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Keir Gilchrist in Atypical.
Keir Gilchrist in Atypical.
Photo: Netflix


Atypical S4




3.5/5 Stars


When a teen on the autism spectrum decides to get a girlfriend, his bid for independence puts his whole family on a path of self-discovery.


I found a new show to binge as we went into lockdown, again, this winter. Lucky for me, season four of Atypical came out just as I wrapped season three. And let me tell you, it's the sweetest, most tender series to binge under the blankets right now, particularly if you're feeling a little lower than usual.

Atypical follows Sam (Keir Gilchrist), a teen on the spectrum, and his family, the Gardners. In season one, he decides he's ready for love and romance; for much of seasons two and three, he's navigating both having a girlfriend and being a college student. By the fourth and final season, he's moved in with his best friend, the hilarious Zahid (Nik Dodani), while planning a trip to Antarctica to see the one thing he's most passionate about penguins.

What I love about Atypical, particularly this season, is that, while this may be a series about someone who's on the spectrum, that's not all it is. In fact, by season four, when Sam's girlfriend, Paige (Jenna Boyd), has an outburst reminding everyone Sam's on the spectrum, it's almost jarring having followed Sam all the way to Antarctica. But Paige is dealing with her own stuff, so too is everyone else, which is another aspect that makes this show such a good one for me – everything doesn't revolve around Sam.

In this season, Sam's sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), while always trying to be his fearless protector, is finding out more about herself with her first girlfriend, Izzie and dealing with pressure from school. His dad, Doug (Michael Rapaport), who always tries to be there for his son, manages his own grief. Jennifer Jason Leigh deals with things from her upbringing while being just as overbearing and chaotic as ever as Sam's mom, Elsa – I have yet to see an actor pull off calm and collected so well while smoking a cigarette as the house burns down behind her. Sho. Then there's Zahid, who finally has a storyline with more substance and depth – seeing him lean on Sam for a change made for some of my favourite scenes this season – without taking away from Nik Dodani's undeniable comedic stylings.

This season Sam's college friends, some with disabilities too, also have more prominent roles. Tal Anderson's Sid is hilarious as she commissions him to draw some of the most ridiculous cat portraits for money. Sam, needing to get to Antarctica, obliges – and focusing on his work even means turning down sex from a nearly-as-chaotic-as-Elsa Paige. But all is resolved later on with a penguin mating dance. Did I mention Sam really, really likes penguins? Sam really, really likes penguins.

Four seasons later, every character's growth is clear, though: Casey's more confident in who she is and who she wants to be, Doug and Elsa have gone through infidelity, loss and more, and managed to come out stronger, together, Zahid's become less of a perve and though I now know at least four out of 28 penguin species – Sam recites: "Adélie, Chinstrap, Emperor, Gentoo," whenever he feels overwhelmed – Sam doesn't need his mantra anymore.

It's the perfect conclusion to the season; it's the perfect conclusion to the show, which is so much more than your typical feel-good family comedy or drama. If you're looking for something to cheer you up, Atypical is it. It's funny without being dark, it's bold while avoiding pessimism and gloom, and most of all, it's wholesome and comforting, leaving you with a warmth we could all do with right now.


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