Tuesday 4 September 2018

"Atypical": summary outline

I know it's been an entire year since the Netflix 8-episode show "Atypical" first appeared. I watched it soon after it launched and made copious notes, but it's such an utter sh*tstorm of absolute horror that I haven't quite been able to bring myself to write it. But as season 2 is being launched, I should probably get on with it.

Expect 8 more posts on this in the near future, one post per episode (because there's so much to say that condensing it all into one entry just isn't practical). In the meantime, here's a summary of it. All of the aspects I refer to below in this post will be discussed in further detail in episode-specific entries.


Loathed, hated, DESPISED it. Autism $peaks had substantial input, which tells you a lot.

I felt my heart sink when it turned out to be YET ANOTHER heterosexual, cisgender, white, ablebodied, socioeconomically-well-off male. I swear writers can't seem
to be able to deviate from this list and it frustrates the hell out of me. There's a massive underrepresentation of those that don't fit that paper-thin stereotype and that needs to change.

As others have said, it was more about perpetuating the NT tragedy/burden narrative of how difficult we are, how detrimental we are to families and how much it was about the mother (and her affair wasn't so much implying that it's because of The Autizms as straight-up smacking the audience in the face with it and hammering it into us, going, "HAVE YOU GOT THE MESSAGE YET? HAVE YOU? HAVE YOU???"). She was a stereotypical Autism Mom™ and it was incredibly painful to watch.

It felt like we were meant to laugh AT Sam, not with him, because of his terrible social faux-pas, like the autism is the butt of the joke. It's exploiting neurological difference for a cheap laugh. A case of, "Oh ha ha, look at the weird autistic kid messing up again, isn't that funny".

The emotional abuse of Sam is appalling, particularly with Paige's card system where he's only allowed to talk about his passionate interest 3 times a day - yet she's allowed to blather on about whatever vapid, inane thing she likes as much as she likes with no limits. That's not an equal relationship, that's a massive power imbalance and that is NOT OK for any type of romantic partnership. She's manipulative and controlling; that's dangerous. It worries me that young autistic teenagers will watch this and think that such abuse is acceptable in relationships if it means they actually get to have a relationship, and thus won't recognise abusive relationships if they happen to them. Couldn't stand her. It's classic ABA techniques, reinforcing the notion that the autistic way of being is somehow wrong and needs "fixing", and that the NT way should be worked towards and strived for. Enforcing compliance and submission, complete power imbalance - which is dangerous in a romantic relationship. This is emotional and mental abuse in action, deviously disguised as love.

Paige reminds me of those inspiration-porn kids that circulate social media around prom time, of the "kindhearted" NT able-bodied kid "graciously" inviting the disabled classmate to prom because it makes them look good. It becomes all about the deed-doer, and the disabled person is marginalised and silenced in their own story. Not OK.

It sends horrific, dangerous messages about consent (not so just sexual, but all aspects of life, such as the mother barging into her kids' rooms without permission even though she knows damn well she's meant to knock first). Boundaries are ignored and crushed.

The persistent, pervasive, horrific levels of misogyny and sexual objectification of the female body was appalling. And then we wonder why there's such a problem with toxic masculinity in our society?!?!?!

Then there's Julia, the therapist. If she's supposedly such an expert in autism, how the hell is she still so clueless?! She seems to be completely unable to interact with Sam or understand his perspective.

Overall, the quality of the writing was really poor (I say this as someone with a Creative Writing MA). There was a terrible lack of continuity - suddenly in about episode 6 Sam has a thing about how there can't be more than 3 rules for any one thing; where did that come from??? It wasn't there in earlier episodes and is completely contradictory. Also, Sam comes across far more as a DSM checklist of indicators than a real person - it was like they were sitting there saying, "Got that one, got that one, got that one - oooh quick, haven't got that one, let's slap it in halfway through and hope that nobody picks up on the contradiction".

There were a few not-completely-horrific parts, such as showing the buildup to a meltdown and how it's experienced, but that was one of the very, VERY few positives.


For something calling itself "Atypical", it's actually the opposite. It's a very "typical" portrayal of autism, some might even say "stereotypical". It isn't atypical in any way, shape or form.

I won't be watching season 2.