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Atypical - Season 2 - Review: A Journey Of Self-Discovery

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WARNING: This review contains spoilers. If you have not watched all of Season 2 of Atypical then it is highly recommended that you come back and read this afterward to avoid being spoiled.

Atypical is a show that seemed to slip under the radar in its first season. It was disguised as a teen dramedy with a bit of a unique twist as it dealt with a main character on the autism spectrum. The show is a teen drama and it does deal with autism, but there is so much more to it. The parents have as much of a profound impact on the story as the teenagers. They have their own troubles and drama. This is a story about family and understanding and accepting people for who they are as individuals regardless of any challenges they may face. These characters aren’t perfect, they make plenty of mistakes, but they work through their issues in very real ways which make this show relatable.

The big drama that carried over from the first season was Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) cheating on Doug (Michael Rapaport). It fractured their relationship in ways that it may never be able to recover. There is no disagreement that Elsa was awful in the first season, giving viewers very little to root for with her. She made a lot of mistakes. This season was one of redemption for her. She fought to try to save her marriage and reconnect with her children. Along the way, she had to face some tough situations. What was interesting, and sort of a nice touch was that Doug came home and told Elsa to leave. He had to fight to keep his family together and that meant temporarily removing Elsa from the equation. Usually, it is the mom left to pick up the pieces, but it was a nice twist to see the father have to be the rock. It said a lot about Doug as a character.

There is so much pain and hurt with Doug in regards to his wife. She committed the ultimate betrayal. He could have so easily written her off and never allowed her back home again. He could have demanded a divorce and no one would have thought any less of him. Instead, he allowed her back home, and slowly they mended a bit of the damage she did. Still, there is so much that they still haven’t dealt with. Doug spent so much time just trying to keep his family intact that he forgot to deal with his own emotions regarding what happened. The panic attack that he had at the end of the fourth episode was scary. It was a wakeup call for him that he needed to take care of himself. He had to strike this balance between taking care of his own well-being and trying to give Elsa the opportunity to redeem herself. Despite everything, Elsa put Doug through these two do actually make a really strong team as was evident when they went to deal with the couple whom they used to be friends with and whose son started bullying Sam. That was probably one of their best moments of unity all season and it gave Doug a bit of insight into Elsa’s perspective on some things. Their car ride home afterward was the first time they really connected since the affair. It really highlighted how strong of an acting pair Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Rapaport are. They were able to show how much Elsa and Doug love each other while simultaneously showing how fragile their relationship still is.

Michael Rapaport was phenomenal throughout the whole season. In this couple, Doug is definitely the one that has been wronged the most. The fact he is even putting himself through all this emotional turmoil for his family speaks volumes about him as a father and husband. He constntly puts everyone else above his own needs and wants. Michael Rapaport was phenomenal throughout the whole season. Just like his character, Rapaport was a steadfast rock that held everything together.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is in the awkward position of trying to redeem a character who many probably think can’t be redeemed. She was fierce in her conviction to turning things around for Elsa. The jury is still out if enough has been done to redeem Elsa. She ended the season in a far more sympathetic position than she did in the first season. Yet, even taking that into consideration, there is still a lot of work she has to do in regards to herself before she can fully fix what she broke. Doug may never actually forgive Elsa fully. She may have been too little too late trying to save her marriage, but this season she did make headway in becoming a better mom. She was there for her children more and after some firm knocks by her children she came to understand that she needed to treat them with more respect as well. Elsa didn’t just betray her husband, but she also lost the trust of her children by cheating. There was a lovely moment in the season finale where Elsa really tried to connect with Casey (Bridgette Lundy-Paine). She had walked in on her and Izzie (Fivel Stewart) almost kissing in the prior episode and in her own convoluted way tried to tell Casey it was all okay. It was very awkward, but Elsa came from a well-meaning place of trying to support her daughter and make sure she knew she was free to follow her heart. The talk freaked Casey out, but it might have been what gave her a nudge closer to accepting her feelings for Izzie. There were also lovely moments with her and Sam (Keir Gilchrist) where she accepted allowing him to live his own independent life. It wasn't easy for her, but she took a step back and let him do what he wanted. However, like any good mom, she kept a watchful eye on them, ready to jump if they needed her.

Elsa may be able to save her relationship with her children. There is still some damage control to do, but she’s on the right track. What happens between her and Doug is still a big question mark. After Sam’s graduation, Doug didn’t come home. He went to his friend who had been on-and-off flirting with him all season. It doesn’t seem like he’ll sleep with her, he honestly seems like he just needed someone to talk to, but he’s hurting and people in pain do some weird things. It will be extremely interesting to see where this marriage goes and if it can be saved or not. This is a very true to life story that is being handled amazingly well. It’s compelling and interesting to watch.

Also, being handled incredibly well is Sam’s story. This is a show about him dealing with autism and how he interacts with the world around him. Last season he was learning about love and trying to hit some of those typical teenage milestones. That continued on into this season. He was even given his very own love triangle with Bailey Bennet (Ariela Barer) and Paige (Jenna Boyd). That’s not necessarily a real life thing for most people, but for a teenaged television character that was a huge milestone. The difference in this love triangle to others in the show is it was always pretty obvious who he really cared about the most. Paige was always going to be the one he was meant for. Casey is right to a degree, Paige is a lot like their mom, but it is undeniable how much Paige cares about Sam.

It was, however, interesting to see a sort of softer side to Bailey. She was an awful character in the first season, but the writers actually gave her a lot of depth for just a supporting character. Barer did a great job showing softer elements to Bailey despite the tough girl appearance she tries to keep up. Sure, Bailey was a bad match for Sam, but she did help him a lot. It was her interaction with Sam that brought his amazing artistic skills to the forefront. She may not have been a great romantic match for him, but she did help expose him to some different things. It is because of her that others were able to realize his amazing artistic talent so that they could help him begin building a picture of what his future could be.

The beautiful thing about the characters that surround him is that most of them are very protective, but they don’t really smother him. Casey is like any sibling, whereas she is allowed to mess with him, but she’ll take down anyone that messes with him. But, she also knows when to encourage him to do things outside of his comfort zone. When Sam really needed her this season she was right by his side fighting in his corner. The birthday episode had some of the very best sibling moments showing them angry and bickering then loving and supporting each other like a typical sibling duo. That episode actually taught them both about what the other means to them. It was a beautiful episode to really highlight their bond.

Zahid (Nik Dodani) is an amazing friend for Sam to have. He treats him just like any friend, but is aware of Sam’s unique challenges and is there by his friend whenever he needs him. Sure, sometimes he didn't give the best advice, but it was the thought that made it count. It was also interesting to meet Zahid's parents and see how welcoming they were to Sam. Zahid may not be an overachiever, but his faithful loyalty to Sam makes him the kind of person that anyone would be lucky to call a friend. During the sleepover debacle, he even took a trip to the police station trying to protect Sam. In fact, all season long, Zahid was there to support and encourage Sam as he helped his friend figure out what his future could look like.

Then there is Paige. She went nuclear on the douche bags who wrote mean things in Sam’s yearbook. She didn’t hesitate to tell Casey what had happened so that the family could be there to support and help Sam. She even sacrificed her voice and her chance at giving her valedictorian speech. That is where another beautiful moment happened. When Sam saw Paige in need he overcame so many fears to stand up and be there for her. For all the times she has had his back he was there for her in her moment of need. He gave her speech for her and while it wasn’t a perfect reading it was such a powerful moment. It went to show just how amazing people on the spectrum are. People on the spectrum are like anyone else, they are as likely to have a dream and follow it as anyone else, they are stereotyped and told what they can and can’t do, but they are capable of greatness. They can overcome terrifying obstacles because obstacle overcoming is what they’ve done their entire lives. Being on the spectrum doesn’t mean a person isn’t capable of amazing things and Sam proved that.

Keir Gilchrist’s impactful performance brings the audience right into the daily life of someone with autism. He is phenomenal in the way he brings to life every nuanced bit of Sam’s nature. The interesting thing is, the life of someone with autism isn’t all that different from anyone else. They live normal lives, and yes, they have different quirks, but we all have our own defining quirks that make us unique. The fact the writers show that people with autism are just people is a beautiful thing. For all the faults that this show has they do get so much right. They tackle a lot of tough situations in very real and honest ways. They have to up the drama level for some things to make the storyline interesting and engaging, but they still manage to keep everything rooted in reality.

Sam’s evolution this season was amazing. Last season, Julia (Amy Okuda) played a big part in his evolution. She was still a part of his life, but after events from last season she kept him at a distance, and still managed to give him some sage advice when it was most needed. Even though she was less involved with Sam they still gave her a nice storyline all her own with the pregnancy. In replacement of her counseling, they brought in Ms. Whitaker (Casey Wilson) to help guide him. Her support group that Sam was a part of this season was filled with actors who are themselves on the spectrum and every single one of them was brilliant in their portrayal of their character. Both Julia and Ms. Whitaker played influential roles this season for Sam, but some of his biggest moments came all on his own. He wanted independence and while it was a hard journey, he found some level of it by the end of the season. He declared his love for Paige and was preparing to go to the senior class lock-in event. He was even on track to go off to college. His journey next season will be interesting. It’ll be so important for the autism community to see a character be able to get out there in the world and forge his own path.

This was a season of character evolution and that certainly applied to Casey. There was a lot that was the same for her. She continued being Sam’s overprotective little sister and she continued on being a girlfriend to Evan (Graham Rogers). But, there were new things added to her life that started her down a new path that led her to a profound situation by the end of the season. She went to a new school. She made new friends and it is these new friends who would ultimately challenge her like she’s never been challenged before. Casey is a character that thrives on overcoming things and craves a challenge. If the show gets picked up for another season she’s going to have a lot of obstacles to overcome and decisions to make.

The season started off with what seemed like a pretty typical love triangle forming. Casey met Nate (Graham Phillip) at her new school and he took an instant liking to her. There was the obligatory jealousy between Evan and Nate with Evan not trusting the other man around his girlfriend. And the writers even threw in the obligatory mixed messages kiss that occurred during the sixth episode. Everything pointed towards a typical teenage drama love triangle and to add to the perceived drama of this love triangle the writers even had Casey become best friends with Nate’s girlfriend Izzie. Despite their initial interactions being less than cordial, they got closer when they both were confined to detention together during the third episode of the season. They realized they had a lot in common. Both were at their prep school on scholarship and neither really felt like they fit in until they found each other. Izzie confessed about her tough home life and Casey opened up about Sam. After an afternoon in detention getting drunk together they formed a strong bond. Even then the writers played things very close to the proverbial vest. Then came the big fight after Izzie learned about Nate kissing Casey. It once again looked like the story took a very typical twist with new best friends becoming enemies as Izzie seemed to blame Casey for what happened. It all seemed very expected and predictable and below the skills of these writers. What happened couldn’t have been further from the truth. This was a case of bait and switch and it was brilliantly executed to throw off the audience until the last possible second.

As the friendship between Casey and Izzie developed there were signs that there was possibly something more going on. The writers infused tiny bits of flirting from Izzie, but they were so subtle that it wasn’t clear what was going on until the final two episodes of the season. That’s when Izzie showed her cards and made her intentions very clearly known. While the audience spent all season thinking the love triangle was between Nate and Evan battling for Casey it was actually Evan and Izzie battling for Casey. It shouldn’t have been a shock, in retrospect, Izzie was crushing hard on Casey since they were first in detention together. As she would later confess in the penultimate episode of the season, she was “afraid of losing someone I love” which is why she acted so cruelly after the Nate incident. One could have been forgiven for thinking that the love she spoke of meant love as in a best friend type of way. That is until less than a minute later when Izzie came up with the “forehead promise” ploy to set up a potential kiss. There was no denying the true meaning behind everything Izzie had said since that fateful stint in detention. She had fallen and fallen hard for Casey and Casey might be developing feelings of her own for Izzie.

The problem in this whole love triangle is Evan. He is head-over-heels in love with Casey and he fits in nicely with her family. Casey loves him and openly admits as much. He is a good guy who has had his own run of bad luck. He goes out of his way to help out her family even going so far as to help patch the hole in the wall during the seventh episode. It is hard to not root for his and Casey’s relationship to prevail. But, as the season progressed the cracks in their relationship began to show. As Casey got closer to Izzie she started to use Evan as a bit of a crutch to convince herself that anything she might have been feeling for Izzie was nothing at all because she loved him. That was never more evident than during the aftermath of the almost kiss between her and Izzie. She threw herself at Evan in a desperate attempt to convince herself that she didn’t really care about Izzie in that way.

This is where Izzie made some really classy moves that kept her in the running. She was clearly hurt by Casey so obviously running into Evan’s arms and kissing him so passionately. She was repeatedly pushed away in the aftermath, but she kept her cool and let Casey process things in her own way, in her own time. After all, Izzie’s retaliation for hurt feelings was way worse, involving shoe vandalism and harsh exile, so she likely figured she deserved it. She shifted to just trying to preserve their friendship, not wanting to lose Casey again. Izzie hung back letting things play out and being cool about Casey and Evan. She wasn’t bitchy about it or over-reactive. It is obvious that Izzie had already come to terms with her feelings for Casey and was allowing Casey to go through the same process.

Then came the final moment of the season where everything between them came to a head. It is very telling that the writers chose this big grand realization between these two women to conclude the whole season. Bridgette Lundy-Paine and Fivel Stewart really shined at this moment as their impeccable chemistry really got showcased. Their characters were clearly in two very different places in processing the feelings between them. Izzie clearly enjoys just spending time with Casey and for the moment was content in having that. She knew that if anything was going to happen, it had to happen on Casey’s time. Turns out that in that car four towns away from home was that moment. Casey confessed her love for Evan and that they had sex again. Izzie handled the revelation like a champ, accepting that statement. It clearly hurt, the pain in her voice and hurt in her eyes was obvious, but she had made her peace with the fact that she may not have a chance with the woman who stole her heart. Then in the next moment, Casey changed everything by confessing that “sometimes a thing feels, right” and it was clear to the audience and Izzie that Casey was no longer talking about Evan.

Izzie didn’t dare hope for this and it was obvious that she was caught off guard, but she still took the opportunity to make a move. She moved her hand closer to Izzie’s and slowly they interlaced pinky fingers. Izzie closed her eyes in relief when Casey didn’t pull away. She took a deep breath and made her next move by slowly taking Casey’s hand in her own. Then another relieved exhale when Casey didn’t pull away from that. Izzie was walking on thin ice and she knew it and she knew at any moment Casey could pull away and this moment could be lost. Finally, she went in for the final crushing blow to Evan by opening her hand up to Casey. She opened her hand but allowed Casey to make the final push as their fingers interlaced in an intimate way. Casey was hard to read throughout this, she was scared but hopeful, and at this moment she looked relieved as well. There is still the issue of Evan as was made evident when he called in the middle of this moment. In a crucial decision, she chose to decline Evan’s call seemingly content, but still confused, by the intimate handhold she found herself engaged in with Izzie.

Some will call foul that these two didn’t get an actual kiss this season, but it was actually the right decision. They covered a lot of ground in the short amount of time they had. They took these two from enemies to friends to best friends to whatever exactly it is they ended the season as. They definitely took a step beyond just friends and it was a quiet intimate moment. The beauty of this is the hand holding felt as intimate, if not more so, than their almost kiss in the prior episode. That was a beautiful scene of reconciliation and it served a very clear purpose, but it paled in comparison to the car moment. Lundy-Paine and Stewart said so much with just their hands and facial expressions. Stewart, in particular, had a lot riding on her hitting Izzie’s emotional beats at the right moments and she nailed it. This is a storyline with a lot of potentials that could turn into a truly beautiful relationship next season.

Make no mistake, Casey still has a long way to go in making a final decision between Evan and Izzie, but Izzie clearly edged ahead of Evan. Next season will undoubtedly be a battle between Evan and Izzie for who will finally secure Casey’s heart. They each have so many great qualities, but each is flawed. It will likely come down to with whom Casey feels right. If the ending is any indication, that person may very well end up being Izzie. Maybe this whole situation will even bring Casey closer to her mom. She is going to need a little bit of guidance to navigate the tricky romantic minefield awaiting her as she tries to decide between the man she loves and the woman who has unexpectedly come in and challenged her feelings and her heart.

There were so many amazing moments in this season, the writers and performers didn’t waste a single moment sent their way. The season finale definitely stands out amongst the crowd. It left a lot up in the air as the season concluded. The cast, writers, and production team should be very proud of this season. They crafted a beautiful, profound, impactful ten episodes of television. Now the tense wait begins to see if the show gets a third season. After the way this season ended it would be a darn shame if it didn’t get another season. This is a story that is so important and needs to keep being told. There is still so much story left in this incredible series.

This season started off with a lot of typical setups for all of the characters. Love triangles, teenage drama, and parental conflict. It seemed like everything was going to go the way of predictable. But instead, the writers turned things on their head. This season was clever…it was atypical.

The first and second seasons of Atypical are now streaming on Netflix.

Hit the comments with your thoughts about this season. What were some of your favorite moments? Do you think Casey and Izzie will end up together? How will Evan handle everything? Will Sam and Paige finally end up together next season? Can Doug and Elsa repair their marriage? What will it be like for Sam off at college?

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