So I finally got to sit down and watch the opening episode of ATypical on Netflix - a series I was very much looking forward to as it features a character on the autism spectrum, and the family that lives with autism every day.
Overall, I think this was a solid effort. They really do make an effort to show us the story from Sam's point of view, letting us see what he's fixating on, hearing a word loop over and over in his head, his discussion of sensory issues and how that can be a difficult thing to navigate in daily life - but it wasn't quite as terrific as I think it could have been.
- Sam. He's a grounded and believable character. And while he's not exactly like my kid (mine is not nearly so verbally agile) he's enough like him that I see the similarities. I found myself nodding at times and going, "oh yeah, that's totally it." Autism is a spectrum, and you're not going to be able to write a character that embodies every single person with autism anymore than you can write a person who embodies the thoughts and mannerisms of every single person. Because people with autism are first and foremost people. But I do think they made Sam a very likeable character that we all have deep empathy for.
- Sam's sister Casey is a good effort, and she's fiercely protective of her brother while simultaneously still his sibling, and still irked at him for his quirky ways sometimes. I hope they get deeper into her as the show goes on, but for now, I'm not really seeing how much she's had to sacrifice for her brother - and trust me when I tell you, it's a lot.
- Sam's Dad is the heart of the show, and I love that he's the balancing voice of reason to the mom, who is hovering to the point of manic sometimes. I get that - and it's something I've always had to fight myself on, finding the balance between letting him be independent and keeping him safe. The Dad is the soft, comfortable, "oh let the kid just try it" sort, and Sam needs that.
I did not like:
- The girl Sam finally asks out on a date is (of course) a really pretty girl with glasses, so that makes her awkward and TV-show not as attractive so she agrees to date him. How cliched can you get?
- Casey stands up for an overweight girl at school and of course, the overweight girl comes by the house to bring her a chocolate cake to say thank you. A chocolate cake. From the fat girl. Please.
- Of course, the overweight girl has a hot brother, and when he asks her out Casey tells him she's not interested in dating right now. He tells her he's going to change her mind, instead of respecting her answer. Then he shows up uninvited the next day, waiting for her in front of her house until she comes home, and tells her once more that he's changing her mind. She doesn't find this creepy at all because he's cute and he ends up being nice to her brother so she just lets him in the house to hang out with them.
- Mom is nuts. I mean, just nuts. Emotionally unstable in the extreme. She was all over the place. One minute she's shutting the Dad down cold at the thought of having sex with him or taking up her own hobbies that might take her away from Sam or worrying about Sam, then suddenly she's drinking with a group of women after dance class, getting hammered, and flirting hard with the bartender. When the poor sap makes his move, she shuts him down and totters off, presumably to drive home drunk to the husband she just treated like garbage. She's protective of Sam to the point of ridiculous (and I get it, I really do - I know many moms like that, special needs or no), she's a bitch to her husband, she all but ignores the daughter other than to snap or yell at her, and she's just nobody I can relate to. I hope she gets the help she needs in coming episodes because her family deserves better.
And my final gripe that isn't a huge one but it's there: Sam is treated like a punch line a lot. Some of that can't be helped - I speak from experience when I tell you my kid does some stuff that makes you laugh out loud sometimes. The way he processes things, his stream of consciousness - you just never know where you're headed sometimes. Sam is that way, and it can be funny - and it should be funny when that happens. But I think it's a fine line and they need to be sure they're not making Sam a running joke as we go forward. It's a delicate balance, and I hope they can achieve it.
All in all, I'm looking forward to watching more of this. I'll let you know my thoughts when I've caught a few more episodes.