GRAPHIC BY DENISE THUONG AND DEVYN KELLY
By ANA-SOFIA MUÑOZ
“Sometimes trying to fit in means having to stand out.”
On Friday, Nov. 1, Netflix released the third season of its original family drama Atypical.
The show follows the life of Sam Gardener (Keir Gilchrist), a teenager struggling to fit in with his peers—but with a twist: Sam is on the autism spectrum.
Initially, his story began in season one with a quest for a girlfriend, as suggested by his therapist, Julia (Amy Okuda). As a result, Sam’s journey sparks a world of change, not just for himself, but his friends and family as well.
In this season, Sam confronts a slew of new challenges as he enters his first year of college. Consequently, the Gardener family must learn to adjust to Sam’s growing independence while dealing with their own struggles, including managing their relationships with those closest to them and finding direction in life.
In essence, this season of Atypical succeeds in capturing the hearts of its audience and providing valuable insight into the meaning of compassion, all while remaining lighthearted and enjoyable.
Evidently, one of the show’s most well-executed features is its honest portrayal of relationships. For example, Sam’s parents Doug (Michael Rapaport) and Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) struggle to maintain their marriage, frequently arguing about whether they should stay together. The writers expertly convey the tension that ensues due to conflict with a significant other, especially in marriage. In Doug and Elsa’s case, viewers see that the threat of separation can sometimes affect more than just those involved in the relationship—the uncertainty of their future together creates a rift with their children as well, leading them to feel that they can no longer trust their parents to make the right decisions.
In addition, the show displays the vast complexity of relationships, specifically the ways that a person must sometimes adjust in order to accommodate their partner. This is especially evident in Sam’s relationship with his girlfriend, Paige (Jenna Boyd). They have very different personalities, and in the course of their relationship, learn how to respond to each other’s needs. Paige in particular is shown to be very understanding of Sam’s autism, even when his behavior frustrates her.
Another positive aspect of the show is the way in which it handles Sam’s autism. His friends and family show obvious love and support for him, and help him through his unique struggles without coddling him. The narrative is from Sam’s perspective, and his obsession with Antarctica recurs throughout, used as a metaphor for the many lessons he learns about communication, empathy and love. For example, the scenes in which he relates his tribulations to things such as penguins or the cold creates an abundance of surprisingly heartwarming moments. Such scenes allow Sam’s feelings to be more relatable to neurotypical audience members, without detracting from the show’s intention to represent those on the autism spectrum.
However, arguably the most outstanding element of Atypical is its truthful use of humor in the midst of the trials that the characters typically face. Even in many instances when characters find themselves at a loss for how to solve their problems, they tend to find the humor in their circumstances and can laugh at themselves.
Fan-favorite Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), Sam’s younger sister, is a prime example of this. In this season, she grapples with her identity alongside supporting her brother and navigating her parents’ changing relationship, yet never allows her situation to get the best of her; she frequently cracks jokes that make light of even the heaviest of circumstances. The use of humor makes the show more relatable, revealing to audiences the importance of positivity in dire situations.
Ultimately, Atypical encapsulates true feelings of family and compassion. The show does not shy away from awkward moments or difficult topics, but rather, demonstrates how people can come together to support one another. Atypical shows what it means to be genuinely understanding of those around us, without the series becoming preachy or self-righteous. All in all, these positive factors come together to make Atypical well worth the watch.
With all of this in mind, fans can definitely agree on one thing: this is certainly not your typical show.