The first three seasons of Atypical garnered plenty of attention for its quirky, heartwarming glimpse into the life of Sam Gardner, a teenage boy with autism coming into his own and seeking independence, and his sister Casey, a badass high school track star.
The comedy series, written by Robia Rashid, had a slow start. In fact, I stopped watching after the first episode, deciding a show about an average American family living in a suburb of Connecticut was not my cup of tea. Days later, I decided to give Atypical another chance. And I was not disappointed.
I binge-watched the rest of season one, two and three within a week and patiently waited for the release of the latest season.
The main themes of the series are relatable to anyone who has struggled with independence, finding their life path or their sexuality. Although the series features characters who have particular life experiences — a young adult with autism and a queer high school athlete — anyone can relate to the interpersonal struggles presented in the show.
The first season mainly followed Sam and his journey navigating the ups and downs of school, family and relationships. In later seasons, the show pivots toward Casey’s story of leaving her high school sweetheart, Evan Chapin, because she has feelings for her best friend Izzie Taylor.
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The fourth season spends more time on each of these journeys, expanding their complexity.
This season, Rashid turns inward and focuses on the personal growth of the characters instead of social interactions and relationships — though there are plenty of break-ups, cute couple moments and arguments to fuel the drama.
Sam struggles to decide what his next step in life will be, a feeling many college students can relate to. After a heartwarming moment of Sam looking into his adopted penguin’s eyes at the local aquarium, he decides he needs to go to Antarctica. He does everything in his power after that moment to reach his goal despite a lack of support from academic advisers and his girlfriend, Paige Hardaway.
Sam’s journey is not what his overprotective mother, “realistic” professor or concerned girlfriend think is best for him — but with the support of Casey and the rest of his family, Sam fights back to reach his ultimate goal and is determined to keep on his chosen path despite discouragement and roadblocks.
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This was an emotional journey I didn’t know I needed to see. When Sam sits in a freezer with Casey while she tells him he can do anything he sets his mind to, I knew this show was well worth my time. Anyone who is planning their next step can probably relate to outside pressures from parents or academic advisers discouraging you from your ultimate goal, especially if that goal is outside the realm of what is considered “normal.” Sam’s journey shows viewers how to block out those distractions and continue to focus on yourself.
And who can’t relate to the horrors of a first roommate that Sam experiences while living with his best friend, Zahid Raja, for the first time?
Sam’s journey is not the only personal growth seen this season.
Izzie goes from painfully denying her feelings toward Casey to joining the Gender and Sexuality Alliance group at her high school, Clayton Prep, and becoming an activist.
Viewers were blessed with a powerful scene of Casey and Izzie walking into Clayton wearing khaki pants, ties and suit jackets to protest against the gendered dress code because of Izzie’s newfound activism, and I couldn’t be more grateful.
Casey and Izzie’s story this season highlights the diverse experiences involved with coming out as a young adult. While Izzie finds comfort in joining the student alliance group and coming to terms with her sexuality, Casey feels more confused after attending the group’s meeting. She expresses that she does not feel connected to other LGBTQ students the way Izzie clearly does. On the other hand, Izzie deals with an unaccepting mother, while Casey has two supportive parents.
The fact that the show included two LGBTQ women as main characters was already surprising to me. Including this nuanced look into the experience of coming to terms with your own identity went beyond my expectations for the series.
In my own journey watching the show, I went from uninterested and simultaneously scrolling through Instagram to crying multiple times during the finale. I certainly didn’t expect to emotionally connect with so many aspects of the show, but the story was told in such a universal way that it’s almost impossible not to connect with at least one of the themes presented.
So grab some buttered noodles from Olive Garden and start the fourth season. If you haven’t seen a single episode, I recommend going back to the first season — but just beware of all the binge-watching you’ll want to do.