Actually pretty typical by tv standards, “Atypical” is a bittersweet Netflix family drama that centers on Sam, an 18-year-old high school senior struggling with growing pains, an overprotective mother, and his own hormones in his quest to find a girlfriend.
What we love about “Atypical” is how it ‘normalizes’ autism. The main character is a highly functioning autistic young man, but the show is a family drama. Sam’s sister, father, mother, therapist, and best friend all struggle with their own lives and their lives as they relate to Sam. Sam narrates what transpires while doling out bits of encyclopedic knowledge about things like the mating habits of penguins.
It is a shame that the show too often relies on clichés, both with Sam’s experiences and the way others react to him. Sam’s awkwardly sex-obsessed best friend is nothing new to the small screen. And Sam’s overly literal dialog doesn’t do much to forward our understanding of the day to day frustrations inherent in navigating the world while on the spectrum.
However, Sam’s sister brings new life to the sibling of an autistic child, whose life has been a balance of protecting her brother and seeking opportunity for herself. And Keir Gilchrist, the actor who plays Sam, does an amazing job portraying a young man struggling to find independence with the added challenge of autism. Almost single-handedly elevating the show when he’s on screen, the Gilchrist brings not just vulnerability to the role but also manages to make Sam’s various tics, inappropriate utterances and literal interpretations feel wholly organic and painfully real.
While “Atypical” is definitely not a show for children, it is a show that can help bridge the gap between a family experiences when one family is more directly affected by an autistic child than the other.
Watch the Trailer here