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‘Atypical’ returns to Netflix for third season despite controversy

By Olivia DeGirolamo

If you are in need of another heartfelt series to binge-watch, consider adding the Netflix original and dramatic comedy, “Atypical,” to your list.

The story of Sam Gardener is a coming-of-age dramedy that deals with topics of autism and divorce (Envato Elements).

The show — released for a third season on Nov. 1 — is a coming-of-age series that centers around an autistic boy and his family.

While the content aims to create a feel-good show, controversy erupted when it first aired. The plot brings attention to autism, as it attempts to normalize it through representation in the media and create relatable material for people who have first-hand experience with it. 

What initially felt like a progressive step forward, others deemed “Atypical” as stereotypical. Many viewers questioned the show’s true efforts to provide visibility to the autism community since Keir Gilchrist, who plays the main character, Sam Gardner, does not have autism himself. 

In previous seasons, Sam navigated his way through graduating high school, trying to understand love and being independent, especially after his younger, protective sister, Casey, transferred to a private school to continue running track. Sam was left to adapt to his new routine all by himself.

Sam’s parents also faced problems of their own. The mother, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), struggled with her sense of identity since her children stopped relying on her as heavily. Losing sense in both herself and her marriage, she was later caught in an affair, causing obvious distress in the spouses’ relationship. 

The affair definitely evoked the most empathy and emotion in viewers. While some of the acting can be considered a basic family sitcom style at times, the acting for this subplot was done very well. 

In one scene, Michael Rappaport — who plays the husband, Doug — perfectly executes the suspension leading up to his character’s collapse after an anxiety attack due to stress from the affair. 

The Gardner family constantly has hurdles to jump through — all of the personal challenges that its members confront throughout the series contribute to the chaos of their dynamic, making the show both comedic and emotional. 

At the beginning of season 3, Sam starts college and struggles with adjusting to the social atmosphere, time crunches, and the anxiety that comes with homework. The fact that these are problems that all college students have had to deal with makes the show even more relatable.

One of Sam’s obstacles in this season comes with him purposely refraining from using the resources available to students with autism, in an effort to prove that he can make it through college without extra help. 

While Sam is going through the first few weeks of college, Casey is caught up in a crisis of her own. She finds herself questioning her sexuality, as she develops feelings for her best friend, while still being in a committed relationship with her boyfriend. 

Casey’s subplot is what kept me binge-watching, and anticipating her decision hooked me in by adding an element of suspense to the show. In several scenes, you can practically feel the tension through the screen, as the show depicts either an almost-kiss between Casey and her friend, jealousy shown from her boyfriend or awkward run-ins between the best friend and the boyfriend, who are both seemingly competing for Casey’s affection. 

The Gardner parents, on the other hand, are trying to repair the damage in their marriage, resulting in a particularly nerve-racking, but exciting season. 

Although ‘Atypical’ faced backlash in its initial airing, it remains relatively popular to the public. The show has gotten better with its representation of the autism community, even though there is always room for improvement. 

The show does well with informing viewers on autism and the daily issues those on the spectrum grapple with. For instance, Sam has always dealt with sensory-related issues. He has a pair of headphones around his neck at all times in case he is overwhelmed by sounds or places. Social situations are often also more difficult for him to navigate, as someone who is on the spectrum, which has contributed to the challenges he faces in both high school and college with his girlfriend, as well as when he establishes new relationships with peers or faculty.

The series remains to be equally as emotionally touching and humorous as it has from the start. The next time you’re aimlessly scrolling on Netflix — give this show a try, you may find yourself getting through an entire season in one night. 



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