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Series / Atypical

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Atypical is a 2017 Netflix original Slice of Life story about a teenage boy named Sam Gardner who is on the autism spectrum.

The story follows Sam's life, as he attempts to find a girlfriend, and interacts regularly with the rest of his family – loving, yet oftentimes clueless dad Doug, well-intentioned, yet helicopter-esque mom Elsa, and sarcastic, slightly rebellious younger sister Casey.

Tropes Atypical demonstrates:

  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Izzie delivers one to Casey at the track field after she stops hanging out with her. It ends with a passionate kiss and the two becoming a couple.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Elsa qualifies, having mentioned "being intimate with a woman" (and enjoying it), but saying no more to clarify whether it was a one-off experiment or an expression of her sexuality.
  • Amicable Exes: Paige still supports Sam even after their break-up, and Sam eventually supports her back.
  • Animal Motifs: Sam is associated with penguins.
  • Anti-Smother Love Talk:
    • Despite being ashamed of Sam's autism, Doug attempts to convince Elsa that their son should be allowed to pursue an independent adult life in the form of living away from parents, managing his own bank account and experiencing romance. Doug even tries to help Sam as much as possible in growing up.
    • Julia also does this for Elsa, concerning Doug and his emotional distance following Elsa's affair. This advice backfires...almost.
  • Awkward First Sleepover: Sam has a sleepover at his friend Zahid's house in preparation for going to college (Sam is autistic and has never spent the night away from home before). The various noises and sounds in Zahid's room irritate Sam and make him leave the room, and a police officer notices Sam wondering down the sidewalk. A misunderstanding causes the officer to think Sam is on drugs, and Sam and Zahid are taken to the police station. At the station, Zahid notices the clock displaying 12:07, and he points out to Sam that Sam managed to stay away from home past midnight.
  • Betty and Veronica: For Sam, Paige is the overachieving, academically inclined Betty, while Bailey is the rebellious Veronica, even if she stresses to Sam that they are not, in any way, in a relationship, and that he shouldn't tell anybody that they're making out. Sam appears to choose the former in the Season 2 finale.
  • Big Little Sister: Casey is supposed to be younger than Sam, but is an inch taller than him.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Arlo's parents, Theo and Holly, are outwardly nice, and used to be friends with Doug and Elsa. When Sam's meltdowns got too difficult to handle, Theo and Holly stopped inviting Doug and Elsa to camping trips, which is a reasonable response. Upon meeting up again, it seems like Arlo's parents are going to get along with Sam's parents after years of estrangement. However, Theo in particular turns out to be very condescending towards Sam, even when Doug tries to explain to him that autistic people and their families do not deserve to be punished for autism.
  • The Big Damn Kiss: Casey plants one on Izzie after her Anguished Declaration of Love in the track field.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: In the first season, Casey seemed to be straight-up heterosexual, having sex with her boyfriend Evan. However, come the second season she started to question her sexuality with a girl, Izzie, whom she meets at her new school Clayton Prep. By the third season, she is torn apart by her attraction to both of them, but ultimately goes with Izzie over Evan; she still cried when she broke up with him.
  • Brutal Honesty: Sam tells the truth, even when doing so would make things awkward.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted in the Season 1 finale. Zahid explained in a previous episode that he became a good swimmer because his dad pushed him into the deep end of the pool when he was a young boy. As such, he offers to retrieve Paige's penguin necklace from the school swimming pool. Sam, however, takes the initiative despite his aversion to public pools, because he feels he has to make things right with Paige after he had broken up with her in front of her own family.
  • Daddy's Girl: Doug and Casey share a strong father-daughter bond.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Season Four's episode, "Magical Bird #2" is depicted from Casey's perspective as she explains to her Newton High coach why she wants to return to the team, this being the only episode not narrated by Sam in a therapy office.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sam's sister, Casey, especially. But Sam and his friend Zahid also have their moments.
  • Deconstruction: Of ABC "quirky" comedies, where the family has something setting them apart from others. Whereas there it's Played for Laughs, here it's Played for Drama, encountering themes like adultery, abandonment, mental illness, and torn-up penguins. It helps the creator worked on one or two of them.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Happens less than four minutes into the first episode. Casey snarks at the dinner table, and Sam's mother shoots down a suggestion for Sam to donate his brain to his therapist.
  • Freak Out: One major example per season.
    • In Season 1, when Julia curtly rebuffs Sam's romantic advances, this sends Sam into his first "episode" in what's presumably quite a long time, as he repeats the names of four Antarctic penguins until he's screaming them out on the bus.
    • In the Season 2 finale. After reading the insulting comments on his yearbook, Sam angrily demands a new copy, then slams his yearbook onto the table before running off, shocking the girl in charge of distributing the yearbooks and a few other nearby students. This results in him missing work for the first time, though his family fortunately finds him in the aquarium, having calmed down while watching the penguin he adopted.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The Gardner family is two males (Sam and Doug) and two females (Casey and Elsa), these are the only four characters to make an appearance in every episode of the show.
  • The Ghost: Julia's boyfriend Miles is never seen on-camera, and we only hear his voice when his answering message plays when Julia is throwing all of his junk out after he'd already left her. Averted in the Season 1 finale.
  • Hidden Depths: Zahid starts out as a pervert who smokes in the vicinity of Techtropolis. In Season 2, however, his character is expanded upon significantly; specifically, it is revealed that Zahid had higher aspirations but was discouraged by a high school teacher from becoming a nurse.
  • Hollywood Autism: Sam's characteristics and personality show that the writers attempted to research the condition, but they are exaggerated immensely for both Drama and Comedy.
  • Hot for Teacher: Sam is attracted to Julia (his therapist), and hence refers to Paige (his classmate) as a "practice girlfriend". However, when Sam confesses to Julia that he wants a romantic relationship with her instead of Paige, Julia gets upset and attempts to explain to him why his behavior is inappropriate, thus deconstructing this trope.
  • I Gave My Word:
    • Sam, after casually mentioning he skipped his Ethics midterm to uphold his promise to Zahid, and keep him from failing out of nursing school.
      It's not a quandary.
    • Lampshaded by Zahid when Sam first reminds him of the promise:
      You take things way too literally...
  • Internet Stalking: When Zahid decides to ditch his nursing exam to get married, Sam and friends must find his whereabouts to stop the wedding. Paige and Abby help him by analysing Instagram photos, creating fake accounts and looking at places Zahid has checked into.
  • Jacob and Esau: Elsa favors Sam, whereas Doug is closer to Casey.
  • Jerk Jock: Downplayed with Arlo. He is an insensitive jerk and seems to be a star baseball player, but does not have a very muscular build; in fact, Arlo is played the same actor who plays the nerdy Dilton Doiley in Riverdale.
  • Large Ham: Paige is probably the most prone to this.
    • In the season 1 finale, she slits a giant stuffed penguin's throat in front of Sam's house while yelling at him while he's inside.
    • In season 2, she has a rather over-the-top and hammy meltdown about her bench being "mutilated", and in the season finale, is furious when she finds out that Sam's yearbook was vandalized, calling her classmates "shitbirds" and demanding to know "hoot-hoot-WHO did it".
    • Not to mention season 3's burrito-flinging "Road-Rage Paige."
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Bailey Bennett starts out as a Jerkass in Season 1. She embarrasses an overweight girl named Beth by writing "ORCA" on her locker door, and patronizes Sam in the scene where Arlo and some other students mock him. In Season 2, however, Bailey starts to feel more genuine sympathy for Sam, grows to appreciate his knowledge about Antarctica, and begins making out with him.
  • May–December Romance: Elsa is at least a decade older than Nick, the person with whom she has an affair.
  • My Beloved Smother: Elsa acts this way out of concern that Sam may not be able to handle a full adult life. Doug manages to convince her otherwise, and she undergoes Character Development in Season 2 as a result, learning to let go.
  • Parental Neglect: Casey feels ignored by Elsa, mostly because the latter has failed to properly balance the individual needs of both of her children. Doug, of all people, rightly points out to Elsa that, even if Sam is autistic, she should not focus ALL of her parental attention on him.
    • Izzie suffers this. She had to take care of her younger siblings while her mother was too drunk and at one point in the series, her mother kicks her out.
  • Parents as People: Both Gardner parents have their own story arcs and bouts of character development.
  • Quest for Sex: Sam's and Paige's, which quickly become one and the same quest. Every one of 'the four bases' are reached, the latter three around the end of each season / the beginning of the next.
  • Running Gag: Bailey getting Paige's name wrong, even after developing into a more likable individual.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: Technically, since he first views the idea of sleeping with Paige as preparation for having a sexual relationship with Julia.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Sam becomes this to Julia.
  • Toxic Friend Influence:
    • Evan thinks that Izzie is a negative influence on Casey.
    • Gretchen is clearly this to Zahid.
  • Trojan Gauntlet: Zahid takes Sam to go shopping for condoms, and hilarity ensues as Sam asks about them.
  • The Unreveal: It is never revealed who wrote the insulting comments in Sam's copy of the Newton High yearbook.
  • The Unsmile: Sam gives a pretty good one to a girl who's checking him out. She immediately looks away.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Sam buys some chocolate-covered strawberries to give to his therapist Juila. Instead of ringing the doorbell, though, he climbs in through the large, open window. His father, who drove him to the house but didn't know who the girl was, convinces him to leave but Sam drops a strawberry that rolls under the sofa. Julia finds it and thinks her boyfriend Miles is cheating on her. Julia becomes a bit obsessive over the strawberry, thinking that he's doing something shady and starts accusing him of cheating on her. This eventually drove him to leave her. However, Miles comes back and proposes to Julia.
  • Wham Shot: When Casey sees her mother and Nick kissing, even if Elsa is already in the process of ending their affair once and for all. Also when Casey writes "STOP BANGING THE BARTENDER" on the whiteboard, followed by Elsa and then Doug reading it.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Sam has this realization about his college prospects after Miss Whittaker (his guidance counselor and autism support group coordinator) is impressed by his artistic abilities.