weather icon Clear

Authentic voices needed on TV, in movies

“Atypical,” which airs on Netflix, is a not-terribly-new show, considering there are now four seasons, featuring Sam Gardner, a teen on the autism spectrum. The show begins with Sam, played by Keir Gilchrist, in a session with his therapist. She tells him to open himself up to the possibility of having a relationship.

The next scene opens to family dinner where Sam announces that his therapist wants him to have sex. Then, because of his compulsion to tell the truth, he qualifies that she phrased it differently. It’s a funny enough moment, if not terribly original. Viewers immediately like Sam’s quirky spunk, and feel for him as he unskillfully tries to follow his therapist’s advice.

However, throughout the episode, I found myself cringing at Sam’s representation, which felt like an amplified and stereotypical depiction of a person living with autism, and a contrived backstory of inflated family drama. So, the question becomes: Does “Atypical” represent a positive move toward creating an awareness of ableness for neurotypical members of society, or is there a better way?

Partly problematic is that the show uses the same kinds of tropes that have been around since the eighties, with family shows like “Full House” and “Saved by the Bell,” the only real exclusion being the added grit of discussing sexuality in a family-type show setting and the absence of a laugh track to bolster emotional moments.

We see the older sister playing the role of protector and tough guy, the parents who can’t relate to their son and can’t seem to get their life together enough to have a viable relationship in the midst of the trial of their son’s diagnosis. The ethically gray therapist is seen as a bit bumbling and narcissistic. The co-worker is a sufficiently depraved character to allow the audience a good laugh when paired against Sam’s unwitting chastity.

All of which brings us back to the point of Sam himself. As Sam is exposed again and again to humiliating experiences, portrayed lightly enough to be laughable, it is clear that Sam is not really the object of sympathy. He is the punchline of the jokes. The audience should laugh at Sam wearing headphones on his first date to cancel coffee shop noise that makes it hard for him to focus. When he invites a cute redhead on a date to the parking lot, she laughs at how hilarious Sam is.

The audience can’t help but laugh when Sam throws said adorable redhead off the bed later. That scene ends with her screaming, “What is wrong with you? Is there something wrong with your brain?” The answer should be nothing.

As a viewer though, I was disappointed hearing the words spoken aloud. I was also unsure about the meaning. Obviously, she was mean and bad, but I also thought she was rather set up to fail that test. I went into problem-solving mode and reasoned, “shouldn’t his autism be a leading part of the conversation?” Then I pivoted, always an uncomfortable experience, I recentered my own awareness and corrected with the idea that, “why should someone who is non-neurotypical have to announce a disability to receive compassion?”

I think it’s a really important question to ask viewers, but without creating a concrete line as to who Sam is, the show fails to effectively navigate that conflict by creating solid guidance. Instead, it places responsibility for real understanding back into the lap of people already living with autism.

Finally, one of the biggest points of conflict with the first season of “Atypical” has been the complete lack of autistic representation among the cast and crew. It should be noted that the show has done much to change that initial failing in representation since the first season, and has been nominated for Satellite and Peabody awards since.

I am not sure whether watching further seasons will warrant my attention. I think I would probably skip the remainder of the first and skip to subsequent seasons if I did. But I think the most important take-away for me, is how important the recentering process is. To really think about the underlying messages and hold entertainment companies to account in providing authentic voices at every level of creation.

The opinions expressed above belong solely to the author and do not represent the views of the Boulder City Review. They have been edited solely for grammar, spelling and style, and have not been checked for accuracy of the viewpoints.

Alycia Calvert is a longtime Boulder City resident. She has lived here with her husband and children for the past 15 years. She will graduate with her Master of Fine Arts in May, and is excited to get more time for writing. She loves hiking, biking, kayaking, supporting Boulder City’s small business community and thinking weird wandering thoughts.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Vaccine much more than medical tool

By definition, a vaccine is “a preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Community residents must fight COVID with united front

This is the season of Thanksgiving and my hope is that everyone had a good day and a good meal. That has not always been easy during this year of the pandemic. Many of us have had losses or illness that made the year so difficult. We are indeed living in a time that has impacted all of us in ways large and small.

Give thanks for holidays

Happy Thanksgiving.

Fight to protect freedoms

I appreciated the recent commentary by Daniel Benyshek regarding vaccine and mask mandates. He points out the “dutiful responsibility” that freedom-loving Americans should embrace, and I agree wholeheartedly.

Annexation is not development

I wanted to take this opportunity to share more information with our Boulder City neighbors about the city of Henderson’s proposed annexation of portions of Eldorado Valley, located along the southeast boundary of Henderson and south of Railroad Pass.

Life is like box of chocolates

In the movie “Forrest Gump,” the titular character says, “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’”

We must balance freedom, civic responsibility

Despite the overwhelming consensus of the American professional medical community (including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institutes of Health) that advocate for COVID-19 vaccination and basic disease prevention behaviors such as mask wearing in public in order to lessen the savage toll of the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans remain skeptical of the necessity, safety and efficacy of these public health measures. Indeed, it is likely that no amount of expert medical advice or corroborative scientific data will convince these skeptics and conspiracy theorists otherwise.

Let’s get educated

Following events in Boulder City can sometimes feel like riding the wave machine at a water park. Lots of highs and lows. Some of us are just along for the ride. Some are determined to get to the front, pushing and shoving as we go. Then, some of us like standing on the edge and blowing a whistle.

It’s an honor to serve

Today is Veterans Day. It’s a day we set aside to recognize and thank those who served our country in any branch of the military.

Action needed to halt Henderson’s sprawl

Mayor (Kiernan) McManus’ Sept. 1 column touted his future plans to conserve wastewater. At the tail end, he offhandedly mentioned Henderson’s intent to annex county land below Railroad Pass to promote its own expansive growth plans. You and I might have missed those three sentences if we weren’t paying close attention. But somehow Henderson’s mayor, Debra March, was well aware.