Friday, August 18, 2017

Atypical Season 1 Netflix Series Review

Atypical (2017-)
Season 1 - episodes (2017)

Watch Atypical Season 1 on Netflix
Created by: Robia Rashid
Starring: Keir Gilchrist, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Rapaport, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Amy Okuda, Nik Dodani, Jenna Boyd
Rated: TV-MA

This is a coming of age story about autistic spectrum teen Sam (Keir Gilchrist). His search for love and independence upends his family as they struggle with their own life changes. All of them wonder what it means to be normal. Jennifer Jason Leigh (Hateful Eight) is his mother Elsa, and Michael Rapaport is his father Doug.

A really neat series that does a bit of compare and contrast as it breaks down societal norms. Sam doesn't get society's unspoken rules, to him it's just odd. While it dissects society, that alone isn't enough and this show delivers many fully realized characters. They all have their issues with failures and triumphs meshing in each episode. Great writing for the character manages to make even small moments something special.
Watch it.

I can't verify how true Atypical is to real life, but television rarely tries to capture real life. It does feel accurate.While still squarely being a comedy, it doesn't reduce Sam to a stereotype. This show could easily be completely insensitive, but Sam (Keir Gilchrist) is more than a collection of awkward social interactions. His voice over frequently communicates his anxiety, frustrations, and goals. The world can overstimulate his senses, and most people just don't understand. They never get past that first impression.
Sam is Antarctica obsessed and wants a girlfriend. He's a bit of a scientist in his methods, taking copious notes and doing a lot of research. His mindset and focus lend him to science, but he can't always decipher which resources to avoid.
Sam and Paige
With a crush on his therapist, he decides to get a practice girlfriend, Paige. He creates a list of pros and cons on whethershe is worth dating. The insight Sam derives is funny, but it's not far from reality. Many people treat it similarly, they just aren't as blunt in their description. He's looking at tangible qualities, rather than intangible. Sam in unfailingly honest and frank, frequently peppering people with Antarctica facts or using his extensive knowledge for insight on his current situation.
Check out Sam's state of the art noise cancelling headphones.
With his emerging independence, his mother Elsa's life is derailed. She's always been the mother to a child with special needs. Now that Sam needs her less, she's unsure of her place in the world and makes increasingly poor decisions. Her story arc was so predictable it becomes boring, but the underpinnings of why it happened are important to her character.
Elsa is a real piece of work. She's incredibly over protective, too a selfish degree. I can't help but think she's grown to like the attention. She rudely demands equality for her son while touting herself as a great mother oppressed by a system that doesn't understand. I get how her she gets there, but the show wants us to dislike her. We have very little sympathy for her. She's being selfish, but at the same time a little bit of selfishness has been earned. This goes beyond selfish, an attack on her family.
Her husband is the opposite. He's almost too nonchalant, afraid to admit the situation he faces.
Casey and Evan
Sam's sister Casey may be the best character. She's Sam's protector at school, but the typical sister joking with him at home. In the first episode she punches a bully. The underpinnings of that action are in the background we ascribe to the character. We imagine she's dealt with bullies attacking Sam for years. She no longer has any patience for it.
At home, she's always been in second place because Sam requires a lot of attention. Her achievements are ignored. She's a gifted track star, but her parents miss the track meet. She does the best job of treating Sam normal, knowing when to push or pull back.
A family dinner with a few friends.
This is a drama driven show. The characters make decisions that don't always have clear cut answers, or the characters make decisions that we don't like but understand how they got to that point.
While there are serious arcs, the show frequently mines awkwardness for comedy. The driving force is Sam's desire for a girlfriend which understandably frequently has disastrous results. Sam's friend Zahid is hilarious. A foul mouthed Romeo that frequently advises Sam and awkwardly likes to hug Sam's mom.
Everyone is trying to find their place. Sam knows he's different, but he wants a girlfriend like a normal teen. Casey has to determine whether she goes to a fancy prep school on an athletic scholarship. Her team doesn't want her to leave as there is no way they can win without her. Casey is hesitant to leave Sam, and her parents at first dismiss changing schools because of Sam's needs.
Elsa needs a purpose and is seeking it in the worst possible way. It's a heavy handed arc. Having her find a comedic purpose isn't the answer either, but what we get is painfully telegraphed.

Episode eight has a great moment where Sam overcomes his fears to regain his girlfriend. This would be a footnote in another show, but it's the small victories in a show like this that can have a lot of impact because the show has set them up.
I enjoyed this show more than I thought I would and that's due to the character development. I want to see how these characters continue to progress. In just eight episodes we develop great insight into the characters, knowing why they behave the way they do. It's rare that a show so quickly and thoroughly develops characters.

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