Imagine within two days you get a friend-with-benefits, lose that friend-with-benefits, get into a fistfight with your sister, and confront your first love. Welcome to the life of Sam Gardner.
Atypical, a Netflix original, released its second season in 2018 and continued right from where the last season left off. I must admit, I was nervous for this one – shows and movies tend to either soar or completely crash and burn when the “sequel” is released. Thankfully, season two of Atypical, at least episodes one and two, is greatly exceeding my expectations.
Atypical follows Sam, a senior in high school, through his journey in discovering love, loss, and what it means to be an independent. However, Sam’s worries stem farther than annoying ex-girlfriends and college applications. Sam is a kid with autism, and his sensitivities make his day-to-day a bit more complicated than the typical teen drama protagonist.
Episode one took no hesitations. If you hadn’t seen season one, you were going to be confused. There is no lead-up, no “and this is what you missed.” The audience is thrown right back into the dramatic plot, and every second of the show is important. Atypical is not a show with fluff. Everything is deliberate and meaningful, so it’s not a show you can casually listen to in the background.
Episode two continued the drama, tied up some loose ends, and tugged others even wider. The writers of Atypical have somehow mastered cramming a full thirty minutes of drama into one episode without leaving the audience feeling info-loaded or emotionally drained. Bits of comedy are woven in with an acute skill that allows the audience to stay mostly light-hearted while being able to understand layers of plot that are happening simultaneously. Even though so much is going on, it’s not convoluted enough that audiences can’t keep up – it’s no Lost, trust me. Like I said, you can’t put it on in the background, but it’s not a show in which you have to take notes.
Another thing that makes Atypical so good is the writers’ control over characterization. You like who you’re meant to like, and you hate who you’re meant to hate. That’s not to say that “good” characters are perfect or “bad” characters are evil, but this isn’t a show in which you can try to work around or justify the villain’s actions. There’s not much moral gray area here, but to me that makes the plot more clear, as well as the characters reactions to the good or evil that is being done.
Zahid is the only character with whom I was disappointed. He’s a bit too archetypal as the “quirky-non-white-friend-slash-sidekick” mixed in with the “overly-sex-obsessed high school boy.” There’s not much to his character that makes him particularly interesting. To me he’s more of a tool to push certain plot points than anything else. Zahid doesn’t have much of a story of his own. He’s the slip-in comic relief, which is needed in a drama sometimes, but I do hope that more will be done with this character as the season continues. I think he deserves that.
It’s hard to get bored with Atypical. For a show containing so many different characters with individual character arcs, it’s surprising that it is somehow cohesive without much overlap. Sure, the characters interact, and certain plot points will motivate actions upon someone else, but these characters are highly individualistic and fleshed out. You could pick almost any character (except Zahid) and make an entire show out of their storyline. But they all work together to form friend groups and families. It makes the show more realistic, in a way, and makes it possible for the audience to relate to any character (except Zahid – no hard feelings, dude). To see all the struggles and triumphs in such an individual way helps us understand the cast less as characters and more as people, and this is a surefire way of hooking us in for more.
Give Atypical a shot. Watch season one before touching season two – I promise, you’ll thank me. Observe who you relate to in the beginning, and see if that is maintained as the plot unravels. It didn’t for me, and all the twists and turns make the show only more addictive.
Viewers have already binged and asked for season three, and we can refer to nothing but the wise words of the sadly-underdeveloped Zahid: “Life always works out. Usually.”