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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Atypical is a comedy about a teen with autism (Sam) who decides it's time to find a girlfriend. Expect sexual content, including kissing and actual sex, like when a girl masturbates Sam in his backyard (no nudity, and we don't see the sexual act). In other scenes, characters are shown in their underwear, and high school boys catcall girls and comment on their looks and body parts. In later seasons, one character accepts that she has same-sex attractions while Sam is able to find a girl he can relate to; expect same- and opposite-sex kissing and dating. One character, Sam's friend/colleague Zahid, who's a hornball in the classic horny-friend mode, makes lots of jokes about "titties," "bubble butts," going to the "bone zone," and so on. Strong language includes sex/body words such as "d--k" and "twat," as well as "s--t," "ass," "damn," "a--hole," and "hell." Zahid smokes pot outside of work, seemingly unafraid his colleagues/bosses will see; Sam's mom, Elsa, strikes up a flirtation with a bartender over cocktails at a bar. Occasional mild violence includes a scene in which Sam's sister, Casey, punches a girl who insulted a classmate with a larger body type. Sam is frequently described as "weird," sometimes affectionately, sometimes not. His family and friends support and accept him, but others don't always -- in an early scene, a girl who Sam punched for touching him asks if he's "retarded" or if there's something wrong with his brain. But in general, Sam's classmates, family members, friends, and others accept him as he is, while Sam works tirelessly to get what he wants, even if he doesn't fit in comfortably with mainstream society.
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What's the story?
"I'm a weirdo; that's what everyone says," says the very ATYPICAL high school senior Sam (Keir Gilchrist) when we meet him. Maybe so, but this weirdo has friends, a loving family, an all-consuming interest in penguins -- and something relatively new, a desire to find a girl to date, even if his mom, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), says he's not ready. As he sets about his quest with his typical absorption, diving into research and taking advice from the people who care about him, Sam soon learns that connecting romantically isn't as easy as fixing a computer. People don't make a lot of sense to Sam, but slowly, surely, he's learning to live in the big, bright, confusing world along with all the other imperfect people around him.
Is it any good?
Viewers will fall in love with Sam in the first few moments of this heartfelt show, and sympathize with his relatable plight: We all want love; some aren't so great at finding it. Sam just happens to be a bit outside the norm when it comes to reading social cues (not to mention overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and smells of the world he doesn't easily fit into). "People on the spectrum date," says his sympathetic (if a bit clueless) therapist Julia (Amy Okuda). "You just have to put yourself out there." "Out where?" wonders the literal Sam, who returns home and immediately starts writing an online dating profile, with the help of his sister. "I spend a lot of time thinking about..." she prompts him for the questionnaire. "Penguins!" he answers truthfully. "Let's say 'sports,'" says Casey. Their mom Elsa, passing by, asks what they're doing. "Casey's helping me sign up for online dating, but she doesn't like my answer so she's just lying," says the honest-even-when-it's-uncomfortable Sam.
Elsa herself, who has Atypical's B story in the first season, is a little harder to relate to. Exhausted after years of advocating for her son, she's both cautious (pointing out that dating is all about nonverbal communication, not Sam's strong suit), fearful (she worries that a broken heart is in Sam's future), and bitter. It's that last emotion that may be her undoing, as she finds distraction in a flirtation with a friendly bartender who values his freedom above all else -- and who makes Elsa wonder what her life would be like if she were similarly free. Her storyline doesn't exactly make Elsa the most lovable mom. But viewers will want to see how everything turns out for her, and for her conflicted, frustrated son, who's weird compared to other people, it's true -- but equally lovable. As the show's seasons progress, Casey becomes a more prominent character, too, with her own limitations and struggles, some romantic, some not, while Sam moves from looking for love to dealing with it once he's found it, and Elsa and Doug grapple with marital issues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about autism and Atypical's portrayal of a person with autism. Is Sam a realistic character? Is he like other people with autism that you know?
How are viewers supposed to feel about Sam? Are we supposed to like him? Relate to him? Laugh at him? How can you tell? How do TV shows and movies communicate how to feel about a character? How are we supposed to feel about the other members of Sam's family?
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