Sam from Atypical surrounded by penguins
While the first three seasons of "Atypical" tackle real familial issues with comedy sprinkled throughout, the fourth season misses the mark. (Illustration by Molly Posten, Minneapolis College of Art and Design)

Season 4 of ‘Atypical’ Does Not Live Up to the Previous Seasons

The lovable comedy started off strong with three fantastic seasons — where did the writers go wrong with the fourth?

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Sam from Atypical surrounded by penguins

The lovable comedy started off strong with three fantastic seasons — where did the writers go wrong with the fourth?

“Atypical” has earned its spot in the hearts of many devoted fans since it premiered in 2017. This show follows Sam Gardner — played by Kier Gilchrist — as he navigates teenage life with autism. The first three seasons were executed in a fantastic matter; it is genuinely touching to watch Sam figure out his place in such an overwhelming world, and watching him struggle, persevere and succeed is a truly rewarding experience. Moreover, comedy is perfectly intertwined with these heartfelt moments. Sadly, this harmony does not last, and the fourth season misses the mark. There are undeniable problems that made this set of episodes lower in quality than the others.

This fourth season of “Atypical” did not feel well planned. Sam’s character does have a strong storyline as he prepares to go on his dream trip to Antarctica, but he is also the only character that seems to have been fully considered by the writers. Part of the success of “Atypical” can be attributed to the consistently interesting plotlines of not only Sam, but his friends and family as well. In fact, there are some episodes in which the subplot was even more captivating than the main one. Unfortunately, it appears that all the problems that these side characters face are solved before the fourth season even begins.

Elsa Gardner — played by Jennifer Jason Leigh — is Sam’s mother, who is married to Doug Gardner, portrayed by Michael Rapaport. In the earlier seasons, Elsa cheats on Doug with a bartender. The drama of this issue was intense, upsetting and impossible to look away from. Doug eventually finds out about this affair and their marriage nearly crumbles. The couple slowly heals, and by the fourth season, they do not even bring up what Elsa has done — which is slightly strange. Now that this problem has passed, neither Doug nor Elsa has a relevant storyline. Doug’s close friend passes, which is ultimately an aimless subplot, while Elsa decides to reconnect with her estranged mother, who has developed dementia. Neither of these concepts are fully developed or related in the slightest to Sam and the main plot.

Sam’s best friend and roommate is a snarky pothead named Zahid, played by Nik Dodani. His main purpose in the show is to help Sam navigate the dating world. The majority of Zahid’s advice is unhelpful, but he encourages and inspires Sam nonetheless. The personal issues that Zahid faces in earlier seasons mostly revolve around girls. Now that he is single in Season 4, he lacks a clear plotline of his own until he suddenly encounters medical problems. Perhaps the audience is meant to find sincerity in his new sense of vulnerability, but it is still an ultimately random series of events.

Sam’s sister, Casey Gardener — played by Brigette Lundy-Paine — is a fan-favorite character. The relationship drama that ensues as she attempts to understand her sexuality has kept viewers enticed for three seasons. In the fourth season, she is essentially in a stable relationship that is only questioned for a short period of time. Casey’s main issue in this season is that she feels she is under too much pressure. In the beginning of the season, she is struggling with school, though this issue suddenly disappears when she begins to resent her commitment to track. While Casey’s subplot is more interesting than any other side character, it is boring compared to previous seasons.

“Atypical” contains so many perfectly executed, heartfelt moments in the first three seasons. Friends and family members encourage Sam with words of wisdom throughout the show. Unfortunately, in Season 4, these conversations start to feel forced. Normally, they arise naturally, since Sam requires some extra guidance. But in this newest season, a lot of these conversations include a random story from years ago that the character is attempting to bring to relevance.

Elsa is the main culprit of these strange speeches. As Sam’s mother, Elsa has been by Sam’s side through every challenge that he has faced. An important aspect of Elsa’s character development is her growing respect for Sam’s independence. She is much less attached to Sam in this season, but she still attempts to help him through lengthy talks.

Most of these conversations are one-sided monologues in which Elsa describes an oddly specific memory from when Sam was a child; she also does this with her daughter, Casey. Elsa acts as if the event she is describing has shaped the lives and perspectives of her children. However, none of these stories are ever mentioned again, proving themselves insignificant. It does not come across as sincere, but instead, as incredibly calculated.

By the end of Season 4, all of the side characters’ strange issues have been resolved and Sam has secured a trip to Antarctica. Despite its flaws, this show covers so many important topics that it cannot be entirely written off as bad. There are still moments that get the audience laughing, and the idea of Sam getting to go to Antarctica and study penguins in real life is beyond satisfying. It would be amazing to actually see Sam interacting with this new environment, but leaving the show open-ended allows the audience to imagine it however they please.

This is the last season of “Atypical.” It is sad to see the show leave on a low point, but the most important thing is getting to watch Sam grow right in front of the audience’s eyes. From the very first episode, viewers begin rooting for Sam; it is nearly impossible to hold back cheers when he gets the girl, succeeds in school or stands up for himself. Watching him develop into a well-functioning and happy adult is an amazing experience.

Perhaps the true issue is that the previous seasons of “Atypical” set too high of a standard for the rest of the show to compete with. But despite the disappointing aspects of the fourth season, this show is absolutely worth the watch.

Writer Profile

Trinity Crompton

Molloy College
Writing

Trinity is a senior at Molloy College majoring in writing and minoring in journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in fashion journalism. She loves dachshunds, platform shoes and Stephen King novels.

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