I have to begrudgingly admit that Netflix listened to criticism, involved autistic people, and made the second season of Atypical less offensive than the first. The running joke is still that Sam is an insensitive clod about sex and relationships, but it doesn’t dominate the show.
I think the writing suffers from a similar issue to the one in Keep the Change. A neurotypical writer thinks inappropriate sexual situations are funny, and they think autism = social inappropriateness, and the jokes almost write themselves. For example, Sam doesn’t see the problem with writing a college application essay about the time he saw a stripper’s tits (or similar). “It said to write about your greatest accomplishment.” Taking things literally! Hahaha! Basically, Sam’s level of impairment shoots through the roof any time there’s a sex joke.
An autistic actress from Keep the Change specifically says what’s unrealistic about her character in the movie is the sexual inappropriateness:
But Sam has to stay normal-passing enough to be relatable, and that takes a bit more awareness.
It’s like Sam floated through the bullying in earlier childhood unscathed, then tries out this new interest in girls thing at the end of high school. Absurd. By 9th grade, I’d had two separate experiences of someone pretending to be my girlfriend as a prank so they could break up with me. “Will you go out with me?” “HELL no!”
Atypical has opening monologues of Sam talking about pack animals. By middle school, I knew I was at the bottom of the pecking order, where it sucked. And I was just born to be that, nothing I could do about it. That was just from bullying, without being diagnosed and taking the short bus or anything.
If you go to Reddit’s Asperger’s board (lol I’m banned), it’s a sad and self-hating place a lot of the time. It’s impossible not to absorb the message that you’re a piece of shit when you hear it all the time.
That makes Sam’s nonchalance totally unrealistic to me, like he was written by someone who didn’t get bullied enough as a child, who could still make a joke of autistic loneliness. He can’t sleep overnight at a friend’s house, but he can just shrug at telling a girl he loves her? What? I’m pretty sure I’d had sleep-overs by 3rd grade. I don’t understand this.
The yearbook scene. In a fit of bravery, he asks strangers to sign his yearbook. Someone writes stuff like “spaz”, “loser”, etc. on his picture and he freaks out. He goes back to the table where yearbooks get passed out: “I need a new one!” Then he knocks the table down and storms off. Ok…that’s reacting like it’s a new indignity or something. I just don’t think it’s plausible for his social status to be that low without his awareness, to where he isn’t already kinda sad and resigned.
I thought it was admirable that the show made a big deal out of first responders brutalizing autistic people, but they kinda ruined it for me by casting a black guy as the cop. The worst that happens is they get yelled at told to get on the ground. They aren’t tackled to the ground and punched repeatedly in the head, leaving them traumatized with chronic injuries, which more realistic. They Uncle Tom’d the poor actor and made him say the talking points about how cops have to be afraid, with all those drug addicts and niggers out there. In so many words.
The realities of autism are too fucked up for autism comedies written by normal people to make sense.
But Netflix did try, and I was entertained for a few hours without expecting to be.