the family dinner scene late in the season being the highlight.

Show creator Robia Rashid consulted with Michelle Dean, who previously worked at UCLA’s Center for Autism Research and Treatment in order to present Atypical as an authentic look at life on the spectrum.

Critics, however, have taken Aytpical to task for being inaccurate in its portrayal of the Autism spectrum and for not including any actors who are on the spectrum themselves. It should be noted, though, that the show is empathetic in its portrayal of Sam. The show manages to create genuine humour out of its situations without ever coming across as mean-spirited or poking fun at its subject. Sam is portrayed in all of his successes and frustrations, with a view toward trying to show what life is like for him.

Of course, viewers need to take into account that this is a fictionalised version of life with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and that those seeking to find out what it is really like would do better to further research, with the show serving as a stepping off-point.


With Netflix announcing that Season 2 will drop in 2018, this is a good time to get acquainted with Atypical.

Atypical is rated M and is streaming now on Netflix.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor




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