This is an image of Sam, the main character in Atypical, combing his hair in a mirror. The text "Netflix" and "Atypical" are superimposed over the image.

Atypical: Season One, Episode Two

The second episode of Atypical is titled “A Human Female.” After watching it, I feel like I need a shower. Is this supposed to be funny? Humanizing? Because after watching this episode, instead of merely socially inept, Sam seems dangerous. Has he never read a book or watched a movie with a human relationship in it? Has he never watched his parents? Why won’t anybody in his life have a talk with him about what’s appropriate and inappropriate in relationships or about appropriate boundaries in general? I am usually pretty skeptical of social skills training programs, but damn.

‘Enticing a human female into mating takes different skills. It requires research.’

As Sam narrates how roosters attract hens for mating by putting on a display, we get a flash of Sam’s mother, Elsa, in the bar, seriously considering infidelity. We get more Discovery Channel narration from Sam as his sister waves to the boy she’s interested in. He’s come to watch her track practice. This is dehumanizing. And it’s not just Sam doing the dehumanizing. It’s the show’s writers, making deliberate choices to juxtapose Sam’s discussion of animal mating with human women.

In therapy, Sam asks his therapist, Julia, questions about herself. It’s not because he’s trying to reach out socially or grow his skills, though. It’s because he wants to have sex with Julia. She confuses this with therapeutic progress. For some reason, the writers repeatedly confuse autism with sexism. They rhyme, I guess?

Sam is upset when Julia tells him she already has a boyfriend. “When I was younger, if I got upset or stressed I would hit or bang my head, or yell. Now I use replacement behaviors instead,” Sam drones, once again sounding more like a diagnostic checklist than an actual human person. Unfailingly, Sam’s father, Doug, gives terrible advice: Be her friend and eventually maybe she’ll have sex with you. Sorry, he didn’t say the sex part. I added it.

Sam’s mother, Elsa, manages to become even more unlikeable this episode. During her autism parent support group meetup she somehow manages to make her near-infidelity with the bartender, Nick, into some failure on Sam’s part.

At Techtropolis, Zahid (Nik Dodai) does a weird dance to flirt with a woman who is at the store with her boyfriend. Sam finds this impressive for some reason. “He’s the best at girls,” Sam says admiringly, as if girls were a video game. Zahid’s character comes off as the unholy lovechild of Tom from Parks and Recreation and Howard from Big Bang theory, combining the worst aspects of each.

‘You know what? It’s my mistake. I’ll take care of it.’

‘Even the assholes get girlfriends.’

Sam tries to ask ask some popular kids about girls and they laugh at him. Somehow he doesn’t realize calling a girl a “skank” is an insult. He does realize that he is being made fun of and runs away. Then Sam goes home, pulls up his hoodie, and starts chanting penguin species. Earlier in the episode, he paces when upset. The writers seem to think it’s important to make sure Sam checks off every item of the diagnostic criteria checklist. We’ve got to make sure that every weird repetitive behavior is in there.

After sexually harassing multiple women over the last two episodes and breaking into his therapist’s house to try to get her to date him (yeah, that happened) Sam complains, “even the assholes get girlfriends.” Sam does not seem to realize that treating women like objects or prizes makes him an asshole and will not get him a girlfriend. Bizarrely, no one explains this to him. For all the talk of how autistic people need explicit instructions, the non-autistic people around him seem terrible at doing so.

 

What worked

  • Casey’s story line continues to be the best. The plot twist about why her boyfriend got expelled was genuinely funny.
  • If they’re trying to make Elsa unlikeable, they’re doing a good job of it. I am genuinely curious about if any parents of autistic kids find her sympathetic.
  • “Why do you have to make everything so literal? God you suck. Find me if you don’t have anybody to eat with, OK?” Casey is a good sister and is pretty real. I appreciate that.

What didn’t

  • I’ve done creepy stuff by accident before — So have a lot of autistic people. But breaking into someone’s house is just extra.
  • How do a hairdresser and an EMT with a disabled kid have such a gigantic, immaculately clean house?
  • What school has a separate office just for a track coach?

Neurotypical Bullshit (NTBS)-O-Meter

  • “We’re going to Poon City and I’m the mayor.” I feel like if I was a man I’d be offended by how disgusting men are in this show. It seems unrealistic, even by Trump-era “locker room talk” standards.

So what did you think? Good, bad, or just indifferent? Can Netflix turn this around? Weigh in on the comments below.

4 thoughts on “Atypical: Season One, Episode Two”

  1. I made some of the same observations, but I’m confused by this part of your review:

    ‘In therapy, Sam asks his therapist, Julia, questions about herself. It’s not because he’s trying to reach out socially or grow his skills, though. It’s because he wants to have sex with Julia. She confuses this with therapeutic progress. For some reason, the writers repeatedly confuse autism with sexism.’

    This confuses me. Are you saying that Sam being sexually interested in his therapist = sexism? Like, I get that there’s a major problem where female characters in shows and films are just written as people for the male characters to pursue sexually, but you seem to be saying in this part of the post that there’s something sexist about having an attraction and acting upon it? I’d wager a guess that getting a crush on an attractive therapist who isn’t too much older than you is fairly common among people in Sam’s position, and not just among guys. It makes complete sense given that she seems like the most understanding and kind person in Sam’s life.

  2. “If they’re trying to make Elsa unlikeable, they’re doing a good job of it. I am genuinely curious about if any parents of autistic kids find her sympathetic.”

    I would like to comment on this. I have an autistic son who is also in his teen age years and going to high school. I do not sympathize with this character at all. I would never blame my son for any problems in my marriage. If anything, my son has brought our family closer together. We have learned to communicate in a different way, making us closer than ever. My husband is my best friend and our son is an amazing part of our lives. A women that cheats on her husband, can not blame her children. I found this idea appalling and this character disgusting. I have never been a support group like that before. We don’t all sit around feeling sorry for each other, that’s ridiculous. We are a group of people that support each other, bounce ideas off each other and have fun. We get together with our kids and do activities together.

    I have mixed feelings about this show. High school is a difficult time for any teenager, but in this show, Sam doesn’t have a single person that has just sat him down and explained anything to him. Sure, maybe he is not picking up on social cues, but he knows better than to break into a persons home. There are some parts of the show that I can relate to and other parts that are just so outlandish they are offensive, yet I feel compelled to continue watching. I also find the locker talk to be a bit unnecessary. I don’t like it and I would not want to watch this show with my son, letting him think that it is okay to speak of women that way.

    I really don’t understand the relationship between Sam and Julia. This is very strange and I’m not quite sure where the show is going with this yet. When you said, ” “When I was younger, if I got upset or stressed I would hit or bang my head, or yell. Now I use replacement behaviors instead,” Sam drones, once again sounding more like a diagnostic checklist than an actual human person.” This made me laugh a little bit. My son has picked up on words he hears in the clinical setting and uses them all the time. I think that sometimes he can’t explain his behaviors and he doesn’t know why he does certain things, so he just repeats what he has heard doctors or psychologists say.

    As I watch this poorly written show, I think that they may have had good intentions, but didn’t take many things into consideration. I want to believe that this show was not created out of malice, but just out of ignorance.

  3. I’m NT mother of an autistic 17 year old who had other disabilities as well as autism meaning he needs one on one support out and about.

    I agree with your assessment. Sam isn’t a real person- no one is that lacking a sense of humour.

    His dad still hasn’t figured out how to relate to him. His mother is appalling- rude, selfish, controlling, negligent. It’s about time she got over her disappointment at having a neurodiverse kid.

    I’m so sick of those thinking it’s ok to blame autistic kids for marriage problems. My marriage to my kids’ dad ended because my *ex* was awful. In other depictions of family break up the protagonists go out of their way to tell the (non-disabled) kids- it’s not your fault.

    1. Yes, even Christopher in THE CURIOUS INCIDENT had a sense of humour – sometimes in his actions and a lot in the narrative.

      And, yes, awful exes.

      #itsnotyourfault – and it is never ever the kids’ fault.

      Even if the children may feel so the parents allay it for the sake of a continued and cordial alliance.

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