Atypical Season 4 Review: Who’s the Protagonist?


Spoilers Below

In Atypical Season Four, created by Robia Rashid, Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), who’s on the Autism spectrum, takes a back seat to most of the supporting characters. 

Sam’s younger sister Casey Gardner (Brigette Lundy-Paine), wrestles with anxiety during her last year of high school while emotionally supporting her girlfriend, Izzie Taylor (Fivel Stewart). Their father, Doug Gardner (Michael Rapaport), loses his best friend and tries to live vicariously through his daughter Casey’s high school running career. Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh) struggles with letting Sam chase his dreams and figuring out how to care for her estranged mother, who has dementia. While Sam’s adventure of finding a way to Antarctica to draw penguins is fascinating, it sometimes seems like a vehicle for other characters’ growth.

Casey suffers a mental breakdown from all the pressure and uncertainty she deals with in the final season. She starts off trying to juggle difficult classes at Clayton Prep, competitive running, being a loving girlfriend to Izzie, and figuring out her sexuality. Casey is usually the easy-going snide Gardner child. Now she faces anxiety for the first time. Brigette Lundy-Paine does an incredible job physically expressing a panic attack in the episode” Channel Cut.” Casey works so hard in competitive racing to earn a scholarship so she can move far away from Connecticut. 

When Casey receives a letter of interest from UCLA, the pressure freaks her out. Everybody else is so happy about the prospect of her making the UCLA track team. A significant contrast to Casey’s apprehension. Izzie beaming, mentions how Casey is living the dream. Sadly, that will mean leaving Izzie behind since she didn’t receive a letter of interest from UCLA. Doug says that Casey needs to continue to hit” the pedal to the medal,” which revs up the stress.

She can barely keep her head above water, worrying about school, running, and Izzie, especially since the runner is over-scheduled. There’s a cut to Casey looking down at her fingers that are all bloody from being chewed. Her whole body shakes as she wraps band-aids around all her fingers in the bathroom. 

This season, Lundy-Paine steps up their game performing as Casey, making her feel more like the protagonist than Sam. Atypical is a coming-of-age story. Since Sam is now a fully settled adult, Casey, who’s still growing up, becomes the story’s center.

In the previous seasons, Sam dealt with personal and relatable issues. For example, in the first season, Sam wanted a girlfriend, or last season, he adjusted to life at Denton University. By the start of season four, Sam has come to age, making the premise of the show obsolete. Sam lives in his apartment with his best friend, Zahid. He has a sweet relationship with his longtime girlfriend, Paige. 

After the second episode, He is fully adjusted to college life. This season Sam’s storyline feels more like a checklist than an emotional arc. Sam spends his time trying to acquire everything he needs to draw penguins in Antarctica. Sam throws a party to keep his brain active. He learns how to put up a tent, raises money for the trip by selling pet artwork, and climatizes to below-freezing temperatures.

The main problem I have with the fourth season of Atypical is that Sam feels more like a tool for other characters’ storylines instead of the driving force. The other character’s story arcs are emotionally based, while Sam’s storyline is more mission-focused. For example, Doug faces grief and his mortality after losing his best friend Chuck right after he retired. So Sam finding his way to Antarctica seems like more of a triumph for Doug. 

The first few episodes contain scenes of Doug spending time with his paramedic partner and best friend, Chuck. All Chuck can talk about is his starter for sourdough and upcoming retirement. He plans to travel around the world with his wife Donna, then eventually open a sourdough bakery. Meanwhile, Doug can’t bare take one vacation. He has fifty-four days saved up. The only thing Chuck will miss about work is spending time with his best friend. Shortly after Chuck’s retirement party, he dies from a heart attack. None of his dreams will ever come true. 

At first, Doug is in total denial, refusing even to admit that they were best friends. Doug nixes the idea of teaching Sam how to build a tent because he wants to bury himself in work. Then work forces Doug to grief when Donna thinks Chuck would like him to have the sourdough starter. After Sam yells at him for not helping out, Doug freaks out. Afterward, Doug admits how upset he is about Chuck’s death to his wife, Elsa. He finally teaches Sam how to build a tent. Doug supports Sam in his desire to travel to Antarctica. The father now knows how short life is. Doug never ventured out into the wide world. He believes Sam can do anything. 

At the end of the series, Doug ends up using those fifty-four vacations days to travel to Antarctica with Sam. Coming with his son to Antarctica represents Doug properly grieving and finally embracing life.

Watch Atypical Season Four on Netflix! Season Four is a mixed ending to the series, but it’s still worth watching if you have seen the rest of Atypical. 

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  1. Wow! That is a lot in a show. I had never heard of it until now but sounds intriguing and I might have to binge the series. Thanks for the review!

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