The second season of “Atypical,” which bows Sept. 7 on Netflix, features a number of actors on the autism spectrum in prominent recurring roles.
“We spent every day during post [production] on set asking what we can do better in season 2 to bring more voices from the autism community,” executive producer Mary Rohlich said at the Paley Fall Preview event in Los Angeles, Calif. Thursday.
The series, which was created by Robia Rashid and revolves around Sam Gardner (Keir Gilchrist), an 18 year-old with autism spectrum disorder, has been critically touted for its realistic and unflinching portrayal of not only what it’s like to be a high functioning autistic high schooler, but how that experience affects the daily lives of family members and loved ones. According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, about one out of every 68 children is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and, as a result, autism has become an increasingly hot-button topic of discussion in the media. That “Atypical” highlights the disorder in a way that’s tender, accurate and, best of all, funny, has not gone unnoticed by those in the autism community.
But if “Atypical” faced any criticism, it was of the lack of actors on the spectrum featured on the series in the first season, so in the second season, some of these actors will play autistic characters as members of Sam’s peer group, while others were cast as neurotypical teenagers.
“Before season two, Robia and I sat down and we talked about what we were going to do, and she brought it up that there was the potential of this peer group and that they were going to hire all actors that were on the spectrum. And it was like, well, I thought I was going to coast a little bit this season and now that’s a whole new challenge,” Gilchrist admitted. “Some part of me felt like I’m playing them, not that they’re all the same, but it was a huge added pressure. I was so nervous, you can’t put into words how nervous I was, but it turned out to be so much fun.”
And producers didn’t want to just be more inclusive on-screen.
“[We’re] bringing in more female directors and female diversity and it was really important to keep doing that,” said Rohlich.
That so many people in the autism community were anticipating “Atypical’s” return provided an extra layer of enthusiasm in shooting season 2, said Brigette Lundy-Paine, who plays Sam’s younger sister, Casey.
“People really relate to Casey because she can be so free, so I was excited to come back and continue her journey of this high school kid who was breaking all these rules,” she said. “Casey breaks rules before even I can decide to break rules. Also just the fact that we knew what our show meant and that we had spoken to so many people who had been affected by [autism] and wanted something more — we were coming back with a real purpose.”
While the show has not yet been picked up for a third season, Rashid hinted that, if it were to come back, there’d be new adventures in store for both Sam and his family members.
“Every year so far we’ve had a goal for [Sam] –love, independence — so it will be something different next year,” she said. “He will probably not be in high school. But also, I love telling high school stories and, luckily, we will have Casey there for a couple more years so we will be able to play with that. One thing that is just a gift to this show is that the characters are pretty rich and it feels like the stories we can tell with them never end.”