This series focuses on 18-year-old Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) who, coming to end of his high school years, has decided he’d like a girlfriend. However, for him, dating is full of trials and tribulations – flirting and making small talk when really, he’d just like to talk about the penguin populations in Antarctica. He’s on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, and like most teenagers on the cusp of adulthood he’s confused, stressed out, and lost.
Throughout the seasons we watch as Sam learns to become independent, whilst his under-appreciated and overprotective mum Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) mirrors his journey, trying to figure out who she is outside of being a mother. Obviously, both of them hit some major hurdles along the way, with Sam crushing on his 26-year-old therapist, and Elsa developing a wandering eye which poses a threat to her marriage. Alongside their stories, we also have those of Sam’s sister, Casey, a tom-boy and the star of the school’s track team who is fiercely protective of her brother, and their dad, Doug, who’s stereotypically useless.
With these four characters, we’ve got the foundations for a brilliant family drama, and in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what it is. But then, it’s also a sitcom, and a coming-of-age story. The fact that Atypical is difficult to place in one genre is undoubtedly a deliberate decision by its producers, who are clearly trying to reflect both Sam’s view of, and place in, the world. However, it must be noted that the first season received some backlash for its portrayal of autism, with The Guardian’s Leslie Felperin saying “the series avoids certain clichés yet still falls victim to a certain inauthenticity.”
Luckily, the creators of Atypical appeared to take this on board, and the subsequent three seasons have developed into a brilliant, heartfelt and much-loved story, which has only grown in popularity.
Sarah Luterman for The New York Times said season two, “improves on the first in significant ways… Unexpectedly, I find myself looking forward to learning what happens to Sam as he transitions to a university environment.” And Season three continued on this trajectory of improvement – Forbes’ Merill Bar says “In the golden age of cynical comedy, it’s hard to break through with a heartfelt sitcom built on the premise of positivity and understanding. Yet, Netflix has managed to pull it off,” adding “Season three of Atypical is the show’s boldest to date and truly feels like it has reached its stride.”
The latest season, too, has receieved a lot of praise, with The Guardian’s Rebecca Nicholson saying “while the show does deal with big themes – it touches on cancer, death, disappointment and dementia – it handles them lightly and tenderly… it is a beautiful show, celebrating difference, adaptability and an open-hearted approach to life. In the sometimes stagnant world of half-hour sitcoms, it is refreshingly itself.”
First shown August 2017. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.