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‘I Am Not Okay with This’ offers a promising first season

by Emily Worrell On October 24, 2017, Netflix released the first season of The End of the F***ing World, a series based off the graphic novel of the same title by Charles Forsman. The show followed troubled teens James and Alyssa as they ran away from their homes to look for satisfaction somewhere else, and it became an unexpected hit. Flash forward to November 4, 2019, and the highly anticipated second season of the show dropped to the delight of audiences and critics alike. About two weeks later, writer Charlie Cowell announced that the show would not be continuing on for a third season, to the disappointment of many fans. Where else would we get a show that put so much teen angst into such an upbeat and interesting package? Flash forward to February 3, 2020, and the first teaser trailer for a new Netflix show called I Am Not Okay with This drops. To fans of the show, the trailer no doubt felt familiar in tone, and for good reason: this new show would be based off of a graphic novel by Charles Forsman, the same man who wrote The End of the F***ing World. Meanwhile, the show was created by none other than Jonathan Entwistle, who directed and created the television series The End of the F***ing World. This left fans like myself both excited and apprehensive: would this new show be able to come close to what The End of the F***ing World had been for us, or would it just feel like a weak attempt to recreate what was over and done? I Am Not Okay with This follows high schooler Sydney Novak, who struggles with the adolescent issues of friendships, family, her sexuality, and managing her feelings, all while still grappling with the fact that her dad committed suicide last year. When strange things start happening all around Sydney, she realizes that there are forces inside of her that she does not know how to control.

Well-handled mature themes 

Image from IMDb
One of the most impressive things about this show is how well it is able to handle the mature subject matter and thematic material it contains. It is not easy to create a show that tastefully deals with all the issues of being a queer youth coming of age and discovering your sexuality, delves into the topics of suicide, grief, and mental illness, and on top of that, blends these serious themes seemlessly with the show’s surprisingly upbeat and irreverant tone (which is something Jonathan Entwistle is quickly becoming known for). All of these powerful themes are included and none of them feel overlooked, yet, at the same time, it doesn’t feel like the show is desperately trying to cram all of these different themes in and take on too much thematic weight. Rather, the themes weave in and out of the story just as they would in real life; some episodes focus more on Sydney discovering her sexuality, while others focus more on her uncovering her father’s past, and other episodes focus on her familial relationships with her mom and brother. Just as in life, our focus is constantly shifting, but the forces that make up our lives and who we are as present. This handling of thematic material grounds the show in a sense of realism and emotional honesty that allows the viewer to suspend their disbelief for other elements, like Sydney’s powers and how much chaos they create in the world.

Not a lot happens

Image from IMDb
However, for everything that this show does fantastically in the department of thematic material, it leaves something to be desired storywise. There is a particular climatic event that is foreshadowed in every single episode which does not take place until the last five minutes of the final episode. Speaking from purely a narrative setup and plot structure standpoint, this leaves literally less than four minutes for falling action and resolution, so naturally, the season ends on a cliffhanger, which would be okay, if it weren’t for the fact that so little actually happened up until that point in the show. There’s a lot of really powerful interactions between characters and a good amount of personal discovery, but as far as actual events that can be clearly defined, there are very few. It honestly feels like this season was written with the mindset that it would be a starting point for a longer-running show with multiple seasons. To be fair, Netflix does have a very high renewal rate for its original shows (far higher than most traditional television networks), but still, this isn’t a great thing to bank on for the first season of a show. It honestly just felt like the writers were holding back a little storywise, which was disappointing since everything else in the show was done so well.

Strong cast with palpable chemistry

Image from IMDb
I will concede that the story arc for this show honestly isn’t the most important thing, since it serves more as a character study of a woman coming of age than a superhero story. Where this show really needs to shine (and really does shine) is in its acting and its character relationships. Sophia Lillis (best known for her portrayal of Beverly in It) absolutely shines as Sydney Novak. Her performance feels very intimate and honest; she makes it easy to forget that you’re watching a show and not just watching someone go about their life because her performance is just that human and natural. Another standout is Wyatt Oleff as Sydney’s neighbor, Stanley Barber. His awkward charm totally wins the viewer over and is a very natural, humorous diffuser of tension even in the most serious moments. He brings a lot of heart to the show, and I couldn’t see anyone but Oleff in this role. Aside from all of that, what really makes this show stand out is the strength of the ensemble as a whole in their creation of believable relationships. It doesn’t matter how strong one or two actors are; if they have no one good to play off of, it’s impossible for the viewer to believe their story and get sucked into their world. In this show, every role, no matter how big or small, was perfectly filled, and every relationship felt real and fleshed out. In particular, Sydney’s relationships with her little brother Liam (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), her mother (Kathleen Rose Perkins), and her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) are extremely clear even in all their complexities and they make the show very compelling to watch.
Images: IMDb Featured Image: IMDb

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