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Review: Netflix's 'Atypical,' Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Rapaport, and Keir Gilchrist

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | August 16, 2017 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | August 16, 2017 |


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Despite it being the middle of August, and despite everything else that’s going on in the world right now, there’s actually still some really great television on, although it’s largely being ignored at the moment (save for Game of Thrones). TruTV’s I’m Sorry with Andrea Savage is one of the funniest comedies of the year; I am intrigued by USA Network’s Sinner; Wynonna Earp is a blast; the fourth and final season of Halt & Catch Fire returns on Saturday; and I really liked the first episode of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (a review on that after a few more episodes). There’s also Insecure and Rick & Morty and Preacher, and The Guest Book on TBS is pretty funny, too.

Then there’s Netflix. I spend nine of out every 10 weekends watching whatever new series they’re putting out, and for the most part (save for that terrible Naomi Watts series, Gypsy), they’ve been good (Ozark, Wet Hot American Summer) to great (G.L.O.W.).

The latest, Atypical, falls into the “good but not great” category. It’s about an 18-year-old autistic kid named Sam (Keir Gilchrist), who decides its time to find a girlfriend. That journey is supplemented by the arcs of his own family: Doug the Dad (Michael Rapaport) is trying to figure out how to be a better father to an emotionally unavailable autistic son; Elsa the Mom (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is trying to figure out how to lead a life independent of her son; and sister Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine) is dealing with her own dating life, as well as trying to get into a private school.

I know a few high-functioning autistic kids, and I have friends who have children who are autistic, but I do not have any idea what it’s like to navigate that world. Parenting is challenging enough as it is, but I suspect having an autistic child triples or quadruples the level of difficulty. I don’t know how real-to-life Atypical’s Sam is in the series, either: He’s obsessed with minutia; he doesn’t like chaotic environments; he’s very literal; his social communication skills are not very good; and he also really wants to get laid. It’s a lot more cut and dry than I suspect it is with most autistic teenagers, but again, this is not my lane. I don’t feel comfortable commenting on the verisimilitude of the character, or lack thereof.

I will say this: Purely as a family sitcom, it’s good. But for its serialized nature, it’s the sort of show that might feel right at home among ABC’s family comedies (in fact, it’s creator Robia Rashid is involved with The Goldbergs, and I would liken its heart to that show). It’s sweet, and earnest, and at times, very sentimental. Rapaport is very good as the emotionally walled off but loving father, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is fine in a subplot that I didn’t really care for (with all the complications involved, her having an affair with a bartender seems needless). Brigette Lundy-Paine as the sister, Casey, is the real stand-out here, and she treats Sam as any sister would treat her brother: She’s fiercely protective and loving, but also honest and gives him mountains of shit. She is terrific.

It’s a short eight, half-hour episode series, so it’s a breeze to binge. It’s a little formulaic, light on the substance and heavy on the heart, and it feels sort of like a YA novel come to life on the small screen, but that’s not exactly a knock against it. Again, I don’t know how much about autism it gets right (from what I’ve read, it’s hit and miss), and hopefully Lord Castleton will weigh in on that at a later date, but as a family sitcom, it’s lovely, loving, gentle and funny.

One note for those of you planning to watch: One of these guys is Graham Rogers, who plays the boyfriend in Atypical. The other is Hunter Parrish, who plays Silas in Weeds. I honestly couldn’t tell you which is which.

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