Autistics on TV

I heard about Netflix doing a show starring an autistic teen and I was both worried and intrigued.

I always wanna see more autistic representation but it’s um,complicated when it’s done by neurotypicals cause it can be so goddamned cliched. see the big bang theory for example.

we all want representation. beyond the savant trope,beyond the kid with meltdowns.

there’s a lot of autistic people living every day lives who don’t get to see themselves on tv.

so there’s no choice but to claim characters with similar traits. headcanon them.

one of the first characters I remember feeling that it was like me, weird and awkward and confused about the world was mr darcy in pride & prejudice. it’s actually one of the reasons I enjoyed the novel so much.

not because I wanted a mr darcy but because I saw myself in him and it was wonderful to think I might one day get an elizabeth of my own.

then I read perks of being a wallflower and I saw a lot of myself in charlie too.  that was in 2005.

I learned boys got to be weird. not so much girls.

it wasn’t till 2009 when by chance I saw an ep of leverage that I finally got to see a girl.

Parker became the first woman I saw on tv that was allowed to be weird af.

the creators didn’t want to label her as autistic cause they feared unfortunate implications, they didn’t want to make it seem like parker’s unconventional childhood had made her the way she was. but us fans knew better and we could claim her as one of us.

then there’s been a few more.

Broen became popular,enough to get two remakes, a british/french one and a mexican/us one.

I saw the FOX one, with diane kruger and I liked her character so fucking much I hunted down the original and the british one.

the british one is my fave. it’s a detective show led by a queer neurodivergent woman, what’s not to like?

There’s more characters to be headcanoned like gail peck on rookie blue (who’s undoubtedly,unsurprisingly,my fave) and rey in star wars.

and characters who are part of an ensemble or have an arc on a show. like fiona on elementary who was sadly underused.

and now two tv shows are coming with autistic leads:

Atypical on Netflix, about a teen starting to navigate the dating world, which I’ve already seen

and the good doctor on ABC about an stereotypical awkward genius working around ‘normal’ people with a tagline going ‘can a person who can’t relate to people save their lives?’ which is so many kinds of problematic, I don’t know where to start.  I’ll still watch at least an ep or two to check it out. but I’m concerned.

they’re both staring cis white neurotypical men, that’s already an issue.

Atypical,as I’ve said, it’s about a kid, a senior in highschool, Sam, who could be called ‘high functioning’ thought that’s outdated and kinda ableist language, who decides it’s time for him to start dating.

Is Atypical a perfect show? definitely not. it was never going to be, as a show written by neurotypicals. and it seems far too influenced by sheldon cooper at least in aesthetics. sam might as well be a teen sheldon, in looks at least.

Sam’s family consist of his overbearing mom, the typical autism mom, his sister who’s a school athlete and actually a pretty nice character in general, supportive and helpful, and his dad who’s kinda absent and disconnected, to the point he hasn’t told his coworker/best friend his son is autistic.

plus his best friend and coworker zahid, (sam works in a computer store) and his therapist Julia.

A lot of the show is Sam explaining his behaviour, in voice over or with his therapist.

What is interesting is that it is not just sam’s story, but how his journey into dating leads into independence and this has ramifications  for his whole family.

his sister gets an opportunity to go to a new school and wonders if its the right thing to do, if she’d be abandoning sam and all that.

his mum gets a chance of exploring life beyond being a mom, and make some new friends and new mistakes

his dad realises how disconnected he’s being and tries harder.

sam himself starts exploring life, dating, fucks up a lot, manages to get a girlfriend (for a while) and seriously impact his therapist’s life.

the good thing is that sam goes and does things and meets with new people and learns to connect with them and his family.

the bad part is that it is in many ways an stereotypical portrayal of an autistic boy.  which is something we’ve seen before even if it is under ‘awkward boy attempts to date’

I think of the show, sam himself isn’t the most interesting character.

he doesn’t feel fully realised as a character. we know he wants to date, that he likes penguins and antartica, and he’s good with computers. we know more of his diagnosis, of his issues, that of him as a person.

the show let us in on sam’s family life, and we learn about his mom, elsa,a life and issues, of his sister casey, his dad, and his therapist julia.

we get a far more complete picture of the different characters in sam’s life than we learn about sam. this is not the actor’s fault, keir gilchrist does a pretty good job with what he is given

the best relationship we see is sam and casey. unlike with his mum who treats him with too much care or his dad who doesn’t know what to do, or his friend who’s funny but shallow, there’s a loving relationship with his sister. they’re equal and she doesn’t resent their parents paying him so much attention and so little to her, she might resent their parents but not him and theirs is a pretty decent sibling relationship

All in all, atypical is a fairly entertaining show, but as autistic representation, it is lacking.

What I find somewhat strange is that Sam’s mom has a support group for fathers of kids with autism (they use person-first language) but sam himself doesn’t seem to have any kind of support, any autistic friends, either irl or online.

his mom’s friends have autistic kids but he doesn’t seem to like any of them.

these are all issues that can easily be resolved in s2 or beyond.

the series so far feel very much aimed at neurotypical people trying to generate some kind of empathy for autistic people.







The ‘Best TV ever list’ … so far

  1. Battlestar Galactica
  2. Stargate SG-1 & Atlantis
  3. Doctor Who
  4. The X Files
  5. Being Human
  6. The 4400
  7. The Middleman
  8. Everwood
  9. Leverage
  10. Warehouse 13
  11. Pushing Daisies
  12. The West Wing
  13. The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  14. Veronica Mars
  15. Gilmore Girls
  16. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
  17. Arrow
  18. Star Trek (TOS)
  19. Merlin
  20. Fringe

Bonus: Community,which as a half-hour sitcom didnt fit the requisites I set when I wrote the list.

*Since Atlantis is a SG-1 spin-off, they count as one

*I wanted to add Dollhouse & Firefly decided on only one by creator.

*Also The Hour but as a cancelled tv show that never did reach its true potential it didnt feel fair to compare it to much longer ones.