Sam Gardner and His Family’s Road to Discovery
By: Salvatore Cento and Lauren Silverman
The first season of the Netflix-exclusive program, Atypical, centers around an eighteen year old boy with autism discovering his independence and how others around him are affected.
As the credits rolled on the television screen, the audience was satisfied with all their answered questions- all except one.
Atypical’s title is a blatant reference to Sam Gardner, played by Keir Gilchrist, not being like those around him. Why, then, is the audience often pulled away from Sam and into the personal stories of his family members?
Season two answers that question in more ways than one, which makes the second time at bat for this beloved dramedy a home run.
Sam’s parents, Doug and Elsa, played by Michael Rappaport and Jennifer Jason Leigh, both give brilliant performances as they deal with Elsa’s cheating from the first season.
Due to Sam’s emerging maturity and Elsa surrendering her once-controlling grip on her son, she feels lost and ultimately finds herself in bed with a bartender.
Even though this might be dramatized for viewership, this is a possible consequence of not having to take care of someone you love. You look for someone else.
And in this case, once Doug finds out, he’s in a world of emotional, mental and physical pain. He does find some sanctuary by the end of the season, though, when he makes plans of building a program that teaches first responders how to better help those diagnosed with autism.
Sam’s sister Casey, played by Brigette Lundy-Paine, focuses more on herself this season. Not having to watch her brother as closely as before, she dives head-first into her new school, Clayton Prep.
She comes across enemies who turn into friends, friends who turn into enemies, and an exciting new romance that challenges her steady relationship with her boyfriend, Evan Chapin, who is played by Graham Rogers.
While this is just teased throughout, it is sure to become a highlight of the next season.
At Sam’s workplace, Techtropolis, the audience is reintroduced to arguably the most lovable character on the show, Zahid, Sam’s coworker and loyal friend, played by Nik Dodani.
Dodani is a combination of two completely different character archetypes: one, an average male teenager, objectifying women to give himself a false sense of pride, and another, a deeply caring friend, willing to put himself in harm’s way if he has to.
His character is tested in a very realistic and worrying scene during the latter half of the season.
The character of Zahid may have seemed like a detriment to Sam at first, but after watching him this season, anybody would think differently.
Paige, played by Jenna Boyd, is a very endearing and interesting character.
In her senior year of high school, she tries everything she can to be liked by others, making the senior gift for the school as well as baking cookies for the bake sale.
Sam’s disorder has no effect on Paige’s pursuit, and she engages in playful teasing, such as pushing, throughout the season.
She even becomes jealous when somebody else enters the picture, possibly ruining her chance at a relationship. Paige isn’t Sam’s only love interest this season.
Bailey Bennett, played by Ariela Barer, meets Sam while hiding at school. She contrasts with Paige dramatically, as Bailey’s personality is rebellious. She break rules and norms, and dresses in darker colors.
Sam himself is stepping out of his bubble even more this season, making decisions for his future and trying things that he’s never done before for the sake of personal improvement and growth.
Even when something is going wrong for Sam, we know that there is always someone around to help him out.
The questions posed about season one were certainly answered. Yes, Sam may act differently than his peers because of his experience with Autism.
But, he also does something magical for all the people around him.
His family, his potential love interest Paige, and even his unlikely friend Zahid are all put onto paths of self discovery.
One boy, without the use of magic or fantastical super-power, changes the lives of those around him.
That is truly unusual-better yet, Atypical.