Review: 'Atypical' Season Two Sheds Light On Underrepresented Identities

Warning: Contains spoilers  Trigger warning: Mention of sexual assault

The release of season one of Atypical meant more than an addition of another teenage drama on Netflix. The TV series focuses on Sam Gardner, a high schooler who falls on the autism spectrum, and showcases his life as he navigates growing up and the ‘typical’ challenges that arise within a family. Season two explores the college application process for Sam, the aftermath of Elsa’s affair (discovered at the end of the first season), new friendships, and new love interests ‒ including more diverse ones.

I had too many thoughts about season two that I couldn’t just talk about it casually with friends. That wouldn’t be enough. No, I had to articulate my thoughts about the complexities of the show in written form. After reflecting on the show, here are my biggest takeaways:

Casey exploring her sexuality + queer representation

Fans of Casey and Evan’s relationship will be happy to know that they are still together during the season. As they grow closer, the show addresses the serious subject of consent and intoxication. Evan’s immediate decision to refuse Casey’s sexual advances when she is drunk reinforces the essential message of honoring consent, always. With the present rape culture and sexual assault epidemic in Hollywood and academic settings especially, bringing this important issue to light was a positive choice on behalf of the show.

Where season two really shines is in its diversity of cast and representation of different identities. Sam ends up joining a support group for students with autism, allowing for more actors with autism to share their character’s perspective. Also, Casey begins exploring her feelings for a girl. LGBTQ+ representation is hard to come by in popular TV shows, and Atypical is one beautiful exception.

@briiiiiiiiiig on Instagram. Brigette Lundy-Paine who plays Casey, identifies as queer.

Elsa’s openness with Casey about sexuality

Elsa is definitely not the perfect model of honesty on the show. After all, she succumbed to having an affair before telling her husband that she was unhappy in their marriage. And even then, she didn’t exactly ‘tell’ him through words. Her daughter had to be the one to do it. However, that doesn’t negate the wisdom she shares as her character progresses.

Elsa does a couple of things right in season two. After walking in on Casey and Izzy having a moment, she doesn’t react with anger and, for lack of better words, she doesn’t get ‘super weird’ about it. She gives Casey her space and eventually exercises honest communication, opening up about when she “was intimate” with a woman. Although it’s done in kind of a funny-jokey way, the scene is a fantastic representation of the slightly awkward but extremely important conversation more parents should have with their kids. Talking about sexuality, heteronormative and beyond, is something we as a society stray from and, even though it affects many of us. Therefore, Elsa’s choice to invite Casey into having a discussion reveals one positive aspect of her character. Gold star for Elsa for fighting the stigma against talking about sexuality!  

photo courtesy of IMBD

Zahid’s role of supportive best friend

Most shows have them: a character who supports the protagonist through their struggles, offering hilarious, kind advice. What makes Zahid stand out is his willingness to show up for Sam when others see his autism as an excuse to bully him or turn him away. Zahid treats Sam like any good friend would, and Sam reciprocates. If Zahid being arrested with Sam isn’t a testament of their friendship, I don’t know what is. Thank you, Atypical for providing the wholesome content we all need.

@nikdodani on Instagram

Criticism

Despite the show excelling in the majority of areas, there were a few in which Atypical missed the mark. One instance that comes to mind is when a police officer misread Sam’s disability as a threat and arrested him. While it was bold of the show to address this real-world problem, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that they never connected it to the systematic issue of police targeting people of color and racial profiling. Sam’s dad, Doug was rightfully outraged when Sam was targeted and talked about providing better education and training for the police. In my opinion, this seems too aligned with the racialized discrimination issue in the US not to draw parallels.

The plot and characters are what kept me going from episode to episode, as opposed to the technical quality of the show. Now, I’m by no means an expert on the technical aspect of film, but to me, the cuts and style of editing seemed a little...off? For instance, my roommate pointed out that every time the music got intense like something crazy was about to happen, nothing really ended up happening? I wasn’t annoyed so much as I was a little confused. Perhaps, this was the director’s humorous way of messing with us? Regardless, it didn’t keep me from continuing to watch the whole series.

Overall, the new season of Atypical met my expectations following a solid first season. It was super binge-worthy, and I ended up finishing it in two days. The drama, comedy, and growth of characters really kept me in it. Not to mention, it was more diverse and representative! I can’t wait to see what season three has to offer.