The main job of a sophomore season of any television show is to expand the world, either emotionally or literally, and give us a deeper understanding of characters we met in Season 1. Atypical delivers on both of those fronts with its funny and extremely endearing second season as the Gardeners try to reassemble their lives after Elsa's (Jennifer Jason Leigh) affair became open knowledge in the Season 1 finale.
Everyone in the family is pushed to grow under trying circumstances as Doug (Michael Rapaport) temporarily moves out of their house after the revelation. Eventually, Doug moves back in but his return forces Elsa to the outskirts of the household. After spending Season 1 disengaged from Sam's (Keir Gilchrist) struggles, Doug becomes the new head of house and is the main push behind Sam's decision to join an autism support group and apply to college. Meanwhile, Elsa, whose affair as part of a midlife crisis-driven need to forge an identity outside of being a mother and a wife, spends Season 2 begging to get back in the family's good graces and reclaim her former place in the household.
Sam also finds himself in an adverse journey to the quest he began to find love in Season 1. The family drama, the loss of Julia's (Amy Okuda) therapy services, and his sister Casey's (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) transfer to a new school forces him to establish some independence. The newness of his situation not only pushes him to grow, but allows him to be better at asking for help and appreciating the people around him who offer it. Sam's quest to set out on his own ironically makes him more open to the world around him. Casey, who Atypical smartly realized needed more screen time this time around, is in a similar boat. She was desperate to escape her house and her high school in the first season, but has to struggle with fish-out-of-water syndrome as she learns that private school life doesn't come easy — even for a track star.
Despite being the center conflict, the parents remained the show's only weak point in Season 2. While the Gardner family's anger at Elsa is understandable, their disdain and ambivalence toward her in Season 1 became contagious for viewers too. That carries over into Season 2, where it becomes difficult to care about Elsa making it back into the house where it seems no one wants to be her anyways. Additionally, Doug's constant dismissal of Elsa's ideas and points, even when they are completely valid, erodes a bit of his easy-going charm.
Despite the marriage battle being tedious, especially in the middle of the season, their storyline ends up in a surprising place without a clear resolution, which highlights Atypical's greatest strength: subverting cliched family sitcom tropes. The show is a family comedy first and foremost, but its serial format allows the writers to play a long game with their characters rather than always try to wrap things up neatly. This is most evident with Casey's journey in Season 2. The writing is on the wall that Casey's new private school world and extra social pressures will pull her away from her boyfriend Evan (Graham Rogers), and the show presents a handsome new alternative (played by Graham Phillips). Evan even calls out the predictability of Casey falling for a guy at her new school, but her story takes an unexpected turn — that we won't spoil here — to a route that feels braver, more honest and still true to her character. It takes the new world-old world love triangle to a new and more intriguing level that has us already anxious for a Season 3 renewal.
The majority of the chatter around Atypical's first season was based on whether the depiction of Sam's autism was accurate. The team behind Atypical was always clear that Sam's autism was never intended to represent autism as a whole, and Season 2 helps further break the preconceived mold that this is "The Autism Family Show." While Sam's disorder provides a unique perspective to the world of Atypical, the show is about so much more than that. Season 2 pushes this even further, as it was supposed to do, and finds new ways to enlighten, inspire and surprise by endearing us deeper to its characters. Plus, even the penguins get cuter in Season 2.
Atypical Season 2 drops Friday, Sept. 7 on Netflix.