Updated: Jan 30
What is normal? Atypical dives into what defines normality (and so much more) in each episode, with a level of tact, levity, and grace not often seen. Seen even less is how Atypical doesn’t just maintain this quality over three seasons but seems to improve with each season. In an era of television where declining quality and disappointing endings have become the norm, Atypical is nothing short of a breath of fresh air.
Atypical comes from the mind of Robia Rashid, who had previously worked as a producer on the insanely popular How I Met Your Mother. The show follows Sam Gardner, an eighteen-year-old boy with autism as he begins to grow into his own person. Yes, Atypical is your classic coming of age story but told in such a unique way that each episode feels brand new. As unique Atypical and its characters are, they still manage to be relatable to a multitude of generations.
It’s not often that you’ll come across a coming-of-age story that manages to be relatable to teenagers, their parents, and their college-aged older siblings, but that’s exactly what Atypical is. Atypical, all at once, does a fantastic job at being funny, compelling, insightful, and that’s just season one. From there Atypical blows away your expectations and manages to only get better from there. If you’re looking for quality content on a streaming service, you won't find a lot better than the Peabody nominated Atypical.
I won’t spoil anything about the story here so don’t worry about spoilers.
Sadly, it still needs to be said that there is nothing funny about autism, or the people who deal with the disorder. This is why the writing of Atypical is far and away from the best part of the show. Atypical manages to be funny, and make Sam Gardener, a character with autism, funny without ever making autism the butt of its jokes. It’s a feat that deserves respect because it would have been easy for the writers to do that and other shows have taken that route before.
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But unlike most comedic series’ Atypical puts effort into the comedy and this can be seen in the show's comedic structure. Robia Rashid clearly used her experience from working on How I Met Your Mother when writing Atypical’s comedic scenes because they are more like parodies of something you would see on a traditional teen sitcom.
Atypical is more than just a comedy. So much more. Be prepared for a fair share of the scenes to be dramatic and may even make some cry. But these scenes don’t feel forced or like they are filling some kind of drama quota. What Atypical is, more than anything else is an honest show about growing up in a weird world where most of us don’t often feel normal. It’s a concept that’s been attempted before by television shows in the past (see Freaks and Geeks) but what makes Atypical different is that the storytelling is just fantastic, especially in the second season. This is why it comes as no surprise to me that the Atypical was nominated for a Peabody award.
Cast and Characters
While the cast of Atypical is being given some fantastic material to work with in each script, that shouldn’t take away from the stellar performances given by the cast. This is especially true of Keir Gilchrist, who plays protagonist Sam Gardener and does a fantastic job doing so. Gilchrist essentially carries the show in the first season as most of the drama, as well as the comedy, is centered around his character Sam Gardener. Though, what Gilchrist does best throughout Atypical is play a character with Autism with not only the respect that disorder deserves but with subtlety.
Almost every movement, look and mannerism shows the audience how atypical Sam Gardener is because of autism. Gilchrist does this so well that the internet is constantly asking if Gilchrist is autistic in real life (he isn’t). But as well as Gilchrist does, seeing the rest of the cast getting a chance to flex their acting talent progressively as the series moves on was a joy to see.
This is especially true of Michael Rapaport. An actor who has been strongly typecast through most of his career as nothing but a northeastern street tough guy, Michael Rapaport pleasantly surprised me in the role of a flawed but caring father. Atypical has allowed Rapaport and the rest of the main cast to show the range they have as actors.
Also, I feel that it is important to praise Atypical for recognizing that their show about an Autistic character and the effects that Autism can have on the people around him had a distinct lack of people with Autism in the cast. This was true in season one but Atypical made the effort and includes actors with Autism on the show in later seasons. Regardless of it being an issue to you, those in charge of Atypical taking this step just shows how serious they take the accurate depiction of Autism. It’s an effort lesser shows wouldn’t have made.
What Could Have Been Better
This is going to be an incredibly difficult section for me to write, which is a good thing. Atypical is one of those shows that you would need to go over with a fine-tooth comb to find flaws. I couldn’t find any glaring issues that would affect anyone trying to enjoy Atypical from season one. The only issue I can point out is that for a character who is socially awkward, Sam Gardener, at times, seems very socially adept in certain situations. Though this slight criticism can be written off as him coming out of his shell, even knowing this it was very convenient for the story, at times.
Should I Watch It? Definitely
This show is one that casual viewers may call odd or too weird and it’s anything but. As someone who was a teenager in this weird time we live in, Atypical paints the most accurate picture of what it feels like growing up in the modern age. What is Atypical? It’s the gold standard for the modern coming-of-age story but unlike most stories, Atypical can be enjoyed by all age groups.
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