Atypical is a coming-of-age television series created by Robia Rashid for Netflix. It focuses on the life of 18-year-old Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), who is on the autism spectrum. The first season was released on August 11, 2017, consisting of eight episodes. The ten-episode second season was released on September 7, 2018. In October 2018, the series was renewed for a third season of ten episodes, which was released on November 1, 2019.
Sam Gardner, an 18-year-old from Connecticut with autism, announces that he wants to start dating girls. His father, Doug, has struggled to connect with Sam and is thrilled when Sam approaches him for advice. When Sam wants to surprise his crush with chocolate-covered strawberries, Doug drives him to her house only to discover that Sam’s crush is Julia, Sam’s 26-year-old therapist. Doug quickly pulls Sam away and tells him to find a girlfriend his own age. Sam decides he needs a “practice girlfriend” and, with the help of his friends and family, begins to learn the social nuances of dating.
As Sam grows more independent, his mother Elsa struggles to find a life outside of being his guardian. During a night out with friends, Elsa meets a bartender and begins an affair with him. Sam’s younger sister, Casey, breaks a track-and-field record and receives an athletic scholarship to a prestigious but distant high school. Although she wants to attend, she is nervous about what leaving will mean for Sam. Her concerns are exacerbated when she discovers that Doug abandoned their family for a while after Sam’s diagnosis and that Elsa is having an affair. Meanwhile, Julia, the therapist finds a chocolate-covered strawberry Sam left behind during his visit. She accuses her boyfriend of cheating on her, which leads him to break up with her. After he moves out, Julia discovers that she is pregnant with his child.
Upon learning of Elsa’s affair, Doug quickly kicks her out of the house, leaving him to complete all household tasks by himself, causing stress. Doug later allows Elsa back into the house under his guidelines, although he remains distant and is punishing in tone as his wife wants to fix what she did. Sam, no longer able to see Julia due to a conflict of interest, fails to find a new therapist he is comfortable with. The school’s guidance counselor, Ms. Whitaker, encourages Sam to apply to university and join her peer group for students on the spectrum, which prepares students for graduation and independence.
Although she feels unwelcome at Clayton Preparatory School, sister Casey is befriended by the captain of the track team, Izzie, who is initially mean to her. The two develop a close relationship, and Casey develops romantic feelings for Izzie towards the end of the season–leaving her wondering what it means for her and her boyfriend, Evan. Without Casey being in Sam’s school, he begins to express the changes in his life by sketching in his notebook more frequently. After his drawings are discovered by Ms. Whitaker, Sam applies to Denton University’s Scientific Illustration program and is accepted. Change is about to happen and like addicts, autistic people do not like change.
I know that sometimes its hard to tell the players without a score card so if your going to jump into the show now at least you have a chance. More than that is the sheer honesty and transparency of these characters. The more I watch Atypical the more the emotional distance seems to shrink between the “kid on the spectrum” and everyone else in the show all that said the lead character of Sam is clearly the diagnosed disabled one in the cast. Go figure, oddness & the nuance of the human psyche are not the sole property of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5).
For all my still single under 35-year-old clients, the fear of dating for them creates the same paralyzing thoughts and challenges that Sam deals with, and that is without that label. My men have a history of addictive distractions and or avoidant behavior. If you take away the addiction and look at it thru Sam’s lenses his inability to track a conversation would not look much different. Not too mention his self-centeredness that is a constant in all of Sam’s relationships whether romantic or not. My really young men 18-22 have to be taught when in a conversation with someone to stop and ask “so how are you” or “how was your weekend”. Stepping outside of themselves is a very hard thing to do.
The mom’s infidelity and subsequent lack of dialog around hurt and betrayal is hard to watch. Neither of the parents are addicts but even “normies” do harmful acts. Their inability to access their own feelings and turn toward each other leaves the sense of lasting resentments coupled with profound loneness. The mom’s cheating did not happen in a vacuum. Both parents are overwhelmed having a very taxing special needs son who demands everyone’s attention whether they have it to give or not paired with a short tempered protective younger daughter with unmet needs of her own. I find the family system fascinating to watch. The most impressive thing about this show is the ever presence of love. There isn’t a character in the series that is so ugly that I can’t see some good in them which for me is a great relief since most American sitcoms have a “mean” character in it.
In an episode in season three the absurdity of the power of a label was so in my face that I broke out laughing. The daughter/sister now a sophomore in an elite High School has a boyfriend who is a sweet kid working in a fast food place after he finished High School. When pushed about his lack of ambition he sheepishly confesses that he doesn’t want to go to college because he doesn’t like taking tests, when pushed even more he gets to his shame and says that he is dyslexic. This pained confession is to a girl whose mother had cheated on her father and whose brother is autistic. The power of shame, the power of a label.
Using this show as an overlay for what is normal and what is not leaves me to really ponder what exactly does that “bell curve” really look like. No More Secrets (NMS) men and women have a label of dysfunction even though some are moms, dad, and even CEO’s. For the most part they present well to the greater world regardless of their shadow side. Sam does not. Everyone who come in contact with him can see that something is not right, even if they can’t discern exactly what not right might be.
The illness of sex and love addiction is stealth like in nature. Except for a spouse or a close love one for the most part sex and love addict’s behavior is so under ground that others cannot see. The behaviors are often socially camouflaged like the TV ad campaign “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”.
If you or a love one is struggling with the shame and guilt of misdeeds and want some assistance to go in a different direction you have come to the right place. Contact me, there is help and remember misery is optional.