Friday, September 7, 2018

REVIEW: Netflix's 'Atypical' Grows More Confident and Relaxed as Sam Embraces Change in Season 2

Netflix's Atypical debuted its entire 10-episode second season on Friday, September 7. This post will feature brief reviews of each episode of the season.

The comedy stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Keir Gilchrist, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Amy Okuda and Michael Rapaport.

201. "Juiced!"
Written by Robia Rashid and directed by Joe Kessler

The premiere picks up almost immediately after the events of last season's finale. Only a couple of days have gone by. And yet, the show also flashes back to the immediate aftermath of Doug learning about Elsa's affair. It's such a potent image for him to once again be walking away from his family. It's also so powerful to see him come back in with the understanding that he needs to be there for his kids. He can't miss out on any more of their lives because that could only worsen his relationships with them moving forward. He just can't be around Elsa at the moment. As such, there's the potential of her moving out. She sees that as impossible because the family needs her and her schedule planning too much. She is trying to find a great new therapist for Sam. That's not something anyone else in the family is doing. Sam continues to suggest simply going back to Julia. He ultimately does that as well. He needs to talk things out with her. There have been a lot of changes in his life and he doesn't know how to make sense of a lot of them. Things are better with Paige but they are no longer dating. His dad has moved out. And his mom is trying new spice mixes. His personal space is being invaded by his sister. It's causing them to lash out in a physical way. It's a key regression that shows just how easily this family can fall apart. They need the support from Doug. Sam only has clarity after going to see Julia again. It's still very inappropriate. It's going to be fascinating to see how the show continues to incorporate that character. Amy Okuda is still a series regular. The audience still has to see the fallout of her marriage proposal as well as the continuation of her pregnancy. She's also the only person who truly understands what's going on with Sam when he takes about the hole in Antarctica and how it relates to the rest of his life. Of course, she knows that because of the time spent with him already and him being comfortable enough to say that Doug has moved out after learning about Elsa's affair. Elsa leaving could be just as difficult for Sam though. The family wanted to keep the affair a secret from him. They didn't succeed in that because Casey was just being too passive aggressive. But that also reveals that she isn't really coping well either. And now, her life is about to change even more with her moving to private school. B

202. "Penguin Cam and Chill"
Written by Robia Rashid and directed by Ryan Case

Rules can be very beneficial. That's how this family operates. They need to clearly define what is going on in their lives. When Paige tells Sam that she only wants a casual relationship, he is confused because the rules are radically different than when they were dating. He wants to know what to do and what not to do. Paige is open enough to just outline them for him as well. It highlights how they still work well together. And yet, Sam becomes too good at the rules as well. As such, he isn't able to be a supportive friend when Paige needs it because he adheres too strictly to it. That's disappointing and yet realistic. Him continuing to mention Julia not realizing how painful that continues to be for Paige is also another easy reason for why they break up so soon in the new season. Meanwhile, Casey is completely out of her depth at her new school. Of course, the show is somewhat walking back the idea that this private school is over an hour away from where everyone lives and it would be a drastic change to her life and her friendships. She is still able to date Evan and be at home picking on Sam. But she also did no real preparation in advance for how this school functions. She didn't look at the rules or come prepared for her first day. As such, she only sees a community of awful people who are preventing her from just casually coasting by. That should get her to step up and learn how to be a part of this environment. But the story also teases a romantic twist that may be a little too melodramatic at the moment. And finally, Doug also writes down the rules for his future interactions with Elsa. She just wants to work on their marriage and get back to being a family right away. But he is still incredibly betrayed and hurt because of what she did. These are wounds that can't be fixed so easily. He needs time to himself and with his kids. He's not keeping them from Elsa. He would just like to be aware whenever she is going to do something special for them. He wants to be prepared so that he can have this time apart to actually think about this family and what he wants from it moving forward. B

203. "Little Dude and the Lion"
Written by Theresa Mulligan Rosenthal and directed by Silver Tree

In the first season, the show received a little bit of criticism for not featuring any autistic actors with some also wondering how accurate Keir Gilchrist's performance actually was. And now, it seems like the show is speaking directing to those concerns with the introduction of this peer group. It is essentially replacing the therapy void that the show has somewhat been feeling this season now that Sam is no longer seeing Julia. Of course, this development brings a number of questions as well. How did Elsa and Doug not know that this group existed and could possibly be beneficial to Sam? Is the group only interested in helping these students make the transition to college and not the other struggles from high school? Why is Sam still being seen in the one-on-one therapy sessions while articulating some greater analogy that connects the whole episode together? And why is the show spending time with Julia now that she has no connection whatsoever to the Gardner family? These are important questions that do bog down this episode. The show is still trying to find a new groove for the season while also improving on what it did last year. Change continues to be a big deal. Sam going to college could shake up the foundation of the show. And yet, the audience should still be curious if that change will be as radical as it is believed to be here. Meanwhile, Casey starts bonding with fellow student Izzie. In fact, they realize that they are both scholarship students at this school who feel like they can't make any mistakes or risk it all being taken away. That pressure is so crushing to both of them. It's a release when they can express their feelings. They just choose to do so by stealing some alcohol and getting drunk doing a very lax detention. It's still a big deal when Casey comes over to Evan's bedroom wanting to have sex with him again. In fact, that could eventually destroy their relationship because sex continues to be seen as this reactionary thing that she does as an act of rebellion. She isn't comfortable with it but is still using it in a destructive way. However, it also feels slightly forced that Evan would call Elsa instead of Doug to take care of Casey especially considering he knows just how fraught the mother-daughter relationship currently is. B-

204. "Pants on Fire"
Written by Mike Oppenhuizen and directed by Geeta Patel

As if the season wasn't melodramatic enough with all of the changes experienced by the Gardner family, now Doug suffers a heart attack and Paige slices her finger off. These are major plot developments that will have huge ongoing repercussions. At first, it seemed like Doug's health was just pure exhaustion and unable to do more than bring home pizza for his kids. And then, he dropped the milk in a moment where the direction distinctly points out his heart palpations. As such, it was only a question of when he would collapse. Would it be during his confrontation with Elsa? Or would it be in front of his kids? It's much more heartbreaking that Casey is the one who sees it happen. She may not even know that her mother is inside. She will feel the burden of this responsibility. And yet, I hope this isn't just used as a convenient excuse to get Elsa back home carrying for Doug as he sees how much she still loves him. Right now, she has no awareness for how she comes across during this day of total honesty. She's inspired by Sam to be completely blunt with everyone she interacts with. It's annoying to Doug because it makes it seem like she couldn't be her authentic self during their marriage. It feels like a slap to the face to the lives they had together. That's not what she intends but it's how the message is delivered right before Doug collapses on the front lawn. It's also played as him not being able to take all of these details about the affair that she had. She still thinks about Nick too. That's equally troubling despite her wanting to work on her marriage. Meanwhile, Paige slicing her finger off should only fuel more animosity towards Sam because he continues to view her as nothing more than a guinea pig. At first, she was a practice girlfriend. And now, she's a friend who he can practice lying with. She has no awareness of any of that. Instead, she believes he's having casual relationships with more people which leads to her being so anger that she hurts herself. It's crazy but Sam lacks any awareness as to what just happened. He doesn't understand that it's his fault. Instead, he is more inspired to write a heartwarming essay about his friendship with Zahid. It's a sweet moment even though Zahid's theories about life and women are always bad advice for Sam to adhere to. And yet, Sam is still willing to lie to protect his best friend who doesn't learn his lesson at all. B-

205. "The Egg is Pipping"
Written by Bob Smiley and directed by Wendey Stanzler

It turns out that Doug's health scare was nothing but a false alarm. Of course, the show still tricks the audience into believing that it's still something serious at the top of this episode. Instead, it's just another flashback to 2004 when Sam was first diagnosed. Now, there has to be some larger point to the show dramatizing this story of Doug's inability to process it and Elsa going full steam ahead on everything. But right now, it feels like a repetitive story of something the show already discussed in its first season. It's much more valuable to spend time in the present day. Doug welcomes Elsa back home. But it's not as his wife. Instead, it's just as a roommate. He learns to accept that the family functions better with her in their lives. She is needed around the house to keep everything running. It wasn't that Doug couldn't do it. It was just too overwhelming for him and he was stretching himself too thin. And sure enough, Elsa takes this as yet another sign that all is forgiven with her past misdeeds. That's simply not true at all. She has put in no work to actually reconcile what she did that hurt her family so much. She does suggest couple's counseling. But even that is mostly just a plan to try to put their lives back together easily as a family. It just won't come that easy for her. Doug is more welcoming to her into his life now. But he's still upset with her. Meanwhile, Sam is in another plot where he asks for something from the family only because he was told to do so. In this case, it's a bank account. It's another story that proves that it takes a strong learning curve for him to realize just how important it is to be financially smart and independent. That's important but also a story that the show has already told with a variety of other subjects. And finally, Evan meets Casey's new friends from school and immediately criticizes her for trying too hard to blend in with people who are forcing her to be different. He is no longer seeing the girlfriend he loves. He sees a woman completely changed and embarrassed. It's a genuine fight too. It could point to even more reckless decisions in the future. Izzie and Nate may not be good influences after all. They have gotten attached to her very quickly this season. They may need that support to fulfill something missing in their lives. And yet, Casey is eager to please even though that could only cause further destruction for her. C+

206. "In the Dragon's Lair"
Written by Robia Rashid and directed by Silver Tree

It's great to see that Sam losing $700 to Arlo wasn't just treated as a punchline to close the previous episode. That's a big deal and should be treated as such after his family finds out. Arlo tricked Sam into believing this was a charitable donation that would lead to him becoming famous in the school. Arlo being unable to throw this party should have led to the return of the money. But that's also the easy part of Doug and Elsa going over to talk with the parents. Instead, it's primarily a story about friendship and how their marriage wasn't always equal. Elsa was the one always doing the fighting for Sam. Doug has really stepped up over the course of the series. And yet, there was still much of his life that he was ashamed of or kept private. Now, he is more than willing to stand up to his friend after he starts complaining about Sam as a child. He doesn't have a good excuse for Arlo's behavior either. They want to chock it up to bad therapy. It can't be as simple as that. Nor can the reunion between Doug and Elsa. At this point, that seems like the inevitable outcome. Right now, they are bonding over Elsa stealing a teenager's trophy. It's so random and probably dooms them from rekindling this friendship. But it also feels like a genuine step forward for them as a couple. Two people who are treated as equals and are honest about everything that is going on in their lives. They both have their shortcomings. They just have to be willing to put in the work to make this relationship healthy. And now, it seems like that is going to happen. Meanwhile, Zahid really steps up in a surprising way for Sam as well. This episode finally brings some dimension to him after mostly being treated as the teenage boy who thinks he knows everything but really knows nothing. This episode actually steps into his life to prove that he has family dynamics and struggles too. He really tries his best in order to create the best environment for Sam. He wants this sleepover to go well for his best friend. Even when it doesn't, he is still encouraging to ensure that Sam isn't completely turned against the idea of sleeping anywhere except his own bed at home. That's the sign of a true friendship and one that helps Zahid get the confidence to apply to nursing school like he has apparently always been dreaming. B+

207. "The Smudging"
Written by Robia Rashid & Dennis Saldua and directed by Pam Thomas

Once again, it's beneficial to the show that it carries through the consequences of Sam being arrested. His mother and father seemingly didn't know about it the night that happened. But it's also not surprising that they quickly learn about it. In fact, it's invigorating to both of them because they are realizing the strengths that they both bring to this relationship. In the end, they understand the importance of teaching first responders how to deal with people with disabilities. The officer in this case immediately assumed the worst because Sam wouldn't respond to any of his commands. He thought it necessary to use force. He also thinks it's just okay to have Sam's picture in the precinct so that it doesn't happen again in this one case. That can't be enough. Julia, Doug and Elsa are all inspired to speak up and ensure that more is done to offer better training to people in these professions. It's an aspect of their jobs that is often forgotten about. But it's still crucially important. It also presents a way to bring Doug and Elsa closer. Meanwhile, it's fascinating to see Sam still continue to appreciate his relationship with Julia even though it's been awhile since they've interacted. He still has so much value for it. It's comforting to him just to be able to leave her a voicemail even though he doesn't get her take on what he should do in his life. He needs direction. Right now, he is spiraling like a lot of high school students do because he simply doesn't know what to do with his life. He feels like there are too many options for college and no idea which one to pick. He could simply go to school with Paige. But Casey rightfully points out, he is just becoming dependent on that relationship just like he has always been with Elsa. He needs to make this decision independent of everyone else in his life. And in the end, he still finds a direction based on the suggestion of someone else. He doesn't even realize that he could go to college for art. He's very talented though and that could represent a number of career options for him. Meanwhile, it was only inevitable that things would fall apart between Casey and her new friends. Evan is still around helping her family mend their relationships and their home. He is a really strong and supportive boyfriend. One who actually listens to her. Plus, things are starting to thaw between her and her mom as well because Elsa is the only one who can help after seeing what the other track girls did to Casey's running shoes. B+

208. "Living at an Angle"
Written by Jen Regan & Theresa Mulligan Rosenthal and directed by Pete Chatmon

The audience was probably always right to assume that Sam wouldn't be traveling very far for college. It's the problem that a lot of family comedies run into as they age. They have to figure out how to keep these amusing and important characters around after high school graduation even though it's likely that they would go on to bigger and better things elsewhere. They typically don't send them away to a college across the country and just remain focused on the characters left behind. That especially wouldn't work because Sam is so integral to the show. Even going to college nearby will present its own form of challenges. He is struggling with how much new he can handle in his life. He has really been stretching his limitations this season. He has still had a number of setbacks. But he has largely earned more independence and freedom. He no longer needs his family as much as he used to. Sure, Casey comes running the moment she learns that his portfolio has gone missing. It was always inevitable that someone from his peer group took it. It's lame how Sam just conveniently forgets that he went there earlier in the day. It's all built to create a sense of surprise. But it also allows characters from the group to appear outside of that setting. It's nice to see them interacting with Sam in his personal life. They offer solid and funny moments during these group sessions. But it's just as important to see the friendships that are developing outside of that. Some time has passed this season but they aren't the best of friends. It's just a few months where they are together talking about their respective futures. But it at least gets them thinking while putting Sam in an environment that actually helps him with his problems. He just has to know when to ask for help. That's what Casey has to do as well when it comes to studying for her big biology exam. Meanwhile, Doug and Elsa are learning how to be a part of the same project but remain equals. Elsa feels left out because Doug is really running with the idea to offer training to first responders. But Elsa finds her passion as well by offering haircuts to those on the spectrum. In fact, it's sweet just watching the two of them go back-and-forth with terrible names for the business. Sure, they may be rushing into sex too quickly again. But they are at least on this path towards reconciliation and it feels earned. B

209. "Ritual-licious"
Written by Mike Oppenhuizen & D.J. Ryan and directed by Ryan Case

Casey and Izzie almost kiss. It comes immediately after they make up as friends. It shows how intimate they are capable of being. It also highlights how confused Casey remains about a whole lot of her life. She continues to feel like the people around her don't always listen to what she likes and what she wants to do. She didn't want a big surprise party. She doesn't have time for all of Sam's rituals with her birthday. And yet, she still fits in with this family as well. She appreciates what they do for her. She is happy to celebrate Sam getting into college. But she also has this moment of uncertainty with Izzie that her mom also witnesses. It once again shows that she is purely reactionary when it comes to her relationship with Evan. He is so sweet and supportive. He is a great boyfriend. And yet, she kisses him immediately after this moment with Izzie in an attempt to push down those feelings completely. That's not going to be healthy. In fact, it may doom this friendship. But again, the show is also analyzing whether Izzie is a good influence or not. She may just be encouraging bad behavior for Casey. Casey doesn't have a life at Clayton beyond Izzie. Without her, it has been so isolating and depressing. This twist ensures that things remain awkward between them. However, a bad friendship has the potential to completely destroy Casey naturally exploring her sexuality - despite being in a healthy and happy relationship. As such, it's a story that the show has to be very careful navigating as it heads into the season finale. Meanwhile, Elsa continues to push too hard when it comes to getting Doug to forgive her. Now, she has this idea to throw a big party and throw herself at Doug in the hopes of going back to being a normal and happy family. So much progress has been made. And yet, Doug still struggles with the affair that Elsa had. He hasn't really thought about Nick the bartender in awhile. But now, it's overwhelming to his thoughts simply because Casey talks about always seeing her mother kissing the bartender. That means it's going to be very precarious as Doug heads to the bar after the party. He may be doing something incredibly stupid and reckless. He has grown and tried to listen more over the course of the series. But this meeting could also be a source for getting his anger out. The consequences of that could be life-changing to the family as well. B+

210. "Ernest Shackleton's Rules for Survival"
Written by Robia Rashid and directed by Ken Whittingham

This was a season of change. Sam is preparing for so much in his life that will be different. He wants to be more independent. And yet, that doesn't mean denying help from the family who wishes to give it. He wants to prove that he doesn't need them as much as they believe he does. He has exceeded their expectations of what he could do with his life. They are so proud of him for graduating and going to college. They see a true independent and strong spirit. Of course, it's still powerful to see how ferocious they can be in defending him as well. They understand what's important in his life and know exactly where to find him during his latest breakdown. They may never know as much about penguins as he does. And yet, they can stare at the beauty of this creature and appreciate it just as much as Sam does. Moreover, the season started with Sam and Paige needing to figure out how they feel about each other and what they want out of their relationship. And now, it's clear that Sam has so much love for Paige. Sure, he's enjoyed kissing Bailey. But he's willing to do things that make him uncomfortable because he cares about what happens to Paige. This time that means getting up in front of the school and giving her valedictorian speech. That too is a very rousing moment that shows just how capable Sam is when it comes to changes in his life. He is willing to do this for his friend despite being terrified of public speaking. As such, he walks away with the clarity that he does love her. Paige loves Sam as well. She loses her voice defending him. That's all the proof that is necessary. She just is yet to fully accept it. Meanwhile, it's fascinating to see how Doug is still struggling to forgive Elsa for what she did. He thought he would feel better after punching Nick. However, Nick allowed that moment to happen knowing that he completely deserved it. That was clarity and appreciation that Doug wasn't expecting and doesn't know what to do with. When Elsa learns that's how he hurt his hand, she understands that they need to have a serious conversation about the future of their relationship. Is this something that can ever be fixed> They've been getting along well over the last few episodes. They are working together as a team. But Doug still can't forgive Elsa. Instead, he runs away to Megan in order to avoid this conversation. As such, that's possible evidence that this family hasn't changed all that much or addressed some of their key flaws. And finally, Casey has sex with Evan again. They are such a powerful and united team at the graduation ceremony. But Casey still blows Evan off in order to be holding hands with Izzie. That means there is a fair amount of uncertainty in this relationship as well. It's all because Casey is confused by her feelings even though she is also willing to support her mom during Sam's graduation. B+