Atypical – Netflix exclusive honourably swings, unfortunately misses

Atypical is the latest Netflix exclusive series. It’s a coming of age sitcom about an 18 year-old boy on the autism spectrum and his family.

Shot of family peering up from the bottom of the screen comically

 At times, it is heartwarming, offbeat and has a few laughs scattered throughout. Ultimately though, it’s a shallow dive into a pool far deeper than the creators could possibly understand and, as a result, I think it misses the mark.

For me for every moment it made me smile there was another moment that just made me cringe.

Listen to the podcast:

The story

The show focuses on Sam, an 18 year-old kid with Autism who is slowly starting to find his independence much to the dismay of his mother Elsa, played by Jennifer Jason-Leigh, who has centered her entire life around caring for her son. Sam’s dad Doug, played by Michael Rapaport, is actually starting to connect with the 18 year old Sam who is now interested in girls and dating, but has struggled to do so in the past because of his condition (his mannerisms, inability to make eye contact and show affection etc.). The family is rounded out by Sam’s younger sister Casey, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine, who is incredibly stoic as the sibling of a brother that takes up a lot of space in the family and while she takes somewhat of a back seat to Sam a lot of the time, she also looks out for him at school and cares deeply for her brother. She’s my favorite character in the show.

Notable mentions among the supporting cast include Amy Okuda as Sam’s therapist Julia and Nick Dodani, as Sam’s somewhat perverted teen comedy stereotype/sidekick/friend, Zahid.

The hype

A lot of people are talking about this show. Particularly in the Autism community, of which I (coincidentally) have found myself a part of.

And I almost wasn’t going to review this show because of that.

I was thinking, “am I only watching this because of the subject matter, would I find it interesting otherwise, is it too close to home?”

But fuck it. I am reviewing it. We’re halfway through already!

As a I said before, for every smile there is a cringe. Almost like someone telling you a funny joke and while you’re having a good old chuckle, they burn you with a hot iron.

What’s right

What’s right about Atypical for me unfortunately is canceled out by what’s wrong.

The right thing is they have attempted to make a show that explains what life is like for someone on the autism spectrum.

Sam’s character is a great illustration of a high functioning kid with autism. Through him the show demonstrates things like his monotone speech, lack of eye contact, inability to understand vocal cues and take everything extremely literally and obsessions; which is Sam’s case is Antarctica and the animals that inhabit that continent.

For someone who has seen how difficult it is to exist in a neurotypical society (a society that kids itself into thinking its more inclusive than it actually is) exposing the mainstream to this is a wonderful thing.

If they can open a few more sets of eyes to this, to making people understand how the things we take for granted may overwhelm or affect people who we’ve often labeled as “weird”, “strange” or even “retarded” and make us attempt to consider the world through their eyes, halle-fucking-lluja! That is great!

What’s wrong

But the problem is this. If you’ve met one kid with Austism, that’s it.

You’ve met one kid with Autism.

The show attempts to stereotype a spectrum disorder that is far broader that it could possibly comprehend.

Also, while a lot of the comedy focuses around Sam, because Sam doesn’t get the joke most times, it feels like the joke is on him.

To me it seems like she show has been very lazily put together, almost as if the writer Robia Roshid (who has worked on shows like Will & Grace, How I met Your Mother, and the Goldbergs) just read a shitload of books and anecdotes and never really experienced any of it first hand. Or sought go a bit deeper and do some broader research beyond books and one or two people she may know.

Even down to the stereotypical fractured marriage between Elsa and Doug. Which just makes me uncomfortable. It all feels like it’s come out of a stats pamphlet that almost everyone who has had someone in their family diagnosed has read.

Roshid is a lazy writer as far as I am concerned. While she claims to have a personal connection with Autism she also says she doesn’t want to talk about it to protect that person’s privacy. Fair enough. It feels like it’s a few degress of seperation away to me because she also says that The point of view is interesting and a cool way to tell a dating story. Which to be honest, is pretty fucking shallow.

The show has copped some flak about not casting an actor with Autism to play Sam, which I actually think is a little unfair. However in defending that the studio has cited there is an Autistic member on the cast, Anthony Jacques who play Christopher, in one fucking episode. Which is token and stupid.

Own it. I don’t think they’re trying to neurotypical wash here. It’s not the autistic equivalent of Ghost In The Shell.

The verdict

Atypical is part teen sex comedy, part family sitcom, part drama all centered around a subject that is far from black and white and much like the therapy for each individual case unable to be put into a one size fits all story.

Out of this review I’d ask you to take everything I say with a grain of salt and make your own opinion.

If I’m being honest though, when I step back from the subject matter and I just look at it as a show I want to be entertained by. I’d say Atypical is mediocre at best.

Two and a half out of five.


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