‘Atypical’, a Netflix original about an autistic 18-year-old navigating his social world, is back for a second run, and is majorly switching things up for the main characters this time around.
Season one saw our protagonist, Sam, making his first foray into the world of romance, and both him and his neurotypical (non-autistic) sister exercising their independence as they edge closer to adulthood. As this happens, a ripple effect is sent across the family, and we watch our main characters do lots of growing and learning.
The show’s been well received, but season one was definitely subject to some criticism regarding how it could portray autism better. The makers were receptive – and series two has made strides in how it represents the developmental disorder.
Whether you’ve seen the first season or you’re a newbie, here’s why you should check out the show as a whole...
1. Sam isn’t reduced to his condition
Autism has always been a key feature of the show, and is acknowledged as a big part of Sam’s identity. But he’s given complexity as a character too, and a second season gives the makers the opportunity to build away and give even more depth to Sam, and really explore their family dynamics.
Also, Sam’s autism isn’t presented as a problem, but rather a difference, in the second season particularly.
2. The new season features autistic cast members
Season one was questioned due to the fact that it only reported having one autistic person in its cast. The phrase: “nothing about us without us” is used in many disability communities, and that goes for TV too.
But the makers actually took account of the criticism and stepped up to the plate for the second series – the eight actors who play members of Sam’s autism peer group are autistic. Robia Rashid, the creator, said of the second season: “I wanted as much involvement from the autism community as possible.”
3. You see mid-life crisis from a woman’s perspective for once
From ‘American Beauty’ to ‘Lost In Translation’, we’re familiar with men’s mid-life crises on screen, but for women, we usually only ever hear throwaway jokes about menopause and moodiness.
In ‘Atypical’, however, we see Sam’s mum have a crisis when she feels she’s no longer needed as a mother in the way she used to be. Not knowing who she is any more, she begins to act out. It’s relatable for so many women.
4. It transcends genres and audiences
‘Atypical’ manages to be a coming-of-age teen show, a family show, and also one for the grown-ups. It’s simultaneously a drama and a comedy, with moments of romance and fun. The series is for anyone and everyone – and it’s been watched by autistic and neurotypical audiences alike.
5. Its depiction of autism starts to smash stereotypes
The first season was more of an ‘intro to’ for anyone unfamiliar with the developmental disorder, and was a bit more prone to playing into stereotypes. Some fundamental aspects of the show also fit clichés - for example Sam is a middle-class white boy, who is interested in science, which has been done a thousand times from ‘Rain Man’ to Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
However, season two chooses to start pushing boundaries, like combatting the stereotype that all autistic people are interested in science and maths when Sam becomes intrigued by the idea of going to art school.
6. There might be a queer romance in this season
Maybe. We don’t know. No spoilers. Maybe we’re making it up. It could be nothing. Just watch and find out.
7. It’s very much a work in progress – but that’s interesting to watch
The show’s portrayal of autism could always go further – like having a girl as the protagonist, as women on the spectrum are generally underrepresented. But ‘Atypical’ has made headway in representing autistic characters on screen, and series two has adapted a lot by listening to the response to the first.
Whether you decide it’s groundbreaking or ridden with stereotypes, it’s undoubtedly a good thing to see how the show is adapting and responding to audience critique, and listening to the community. It’s also a genuinely good show in its own right, with an increasingly gripping plot.
But don’t take our word for it. It’s on Netflix now, so get streaming.