As Netflix's latest original series to reach stream-hungry subscribers, Atypical manages not only to carve out its own comedy-drama niche on the service, but it's a show that deserved to be watched by everyone, even if it's only once. For those who saw the trailer and somehow weren't already convinced, here are some of the high points of the new series, and why the show stands out as not only a great portrayal of life with autism, but as a great dramedy in general.
Atypical Shows How Autism Affects Everyone, Not Just Sam
Perhaps the biggest and most unique element Atypical has going for it is in how it depicts the entire family dynamic being affected by the fact Sam has autism. (His condition is admittedly heightened beyond TV-level extremes, but that's a separate conversation.) From his younger sister Casey having holding his lunch money daily so that he doesn't lose it, to his parents taking him to a particular location for Sam to "case the joint" so that he will be comfortable going there at a later date, everyone make changes in their lives to accommodate Sam.
Atypical excels in casually showing all the ways these family members have adapted their lives to incorporate and make room for Sam's distinct day-to-day needs, while still having separate lives that sometimes have to be relished away from the teenager. It also shows how their efforts can be a thankless job, as Sam rarely shows appreciation for them going the extra mile, but the reality behind it is more refreshing than everyone acting super happy the whole time.
Sam's Humorous Moments Are Laugh Out Loud Funny While Still Respectful
In Atypical, Sam's funniest moments often come at times when his character is not being funny. The trope-heavy emotional outbursts that go down in dramedies like this are often tossed on their heads by Sam's lack of understanding, and it can be jarring, hilarious, and refreshing to see his character offer a different reaction than what the audience may be conditioned to expect. Even the typical teenage storm-off is met with a chuckle as, unlike an average confrontational male lead, Sam continues to sit until prompted by someone else to go after the upset individual.
It may sound disrespectful, but Atypical does a better job than other shows of laying out why Sam reacts in this way. After a few episodes, viewers might even be able to accurately predict what he'll do before he even does it, which shows the great care the series took in drawing attention to the humor in his actions, while still attempting to explain why he reacts in that way. One of those concepts could've easily overtaken the other in that effort, but the show balances them well.
Atypical Presents Autism To Unfamiliar Viewers Without Pandering
There are laughs to be had in Atypical, but things can get real pretty quickly. Autism can lead to "incidents," after all, and Atypical pulls no punches in various moments where Sam's normally calm nature breaks down and he is overwhelmed and has a big breakdown. Beyond those lowest points, Atypical utilizes a lot of commonly known traits of autism, such as Sam's intense interest in limited subjects, and incorporates it all in a way that feels natural and not overly indulgent in "selling it," so to speak.
Atypical also occasionally compares Sam to others with autism and makes a point to show that there is no one guidebook that has all the answers. The show does explain autism, but only in the way it relates to Sam and his story, and folks should be aware that Sam's autism definitely isn't a "catch all" deal. That's not at all a bad thing, of course, and it's probably better Atypical didn't create its high-functioning character so that he met all levels of the autism spectrum, as that wouldn't be so realistic.
Sam's Unique Search For Love Is Far From Perfect
Romance is certainly difficult for any teenager, but for Sam, it's on a whole other level. While many typically "fall in love" and go from there, Sam basically wills himself to find a girlfriend and gets to work making it happen. Without spoiling too much, his efforts and tactics lead to some interesting situations that definitely don't mirror the typical TV teen romance, but that unique twist is what makes the adventure so engaging from start to finish.
Are there stereotypical teen series moments? As the picture above might indicate, yes, there definitely are, but often with a new spin involved. While someone unfamiliar with autism may not foresee how Sam visiting a strip club would play out, someone familiar can likely already guess, and either way, that fresh spin makes this ride different than the usual song and dance that keeps the audience on their toes and anticipating Sam's next attempt.
That Incredible Soundtrack
The soundtrack of this show is incredible, and full disclosure, none of it is ever piping through Sam's noise canceling headphones you see above. Fans of musical acts like The Yeah Yeah Yeah's, Alt-J, LL Cool J and others will really enjoy the songs spiked throughout this series. The tracks lean towards contemporary alt-rock, so fans of said genre will be jamming out at least once every episode. Fans of country music will likely be disappointed, but the anthemic songs used are ones that any teen-to-thirtysomething adult will likely recognize and get hyped by.
There's also something to be said about the score, which is handled by award-winning Beasts Of The Southern Wild composer Dan Romer. Romer's music in the series is, at times, just as catchy as the licensed songs the show uses, and serves as the glue to some of the show's craziest moments. Anyone who may be less than enthused by the alt-rock and hip-hop will likely find common ground in the catchy tunes this score offers.