Atypical is the warmest, weirdest sit-com we have

Its final season is larger, kookier, and more loveable than ever

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What makes a perfect sit-com? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot this week. Before we go down the rabbit hole, though, subscribe if you haven’t already:

Maybe it’s our investment in the characters? Maybe it’s the sheer quality of the jokes themselves? Maybe it’s just serendipity! Either way, it looks pretty close to Atypical — a series which shows us what a sit-com should be; whose characters, over the course of its run, have only gotten more and more diabolically zany while retaining the qualities which made us fall in love in the first place. Its final season feels like an apt send-off.

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Atypical S4

As a very young, very dashing Orlando Bloom says in Elizabethtown: “I have recently become a secret connoisseur of last looks.” He means the expressions people will flash him when they know it’s the last time they will ever see him — a receptionist sending him into a redundancy meeting, a soon-to-be-ex-lover. But when I think about this sentence, I like to think about the last glimpses we see of our favourite shows. I think about (spoilers) Hayden Panettiere jumping off the Ferris Wheel in Heroes. I think about (spoilers) Tom showing up at Josh’s door in Please Like Me. I think about (spoilers, spoilers, spoilers) Gus and Mickey eloping in Love.

I’m also going to think about — no more spoilers, I promise — Atypical’s fourth and final season for a long time: one that feels like the natural culmination of a show that has leapt, bound, and grown exponentially in its family sit-com parameters. (I famously have commitment issues so it’s truly a testament to Atypical that I’ve stuck around this long). Unlike Heroes, Please Like Me, or Love, though, Atypical doesn’t stage a dramatic farewell so much as it slips gracefully and sweetly into the night — less ‘exit, pursued by a bear’ and more ‘goodnight sweet prince’. 

It doesn’t need Ferris Wheels or elopements, after all: its characters do the talking (metaphorically and literally) for themselves, having expanded into larger, kookier versions over four seasons. Sam, who we meet in the first season as a penguin-loving autistic teen looking for romance in all the wrong places (read: his therapist), has come of age, now living out of home as a penguin-loving college student faced with a dilemma: does he stay in school or drop out and yard-sale all his possessions to self-fund a trip to Antarctica? Sidekick and co-worker Zahid (pictured above) is now — as Sam describes — his “loud, messy, completely irresponsible, and basically nocturnal” roommate, and still getting on the bong every afternoon, although this time it may or may not be making Sam’s pet turtle watery-eyed. Meanwhile, sister Casey is angst central, going on long, emo night-time runs to escape the world, by which I mean mostly her family — including Jennifer Jason Leigh in full soccer mum cosplay, organising and needling and incorrectly FaceTiming with reckless abandon. What I am saying is: everyone is doing the absolute most!

And Atypical’s commitment to the bit has always been its strongest suit: this unashamed embrace of ~ big feelings ~, hyperbolic characters who spar with each other like two bouncing balls colliding at maximum velocity, wild swings into ridiculous, raucous plotlines (a plush penguin beheading comes to mind). Of course, much has been said about its representation of autism — and its groundbreaking use of autistic actors playing autistic roles — but Atypical is unique because it doesn’t treat its autistic characters like sacred cows, perfect and unchanging. Sam is not a bastion of morality or inspiration: he’s sometimes annoying, often illogical, and extremely prone to slapstick errors, like any other good sit-com character.

This final season is where Atypical leans hardest into its tropes, embodying the best of the best in its warm-hearted sit-com genre. Like its family-oriented predecessors — I’m thinking everything from Fresh Prince to Modern Family — it toes the paper-thin line between cutting-onions earnestness and all-out farce. Its tonal shifts are quicker than ever before, whiplashing from someone literally breaking down a locked door with an axe to an intimately staged coming-out scene within the space of three seconds. Somehow, it all works. Put it down to Atypical’s boundless charm, so enthralling that we have no choice but to invest in its characters, who, after four years, are basically our own family by now. Or just call it the magic of penguins. 

Atypical’s last season streams tonight.

Watch these too:

  • Never Have I Ever, Mindy Kaling’s perfect family show that shares Atypical’s spirit of the modern sit-com — earnest, witty, and culturally aware. Chances are you’ve already watched this, but if not, you have exactly one week to catch up before its second season premieres!

  • Coming-of-age comedy On My Block, a series about four teens growing up in a quote-unquote rough LA neighbourhood. Resisting classed stereotypes around crime and violence, it instead grows into a sweetly chaotic tale of found family.

  • New Girl, another excellent example of something the best sit-coms do: heighten its characters to almost-satirical levels without losing its core heart. Like Atypical, New Girl’s fantastic foursome of roommates only become weirder — but more tight-knit — as the show goes on, as if they were finally revealing their truest selves to us.

I can’t stop thinking about:

  • This playlist called ‘songs for when im eating gemstones in the museum gift shop’, which I will put on next time I eat gemstones in the museum gift shop while ensuring that my gemstones remain uncut

  • The Teletubbies getting vaccinated...we get it….Tinky Winky is a public health icon……..

  • This Vulture profile of Jennifer Coolidge, who is FINALLY getting her dues after years of playing cinema’s most scene-stealing gags (Stifler’s mum, a pan-European wisecracker, a Nip/Tuck appearance for the ages). The Jenaissance is upon us! A choice quote about Coolidge’s long-time treatment in the industry, from close friend and collaborator Mike White: ““Jennifer makes the comedy about herself. The joke is always on her...It’s a disarming way of going through life — a way to put people at ease and try to defuse anything. You make yourself the joke, but what happens is that sometimes people then confuse her with being a joke.”

  • Legally Blonde, which turns 20 in four days and remains the perm representation we need!!!

And apropos of nothing, a Letterboxd meme:

Nothing has ever summed up so accurately the experience of making my housemate watch movies with me every night in lockdown.

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Michael Sun is the Netflix Culture Editor at Junkee.
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