By Anoushka Dalmia
BU News Service
It’s been a year since Sydney Novak’s father killed himself in the basement of their home.
“I Am Not Okay With This” is a show about a 15-year-old’s grief, her strained relationship with her working class mother and her newly discovered superpowers. But for the most part, it’s about her navigating life as a high schooler. She is in love with her best friend Dina and nothing feels quite as earth-shattering as unreciprocated love in your teens. Although this kid just might literally shatter the earth.
A decade ago, shows like “90210,” “Gossip Girl” and “Pretty Little Liars” occupied this space – this shift is symptomatic of a demand for authenticity in the stories we are now telling. Even though she may be developing telekinetic abilities she has no control over, Sydney is worried about the zits on her thighs.
Shows that strive to paint an accurate picture of adolescence have been performing well in recent years. Within the first minute of the show, one is reminded of “The End Of The F***ing World,” also created by Jonathan Entwistle. Both shows are based on comics written by Charles Forsman and fans of TEOTFW supposedly have Easter eggs to look for in the seven-episode series. “TEOTFW,” along with “Sex Education” and “Stranger Things” use a similar dull, small-town setting as a contrast for the turmoil of puberty and first love.
But “I Am Not Okay With This” has nothing new to say. It uses the same storytelling approach and production design as TEOTFW, but it doesn’t contain the same charm in its whimsy nor the same poignancy in its grief.
The lead Sophia Lillis, of “It: Chapter One” and “Sharp Objects” fame, does the most with what she’s been given but ultimately, there is nothing remarkable about the plot or script. Wyatt Oleff, as her neighbor and friend Stanley Barber, is a delight to watch, but his character isn’t allowed layers beyond his relationship with the protagonist.
Similar to the technique used in “TEOTFW,” the adults of this story are caricatures for the most part – perhaps because that’s how they often seem to teenagers. This works well for “TEOTFW” because the caricatures come to life halfway through the story. Efforts to replicate this fall short. Sydney’s confrontation with her mother feels hollow, and Stanley’s abusive father is a truncated attempt to add complexity to his character.
“I Am Not Okay With This” relies on an age-old trope: it takes Dina’s jock boyfriend cheating on her for her to realize that her shy best friend had been “The One” all along. A climactic scene in the final episode would’ve been the shocking moment they desperately needed, but it’s foreshadowed too many times using flash-forwards, making it unbearably obvious.
The first season is meant to serve as an origin story for Sydney, say showrunners. Considering they haven’t been promised a second season, it’s a bit of a gamble. Having the producers of “Stranger Things” on board must tip the odds in their favor, but ultimately, it may not make up for an unremarkable narrative and predictable ending.
“I Am Not Okay With This” is now streaming on Netflix.