Whether it’s the trailer or the very first scene, the new series from Netflix I’m not okay with this doesn’t try to hide what it is. “Dear Diary,” says our high school “hero” Sydney, narrating from her diary as she walks down an empty street covered in a bloodstained prom dress. “Go fuck yourself… I’m a boring 17-year-old white girl. What I mean is, I’m not special.”
That is of course not quite true, as this seven-episode first season gradually makes clear. Not as dark as career (blood aside), not as lighthearted as Weird stuff (a comparison that is quickly correct), I’m not okay with this sits squarely somewhere in the middle of the teenage ekinesis spectrum. And whether this particular incarnation works for you may largely depend on your appetite for these types of stories in general.
in the West
Sydney (Sophia Lillis) and her family are relatively new to this Pennsylvania suburb, but getting used to a new school and community is hardly on her list of problems to solve. First, there’s the usual (albeit difficult) teenage stuff – she’s still figuring out her sexual identity, still figuring out how to fit into the strict social constructs of a stereotypical high school, still figuring out how to can communicate honestly with her best friends (Dina, another new girl who has caught the quarterback’s attention, and Stan, her neighbor who drives an old Landshark car and listens to vinyl. But Syd’s whole family is also having a hard time with Syd’s father’s suicide. Mother is forced to work overtime at the local restaurant and not bring in a ton, leaving Syd and younger brother Liam behind aspects of poverty and the general responsibility of the family, which, of course, pale in comparison to the emotional impact, and the relatives have not really dealt with their grief either.
All of this essentially kickstarts this serialized version of author Charles Forsman’s comic strip: Syd continues to behave in school, prompting the guidance counselor to encourage her to start a journal as a means of expressing her feelings and frustrations explicitly. . But as Syd begins to feel more comfortable controlling her thoughts (or at least recording them honestly), the life around her makes it harder and harder to do the same with her raw emotions. And when Syd’s anger starts to bubble, well… you saw the very first image in the trailer, right? It gets messy and it’s Surely not something she fully understands or can control.
If you like the broad category of ‘teen-fright fiction’, check it out I’m not okay with this will be like sliding into a warm bath. This performance outlines a genre collage filled with familiar aspects of its predecessors. It makes for a viewing experience that is both lighthearted and effortless, and at the same time and inevitably reminiscent of comparisons to other media. It might be impossible to watch this show without immediately referring to something else internally and wondering if the performance here is better or worse, or if this show will chart a similar course forward.
For an exhaustive but incomplete overview, the series relies heavily on Syd’s diary entries (read: narration) for both insight, plot, and some laughter à la To all the boys I’ve loved or Ferris Bueller’s day off. It plays to adult crowds with honest (or at least not overly censored) depictions of sex, fear, drugs, and intoxicating concepts such as insecurity about one’s own identity or the difficulty of coming to terms with someone else’s suicide, as in The benefits of a wallflower are† It contains supernatural and surreal elements to hone those subjects, like Forsman’s other comic series The end of the damn world† The show even presents that cinematic, idealized version of teenage outsider dom, complete with Wes Anderson-y individual frame compositions and prop design (top views from a mer-cat journal? Yes, please!) plus needle drops you race to Shazam numbers.
Most crucial for viewers, I’m not okay with this does all that while bouncing fairly dexterously between different notes. One minute, Syd and Stan may be wrestling with inexplicable supernatural powers by flipping through a stack of comics; the next conversation, Syd has an honest conversation with her mom about why they never talked about what happened to dad. Experiencing this as part of a cohesive whole — and not as a discordant attempt to marry a boatload of teen drama influences and predecessors — can be crucial to your mileage with I’m not okay with this†
But even if you find the series too paint-by-numbers, I’m not okay with this is undeniably bingeable – a arguably perfect Netflix show for 2020. It connects several popular Netflix-focused niches (light sci-fi, high school dramas, pop-heavy period pieces) in hyper-digestible ~20-minute episodes. It has memorable moments, images and sound signals that will be posted urgently in some corners of the Twitter sphere. (Seriously, someone delivers a good profile of veteran music supervisor Nora Felder.) And the show moves fast, to the point where I initially got away from S1 in general, feeling like we only got Syd’s origin story. I’m not okay with this represents the rare occasion where saying “you have to watch two or three eps to get the good stuff” honestly isn’t a huge barrier to getting in, and even that little preview will really give viewers everything they need to know about whether or not not continue.
For the record, mid-season (episodes 3-5) ended up being my favorite. By then you’ve already met the players, you’ve got the general layout of the country, and you can just enjoy this show’s version of the big high school party (RIP, Barb from Weird stuff), the “team investigation hoping to understand the unusual” (Will Byers’ DnD troop deciphering a demogorgon), and a solid heist (Scoop Troop v. Soviets). The season finale (which takes place around prom, of course, with some sort of Dustin-y suit thrown in) notably delivers a great unexpected but natural moment, while leaving plenty on the table for S2. (For those familiar with Forsman’s original source material, though, you should know that this will only add to the frustration that the TV series decides to leave a pretty crucial and complexity-adding detail from the comic for a future installment.)
in the end, I’m not okay with this combines familiar elements in a way that kept me enthralled the whole time, even if I was a little annoyed with things ending where they ended. Fortunately, all I have to do is navigate my frustrations and feelings to back up this review. Syd’s feelings and frustrations, on the other hand, will have to wait for S2.
All seven episodes of I’m not okay with this season one are available on Netflix.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 in the US or the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 in the UK.
List image by Netflix