Characters with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been featured in several recent films like The Accountant. This Netflix Original Series‘ title stems from its opposite designation “neurotypical” that refers to those not afflicted with autism. Show creator Robia Rashid (How I Met Your Mother, The Goldbergs) now gives us Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old high school student who has high-functioning ASD and wants to start dating. His therapist Julia Sasaki (Amy Okuda) acts as his sounding board and Sam always takes her advice quite literally. He frequently wears noise-canceling headphones (environmental sounds are very distracting to him), keeps detailed notebooks that contain his life observations, and is obsessed with all things about Antarctica.
In the latest Netflix Original comedy/drama series Atypical, Sam’s parents are overprotective hairdresser mother Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and more laid-back EMT father Doug (Michael Rapaport). Sam seeks more dating pointers from his younger sister, sophomore track star Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and his best friend Zahid (Nik Dodani). Casey is a smart-mouthed rebellious teen who posts snarky notes to her mother on the refrigerator door. Zahid considers himself an expert on all things female and shares his “worldly” wisdom with Sam at the electronics store where they both work. In spite of his recent advice and intensive “research,” Sam’s first date with the pretty Riley (Megan Easton) is an outright disaster. Meanwhile, Evan Chapin (Graham Rogers), a low-life high school drop-out starts hitting on Casey after she punched another girl in the face for fat-shaming his sister.
Sam sets his “romantic” sights on therapist Julia, but first he needs to find a “practice” girl friend. Meanwhile, other members of Sam’s family are getting pretty frisky. Stressed-out Elsa begins a torrid affair with hunky bartender Nick (Raul Castillo) and Casey takes her relationship with Evan to the next level. Elsa and Doug attend meetings of the local autism support group and we get to hear some heart-rending stories of other families with autistic children. Sam begins studying with perky Paige (Jenna Boyd) and to see if he should proceed with their relationship, he compiles a list of her “pros” and “cons,” his way of coping with decision-making when it comes to new experiences. Paige invites Sam to the Winter Formal dance, an occasion that triggers a quite touching series of events with some pretty unexpected results.
Netflix Original Atypical infuses its eight 30-minute episodes with quirky humor usually from Zahid and Casey. Sam’s inner voice opens each episode and presents the many thoughts that race through the mind of someone who sees life through a different lens. It is clear that a lot of background research went into this very personal story and the results of this work make its treatment of autism very credible and effective. Blended in to everyday family situations with which Elsa and Doug Gardner must contend, there are the continual challenges of life with an unpredictable “atypical” child. Keir Gilchrist delivers a stunning portrait of a young man whose daily routine requires incredible coping mechanisms. As with most Netflix Original series, Season 1 of Atypical concludes with several unresolved storylines raising hopes that there will be a Season 2. In spite of some obviously “soap opera” plot elements such as unintended pregnancy, adolescent sex, and parental infidelity, this show mostly succeeds on all counts. Highly recommended and one of the best Netflix offerings of this season.
Netflix Original Series Atypical is available for streaming in its entirety August 11, 2017 on Netflix.
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