Atypical

Paige discusses her worries with Sam about the future of their relationship.

After over a year, Netflix’s “Atypical” has returned with a strong third season that takes the show to a new level. The series follows Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist) — an 18-year-old with autism spectrum disorder — through his everyday life alongside his sister, Casey (Brigette Lundy-Paine), and his parents, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Doug (Michael Rapaport). Since season 1, the Gardner family has dealt with a myriad of ups and downs, and season 3 continues to put the principle characters through relatable and emotional experiences that hit home for audiences.

After graduating at the end of season 2, Sam’s now getting ready for his freshman year of college. He’s determined not to register with disability services at his school so he can prove he’s no different from everybody else. Naturally, this causes challenges for him, as he quickly discovers that college is much more difficult than high school. Many viewers may relate to Sam as he struggles with registering for classes, suffering through orientation icebreakers, juggling time between classes and dealing with strict professors. 

Eventually, Sam realizes that in order to have a successful college career, registering with disability services is in his best interest. Once he gets help from the school, he’s able to master a routine and get a strong handle on his classes, with the exception of a few low grades and a particularly stern professor played by veteran actress Sara Gilbert.

Casey’s storyline in season 3 is likely one viewers may find themselves most invested in, as she deals with her complicated feelings for Izzie (Fivel Stewart) while still wanting to be in a relationship with her long-time boyfriend, Evan (Graham Rogers). The show does a superb job of making both Evan and Izzie great options for Casey. The viewer may feel just as conflicted as she does. 

Elsa and Doug continue to struggle with their relationship, as Elsa desperately wants to get their marriage back on track while Doug entertains the idea of pursuing another woman he met in season 2.

Recurring characters get a large spotlight in season 3 as well. Paige (Jenna Boyd), Sam’s on-again, off-again girlfriend, struggles heavily with college and figuring out her life’s direction. Zahid (Nik Dodani) decides to try nursing school again and finds a new love interest in the process. Viewers also get to see more of Evan and Izzie outside of their respective relationships with Casey, as both struggle with difficult families.

Like the two previous seasons, Sam’s autism remains a focal point in every episode. Though he still struggles in social situations, he takes everything he learns from his therapy, family and friends seriously. By the end of the season, his relationshipswith Paige, Zahid, Casey and his parents are stronger than they’ve ever been. 

Autism is often inaccurately portrayed in the media, and the show received backlash surrounding this upon its initial debut in 2017, specifically concerning the casting of Gilchrist as Sam due to him not having autism in real life. In season 2, the show added more autistic characters with the other members in Sam’s group therapy, all of whom were played by actors with autism. A majority of these characters returned in season 3 and were seen navigating college alongside Sam. 

The show’s production in season 3 is excellent. The lighting looks great in most scenes, and all of the sets feel authentic. The performances continue to shine, and Gilchrist’s acting is especially powerful. One of the show’s strongest aspects is its use of music. Whenever Sam’s feeling extremely stressed or overwhelmed, the show plays loud, banging music that conveys his emotions and gets the audience to feel similarly anxious. The show also incorporates old, popular songs such as Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” and Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” in different scenes, as well as softer, more unknown songs like “Beating Hearts” by Paige & Nikki.

“Atypical” season 3 reaches new heights and delivers some of its best and strongest material to date. The season managed to wrap up most of its key storylines while still leaving a few of them ambiguous. While the show still has plenty of potential for future storylines, it’s tough to know if there are more episodes to come, as Netflix seems to have a habit of canceling shows after two or three seasons. Since the show’s quality has increased in every season, one can only hope a potential season 4 continues that trend; otherwise, “Atypical” will go out with a bang.

Contact Kira Baldau at baldaukb@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.