The latest season of Atypical floats between delicate comedy and pertinent commentary on present-day problems. The scenes that unfold are lighthearted and feel good, without being saccharine. There is enough warmth and humour to broach the gritty topics of disability, illness and sexuality that this season seeks to discuss.
In earlier seasons of the show, the plot has pivoted mostly around its protagonist, Sam Gardner, and his eagerness to become independent from his family. Instead, in this new season, attention drifts from Sam and focuses more on those that surround him.
In each of the ten episodes, the show’s characters ask questions about themselves and where they feel they belong. Sam is no longer the only individual that is labelled as ‘different. Instead, the new lens through which the show is perceived prompts its audience to recognise that each and every one of us somehow diverges from expectations of normality. Through Casey’s journey with her sexuality, Zahid’s battle with cancer, and Elsa’s mother’s worsening dementia, the latest season of Atypical encourages us to see that difference can unite, rather than divide. Atypical is a compelling watch that captures the beauty that can be found in that which deviates from the norm.
For so long, the premise of the show has been that Sam craves self-sufficiency. In this season, he arguably achieves this the most, moving into his own apartment with Zahid, and planning a solo trip to Antarctica. However, despite these physical shifts apart, Sam and his family become more tightly bound together emotionally than ever before.
As each member of the family undergoes their own struggle with identity, they begin to see each other anew. Each character learns that the key to understanding one another does not lie in common interests or similarities in personality, but in listening to one another and seeing through their eyes. Much like how many of the characters try on the pair of snow boots that Sam’s girlfriend buys for his expedition to Antarctica, each character recognises how it feels to stand in each other’s shoes. The show is successful in celebrating and cherishing differences.
The fourth season of Atypical is entirely unique from those which came prior. Not only have the characters of the show evolved to become more understanding of one another, but they have also adapted to become more representative of the actors that were cast to portray them. Sam’s younger sister Casey features prominently in this season. While the earlier seasons of the show had seen her in heterosexual relationships, she now starts dating her best friend Izzie. Perhaps this choice to explore her sexuality is partly dependent on the actor that interprets her. Casey is played by Brigette Lundy-Paine, an individual who is non-binary.
Gender and sexuality is a big part of their own life, and they felt eager to portray someone else’s experience with it. They told Dazed that in films and series, “a lot of the time, someone will come out as gay and it’s about the coming-out story and then they’re gay”, but that with Casey, they “have such an opportunity to be really gentle with [her] story and to give the characters a chance to figure it out and flail”. Indeed, Atypical touches on Casey’s sexuality so delicately that it is almost just an undercurrent of the story. Similarly, other issues that arise in the series, such as cancer, dementia and autism are woven gently into the narrative. The stories are threaded together subtly and respectfully.
Atypical is not a series about disability or sexuality. Atypical is a series about a family of people who just so happen to be autistic, or bisexual. These are not the qualities that define them, or their futures, but are simply part of who they are. Atypical teaches us that there are not separate spectrums for autism, or for sexuality, but that there is one much bigger spectrum, on which all of us fall. Atypical serves as a reminder that difference does not isolate us from one another, but is instead the one thing that we all share.
Illustration: Verity Laycock