Suggested by Brad NelsonAtypical is a coming of age story that follows Sam, an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum, as he searches for love and independence. • Suggest a video • (53 views)

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11 Responses to Atypical

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Although “Netflix Original” is becoming synonymous with trash, this series is a rare exception. This is a rare series that is about something. (Having recently watched the atrocious girl-power “Annihilation,” which is about nothing, this trait alone makes the series remarkable.)

    Eighteen-year-old Sam is autistic and loves penguins. He has a supportive family, particularly his over-protective mother played brilliantly by Jennifer Jason Leigh (who stunk it up with the rest of them in “Annihilation.”) Michael Rapaport plays the father who loves his son but is worn out by being unable to relate to him with normal father-son stuff.

    Somewhat forgettable is Bridgett Lundy-Paine as Sam’s older sister, but she does have her moments. But this is a triangle mainly between Leigh, Rapaport, and Gilchirst (Sam) as they both struggle as a normal family and struggle as an atypical one.

    Sam’s autism is played for laughs but we’re generally laughing with him. Thankfully the Social Justice Warrior Nazis didn’t squeeze the life out of this poignant tale, daring to play the Sam character in an often harsh, and often comical, light — but one inevitably softened with poignancy. But thankfully this is not a film showing that “special needs” children are always angels and there are nothing but heroes and villains in regards to them. This program is about people, it’s not self-consciously a social cause.

    Rare is the film (including the awful “Annihilation”) in which you care about the characters. But although perhaps Sam’s autism is exaggerated for cinematic effect, these characters are played as real. Jennifer Jason Leigh is extremely effective as the mother trying her best to make up for her son’s deficiencies but increasingly facing the prospect that she can’t fix everything.

    The father, whose back-story is hardly Leave-It-To-Beaver (he bails on the family for a short time), is also doing his best despite the trials and tribulations of Sam’s condition. He redoubles his efforts to connect with his son.

    Sam himself never quite understands why the world presents such obstacles to him. But with his love of penguins and his single-mindedness, he trudges on — despite the horrifying reality (for them and for viewers) that the next emotional disaster is always but a small trigger away.

    This series is apparently still ongoing. As of this writing, Netflix has all of season one for streaming. My Spider sense tells me it’s doubtful they can keep this show going at the same quality. The first season seemed very self-contained and finished well. I think all they can do now is repeat themselves. But do run out now and watch season one. It’s one of the very few honest series worth watching. It’s about something.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, I don’t get Netflix, and given what I’ve heard about them (and not just from you, but from bloggers elsewhere who’ve given up on it), I doubt I’ll ever bother to. They wouldn’t be available at St. Matthews Healthcare anyway, and who knows when (or, gulp, if) I’ll be physically up to leaving?

      As to autism, my main familiarity with it comes from Elizabeth Moon’s The Speed of Dark, which is on the book recommendations here — though my housemate Elizabeth thinks I may be mildly autistic.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      I have never watched the series, but it was recommended to me by a woman with an autistic son. She thought it did a pretty good job at capturing some of the reality of those with autism and their parents.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        It’s interesting how they play Sam. His malady certainly is behind some of the behavior that either gets him in trouble or is off-putting. But he’s not a victim. He’s still a moral actor who oftentimes simply makes bad decisions, even if propelled in those decisions by his autism. His family, if only for his own good, treats him like an individual who is capable of learning, particularly in regards to dealing with other people.

        The final episode of season one, where several story lines sort of wrap up, is spectacularly emotional and genuine. There’s very little cheap melodrama here. They earn every tear and warm-fuzzy.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          My understanding is that autists are perfectly capable of learning, but they have a bizarre way of looking at the world. Moon’s book, for example, draws its name from a character who wonders: If we know the speed of light, then what is the speed of dark? I have no idea if she got that from a real person.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            We learn something about autism through Sam. And we learn that they talk of people as being on a “spectrum.” (From normal to completely non-functional? I don’t think they ever say.) This seems more like a buzzword than a scientific one. As far as I’m concerned, any man that isn’t on “the spectrum” isn’t a healthy, productive man. Single-mindedness in the pursuit of some goal is a very male thing.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              We learn something about autism through Sam. And we learn that they talk of people as being on a “spectrum.”

              Actually, the term is “autism spectrum disorder.” While it is imprecise, it serves to make discussion about the overall malady possible in a general sort of way. When one uses the word Russian for the people or a person of the county Russia, one is being both precise and imprecise, still we know what one is talking about.

              That being said, I find people are too loose in their use of the word autism. I am sure it is being used in cases where the person being described is, in fact, not autistic, just a bit odd. Not all oddity is autistic oddity. Being single-minded or strange is not the same as being autistic.

              Autism, like ADHD or Alzheimers, etc. is a word/term which is too often used by people spouting nonsense. The word can be helpful if one has some knowledge about the problem, or wishes to learn something about the problem, but if not, it is generally useless or worse.

              I was in a discussion with my wife about a similar subject just this evening. Nobody, and I mean nobody, not even siblings or parents, can truly understand the problems, challenges and work involved with raising a handicapped child. That is simple fact. So much which is self-understood in normal life is anything but in the lives of the handicapped.

              Since normalcy is self-understood, there is no reason a normal person would even begin to wonder about things which are not normal, even on the smallest scale.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I mean nobody, not even siblings or parents, can truly understand the problems, challenges and work involved with raising a handicapped child. That is simple fact. So much which is self-understood in normal life is anything but in the lives of the handicapped.

                I think some of that comes through in the series. Not all the endings are happy. The father had bailed on the family for a while, for instance. Luckily Sam has a particularly protective sister, and one who isn’t embarrassed by her brother. There’s a good girl-power scene where a couple girls are making fun of Sam in the halls of the high school. His sister happens along and takes out one of the bitches with a closed fist to the mouth.

                This so impressed a boy who was watching that he comes calling on her for girlfriend material. There’s some give-and-take between the two that is the best work this sister does in the show.

                I think they do a good job of not glorifying Sam. Yet neither do they run from the idea that Sam truly is special in certain ways that defy normal descriptions and standards. At the end of the day, you know that to like or love Sam is to necessarily have to carry a lot of baggage as well. But he makes it worth it. He is, in the end, a good young man trying to make his way in the world, as we all are. Whatever normal is, Sam stretches our appreciation for things at least slightly outside of normal.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Netflix now has season two of “Atypical.” I watched the first episode and I would say the quality is maintained thus far. The main issue (which I’m sure I commented on before) is whether the schtick gets old. I can already tell from the first episode in season two that it’s just the same schtick recycled in slightly different ways.

    I’ll watch a few more and report back. By all means, watch the first season. I think it completes itself nicely at the end and presents a cohesive whole. But I’m dubious about season two having much more to offer. One outrageously juvenile (but often funny) series, “Silicon Valley,” burnt itself out by the shallowness of its own schtick which was certainly funny the first time around but in season two and beyond was not sufficient even for laughs.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I finished binge-watching season two of “Atypical.” Although not as good as season one, the drop-off wasn’t as much as I expected.

    And rather than repeating themselves, they did branch out a bit, extending the story-lines of the daughter, for instance. One cautionary note is that (oddly) this series is sexually liberal. Sam openly talks about getting a hand job, and that’s just all peachy. Kids are French-kissing in the halls of school and that’s just peachy. And at the end of this (the very end of the last episode), true virtue signally runs amok as (spoiler alert) the daughter starts dabbling in lesbianism. Eyeroll.

    This sexual liberalism is odd because another major storyline (which started in season one) is the infidelity of the mother. But why should that be a big deal? Doesn’t she have a right to do what she wants with her body? Isn’t her husband’s distaste for this just “slut shaming”?

    So this show does have this odd mix where teenagers are sexualized throughout but it’s suddenly a bad thing for adults. You figure it out. But aside from this, I thought they did a good job with the stories and with keeping things relatively fresh — as fresh as they can be when the main character is autistic and so, of course, you’re going to get some of the same old stuff because that’s one thing autism is about.

    Even so, they do evolve Sam a little. We go along with him as he struggles and as he does make steady progress to coping better in the world and even making his way in it with some independence. This aspect is still well written. You care for this character.

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