Creator: Robia Rashid
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Keir Gilchrist, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Amy Okuda, Michael Rapaport
Back when Netflix began airing the original series, Atypical was somewhat criticised and received a significant amount of backlash online by people who are Autistic.
Criticisms ranged from lacking nuance to stereotypes about Autism, to ableism and lacking representation of actors who were also Autistic.
Centred on the Gardiner family, the main character Sam, the older brother in the ‘nuclear family’ is Autistic.
The series acts as a way to document his going out into the world – such as navigating the world of dating, learning to drive, going off to college (this is in the United States after all), and more.
Season 4 of Atypical– the final series – has just been uploaded to Netflix.
But is it really reflective of Autism, or is it just co-opted as a vehicle used to tell a story, somewhat inappropriately, for entertainment purposes?
Past this point there are some spoilers – so make sure you watch before reading this review of Atypical Season 4.
The Time Between Series’ Lack Continuity But There Is Character Development
The pandemic may well have had an impact – but the time between season three and four, the final season, is somewhat lacking.
The characters look like they have significantly aged in between, and the pandemic looks like it has also had an impact – such as with a lot of shots that are suddenly outside, as well as characters strategically set apart at a distance at times.
For this reason, there is something of a clunky charm to season 4 of Atypical – and the kooky way of production works very well.
There is a degree of character development, although it does not always necessarily work – because, remember, this is kind of put together as a look at Autism in your average American family.
The parents of Elsa and Doug have grown up significantly, which is refreshing; after Elsa cheated, they have grown through this, and come together in a mature way.
It is not something for everyone, but it works for them. ‘Road rage’ Paige has mellowed out with age, right up to the enormous head bows she is known for.
Zahid has become a better man, in his words, through the process of dealing with a cancer scare.
The characters of Casey and Sam are a bit questionable in terms of character development, though.
She retains the ‘snark’ that is characteristic – but it comes off meaner and occasionally vindictive than perhaps is acceptable or even likeable at times.
The growth comes abruptly in terms of dealing with her situation, which is nice to see even if clunky.
By contrast, Sam does not show a lot of growth.
The writing of his character still relies a lot on making him the butt of jokes or making him out to be uncaring, unfeeling, unempathetic.
There is a lack of nuance – enough so another character does criticise him as being “selfish”.
For A Series About Autism, It’s A Lot About The Family, Not A Lot About Being On The Spectrum
When it comes to disability and stereotypes, there is one that is particularly persistent. Disability does not make a person redundant – yet many will talk to the people who care for us, or those we have hired to help us around as if we are not even there.
This makes its way into media we consume at times, right down to newspaper articles, tweets about disability initiatives (so many recently about talking to careers to be inclusive!), and film or TV series we all culturally are at least aware of.
Atypical becomes slightly problematic when Autism is viewed as the problem impacting the family – and even though it is largely shot from the character of Sam, it is about the family and the family responding largely for themselves.
As we get to the end of this series, this seems a lot less about Autism, and more about the family, but it does begin to fade at times.
It would have been a lot more refreshing had it been more nuanced, shot more about Sam.
So much relies on young Autistic children.
Atypical had the potential to be groundbreaking, but this feels a bit like style over substance.
Parents are not perfect by any means. No one is. But it would have been nice to get rid of Elsa’s support group.
The title and previous episodes rely on a lot of stereotypes, almost like you are mourning for a child you never had – because you can only wish for their future.
You cannot live their life for them.
Yet so many people forget that because of the culture we live in.
The support group is toxic, and to see a change it would have been great to reduce it to a relic of seasons one through three.
The Awkward Stage Of The In-Between Growing Up Transition
What is great about season four of Atypical is that it captures an awkward, in-between stage of growing up that is usually not even talked about.
Autism conjures images of children and a lot of research and literature centres on this time frame.
There is not a lot about being a teenager, or being a very young adult.
Think of media portrayals – and you probably can think of maybe two series’ that deal with this age range.
The A Word was a very young child, Rain Man dealt with a man who later turned out not to be Autistic and was not even accurate.
Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is not available in the UK but has won awards.
There is a gap here, one just aching to be filled by creative individuals waiting in the wing.
There is a clear need for it as well; Autistic children become Autistic adults eventually. We need to be clear on that – from the support offered to the media that we all consume.
Clunky but charming, this is an underwhelming franchise finale by Netflix.
What did you make of Atypical Season 4?
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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