Have you ever imagined what would happen if you wrote a crossover fanfiction that somehow meshed Stranger Things, Carrie, The Breakfast Club and even a little bit of Raising Dion?
Well, wonder no more, because the new Netflix Original I Am Not Okay With This has answered the question for you.
Adapted from Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, the show’s protagonist, Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis of It franchise fame), is having a rough time of it. She’s recently moved to a small, podunk town; her father has committed suicide, she has one friend and, oh yeah, she’s developing powers. Throughout the series, those powers become synonymous with the issues that teens face all over the world; mental illness, sexual exploration, repression, etc.
It’s a premise that we’ve seen for years, and I found myself, for much of my viewing experience, more focused on the similarities to its counterparts than the show’s unique attributes. Much of the series shows Sydney unhappy and confused, pushing away the people in her life who reach out to her because she, like a lot of people (not just teens), doesn’t quite know how to process everything that’s happening to her healthily. This is, again, nothing we haven’t already seen from a show about a teen who suddenly develops superpowers.
The show opens with an “I bet you’re wondering how I got here,” moment, Sydney running down an empty street covered in blood and then spins us back to the beginning of our tale, to a young, angry redhead receiving a notebook from her guidance counsellor, so that she can healthily express her feelings. That notebook becomes our narrator.
In a world full of people who want to be her friend, Sydney has crafted a barrier around herself three miles deep, everyone who wants to help her somehow becomes her enemy, from her mother Maggie (Kathleen Rose Perkins, Fresh Off the Boat), to her neighbour Stanley (Wyatt Oleff, also from It) and her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant, The Good Wife). Perhaps the only person she does open up with is her little brother, Liam (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), and their relationship is one of the bright spots of this show for me.
The freshman effort for the series features seven short episodes (between 20-30 minutes in length), so there’s not a lot of time for the usual teen drama. That’s not to say it doesn’t exist, simply that one problem quickly morphs into the next in much the same way teen drama does in real life, but there’s still a common root: Sydney doesn’t know who she is and figuring that out unearths a world of drama.
Attracted to her best friend Dina, Sydney feels the sting of betrayal when Dina finds herself a boyfriend in popular jock Brad (Richard Ellis). The two begin to drift, and that’s when she and Stan (local weed dealer and eccentric) begin to connect, and that’s where the story really begins.
I will applaud I Am Not Okay With This for their excellent efforts at character building, but because they spend so much time carefully crafting those details, once the plot starts to build into the narrative, it all feels like it’s coming out of left field. Suddenly, there’s someone following Sydney. Suddenly, questions about her father begin to pop up and demand answers. It feels almost as if Forsman and producer/director Jonathan Entwistle (both of whom previously collaborated on Stan Twitter favourite The End Of The F***ing World) didn’t believe a show that simply gave us a teenager dealing with typical teenage things while at the same time developing superpowers could be compelling enough without the addition of plot points that seem ripped straight from Stranger Things and Raising Dion.
Also, I have to wonder what about or within this show is supposed to interest people of colour. I have to wonder why we’re always relegated to the “best friend” category and why, even then, we are never allowed to be darker than paper bags (the sole darker-skinned character happens to be an asshole). It’s past time that the media we consume started focusing these stories on people who actually resemble the world we live in.
Following Dina, a Black girl in an almost all-white town, as she gained powers and learned to manage them in this same world would have been an altogether more enjoyable and gripping experience, even if only for the fact that redheads who develop telekinesis are a story we’ve been fed for decades now.
If we’re in a world where a girl can develop telekinesis overnight, anything else should be possible too, right?