This is my first television review for the blog, and I have picked a show which I feel is very special, it is called ‘Atypical’ and is currently available to stream on Netflix.
SPOILER ALERT: Some spoilers for the first episode!
Atypical is a new Netflix series about the life of an 18 year old boy who has been diagnosed with Autism. Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rappaport as the parents lend not inconsiderable charisma and experience to their roles, whilst Keir Gilchrist is note-perfect as the main character, Sam.
From early on, despite a short, not much more than half hour episode length, the series packs in a hefty amount of family drama, fledgling romance and marital strife, which assures the viewer there is plenty of material to sustain the short eight episode run.
Sam’s main storyline revolves around his desire to pursue a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, his sister Casey, a notable athlete, is pursued by a boy with a dubious reputation. This allows for an interesting juxtaposition between the progression of a ‘normal’ teenage relationship and the challenges that Sam faces in connecting with girls. An aspect of Sam’s story that I think works very well is showing his own point of view (the visual thinking, the racing thoughts running in the background), as well as how strange his behaviour can seem to those outside his world, and also how much it impacts him when people reject him because of his apparent difference.
Because I’m older than the teenage audience that the show might most appeal to, it is possible I wouldn’t have tried it had it not deal with the subject of Autism (though Jennifer Jason Leigh, and her luminous performance is another strong selling point). This series is addressing an issue in which I have personal interest, but I do believe it could appeal to anyone looking for a family series which has heart, depth, humour and charm in spades. They don’t make series of this quality, with this level of chemistry between the ‘family’ of actors that often. To my own memory, a show I would draw comparisons with is probably ‘My So-Called Life’, especially in the sense that if you started watching for the teen storyline, the parents’ dramas will win your interest, and vice versa.
One other thing the series does especially well is the examination of the way in which Sam’s diagnosis, and his needs have affected his parents marriage. Seeing Elsa and Doug’s marriage face challenges, I was left wondering why it has taken so long for a show to tackle such a relevant issue, which is affected millions of people and yet goes largely unacknowledged in mainstream media. We hear a lot about the lack of supports for children diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum, but rarely do we talk about the people at home who are doing the most, and what supports there are out there for them, for their marriages and for their own lives, so that they can continue to give so much to their children.
When Elsa sabotages a rare dinner date, and attacks Doug for not ‘liking’ Sam, and not spending as much time with him as she has, we begin to see the strain these two characters have been under, and the ways in which the situation has pitted them against each other. For Doug’s part, Rappaport manages to convey such depth of emotion, with so few words, that we are left in no doubt as to his true affection for his son, and also as to the pain it causes him that so much distance has grown between himself and his wife, who in the process of learning how to fight for her son’s wellbeing has forgot to turn off that aggression in other situations, to a degree where it does not serve her well.
I wouldn’t like to give away too much more of the plot, but suffice it to say this is a rewarding and enjoyable programme which is well worth your time. If you’ve seen it yourself, please let me know your thoughts in the comments (although no spoilers for later episodes please, I’m only on episode 3 myself!)