Autistic characters are nothing new on TV. There was young Max Braverman on NBC's Parenthood, who once asked his parents with genuine curiosity, "Why do all the other kids hate me? Is it because I'm weird?" Or homicide detective Sonya Cross of FX's The Bridge, who apologized when her questioning brought a murder victim's wife to tears: "Am I not showing empathy?"
But Atypical is the first time in which autism and its effects have been at a show's center instead of its periphery. Keir Gilchrist (so good as the emotionally whipsawed gay son on United States of Tara, and even better here) as the autistic Sam, trying to negotiate the emotional shoals of adolescence without a chart or even a clue. Television critic Glenn Garvin takes a closer look.