Tuesday, July 21, 2020

TV Tuesday: Atypical

As I mentioned this week in my Weekly Inspiration post (Lift Up Your Spirits), my idea of comfort TV is shows about teens and young people. I don't know why, but I love watching a show set in high school or college (or shortly after), especially in stressful times. Maybe it's because their problems are so very different from my own, and I already successfully survived that stage of my life. In any case, I have a new favorite show in this genre that also touches on the world of chronic conditions/disabilities: Atypical. I am completely obsessed with this show about an 18-year old boy with autism and his family.

Sam Gardner, played wonderfully by Keir Gilchrist, is an 18-year old with autism who is in his senior year of high school. His mother, Elsa, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh, has built her whole life around helping Sam overcome challenges, fighting battles to get him the rights and accommodations he needs, and making sure that Sam and his teen sister, Casey (played by Brigette Lundy-Paine), have perfect childhoods. She has a color-coded calendar on the wall, stacks of Post-Its at the ready, and she is generally super-mom in every respect. Her husband, Doug, played by Michael Rapaport, works as an EMT and loves both of his kids, though he's been far less involved in Sam's life than Elsa has. Sam's therapist, Julia (played by Amy Okuda), encourages him to take steps toward independence, and when Sam says he wants a girlfriend, Julia is supportive. Sam's newfound independence, though, completely disrupts Elsa's life, leaving her to wonder what her role is now. Sam gets questionable (hilarious) dating advice from his best--and only--friend, Zahid (played by Nik Dodani), who works with him at the local electronics store. Meanwhile, Casey struggles with the decision of whether to leave her public high school when she is recruited by a fancy private school for their track team. Through the three seasons (so far), Sam takes increasing steps away from dependency into his adult life, while the rest of the family tries to adjust and deals with their own issues.

I love everything about this show! Though I was unfamiliar with any of the actors other than Jennifer Jason Leigh, the entire cast is outstanding, and I like all of the characters. Gilchrist is particularly convincing in his portrayal of a young man with autism (I was actually surprised to find on his IMDB page that he's not autistic himself). The relationships between the characters and especially the family members are warm and lovingly portrayed, including the inherent paradox for Sam and Casey of her sometimes have to take care of her older brother. The show is by turns moving, thoughtful, and funny. From my role as the parent of (at one point) two kids with chronic illnesses, who required accommodations at school, much of the show--and especially Elsa's role--are very true-to-life and an accurate representation of how one person's condition can affect the whole family (don't worry--I understand that autism is not an illness, but many of the challenges in life are similar; there is a lot here I could relate to). On the other hand, I am also learning a lot about autism specifically, which has been very enlightening. It is dealt with honestly, openly, and, from what I understand from others, accurately. I love this family, and I love this show! I am now into season three and dreading when I finish it (though I see that a fourth season is planned).

Atypical is a Netflix original, so it is available on Netflix.

Check out the trailer to see a glimpse of the family dynamics and the fabulous humor in this show:

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