Sam Gardner is eighteen-years old and is on the Autism spectrum. He lives in (the unnamed) Santa Clarita with his younger sister Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), his mother Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and father Doug (Michael Rapaport).
The audience is privy to his thoughts as he sorts out how to deal with life among the neurotypicals (the non-Autistic). He discusses his progress in sessions with his therapist (Amy Okuda). His great love is the Antarctic and the four types of penguins who live there. Lately, he has wanted to find a girlfriend; or as he shares with his mother at one point, he wants, at some time in the future, “to see boobs”.
At times Sam is a literalist and this can get him into trouble in a world where most people are busily making nice. His difficulties navigating everyday social interactions keep Elsa stressed and worried that at some point, she’ll get a call about her son after a meltdown or misunderstanding. The series begins with her not ready for the new developmental stage he is going through. She sees only the emotional minefield ahead. As the series continues, we the audience, invest our hopes in Sam’s romantic journey and we understand her fears. We don’t want to see Sam heartbroken either.
The Gardner family and its dynamics are front and centre. Sister Casey just wants to keep her head down and eventually leave home. Her way out is through athletics. She is a track star and is hard on most people, particularly her mother. Elsa is barely holding on, but has spent her marriage always doing “the right thing”. The cracks are beginning to show and despite husband Doug recognising this at some level, he doesn’t fully see what she is going through. He is a straight-forward character who avoids drama and is generally positive. They all have a personal journey to take through the series’ first season.
ATYPICAL is a dramedy that takes in plenty of emotional territory. It is aimed at a younger audience, so we are most concerned with Sam and Casey’s love lives, but the pressure on parents Elsa and Doug is explored in some well-observed scenes; they just keep missing each other, they are somehow out-of-synch. The high school world the Gardner siblings inhabit is familiar with its cliques and obligations.
The creative team has Seth Gordon from HORRIBLE BOSSES as a director and producer and Robia Rashid from television’s How I Met Your Mother as a producer and writer. Both have worked on the series The Goldbergs. They are more than aware of how to land a gag and the show has some solid comedy intertwined with its heartfelt moments.
ATYPICAL is a slickly entertaining, funny series with likeable characters who are all too human. It gives a teen audience something to chew on while attempting, subtly to say something about a way-of-being that many of us don’t know about. Not that one character can represent “Autism”, that’s not what the series is setting out to achieve. But with approximately one-in-one-thousand people on the Autism spectrum, ATYPICAL can be helpful in dealing with the misconceptions that invariably spring up around this topic. Any series that helps break down the artificial divisions of “us” and “them” gets my vote.
ATYPICAL Season One is 8 episodes in length (most eps run at approximately 35 minutes) and will premiere on Netflix on August 11. (7.5/10)