We go back to Netflix for another coming-of-age series that gets experimental with how it depicts the struggles of growing up in today’s society from the perspective of developing teenagers… oh, and this one has superpowers.
I Am Not Okay with This follows the life of Sydney (Sophia Lillis), a teenager going through the trials and tribulations of high school while also having to deal with her own family-related struggles, sexuality-related struggles and the fact that she’s beginning to uncover that she has mysterious superpowers. It’s safe to say there’s a lot going on in Sydney’s life and it’s all very entertaining to follow. At its core, there’s not a whole lot that is particularly fresh or new about this series. A number of the character dynamics and beats that are hit have been explored by other shows, but what makes this series thoroughly enjoyable and sets it apart from other coming-of-age stories is the superpower dynamic.
This superpower element is not even actually representative of superpowers in the traditional sense. The powers aren’t necessarily there to build a fantasy world where there’s mystical forces of good and evil. Instead, they play a very subtle role in the story and more-so represent or visualise the emotional struggle of growing up as a teenager and how certain events or developments can greatly impact your life at that time. This is the core element of the series as it’s what brings characters together, tears characters apart and is the driving force of all of the heart, love, conflict and fear that makes up this charming and emotional story.
What also really works in this series is the length. With only seven episodes that sit around 20 minutes each, it’s very easy to digest and the rapid pace of the story means you can effortlessly go through the entire season in one sitting. The story, very cleverly, flows from one episode to the next and that helps to keep things moving. There’s not a single episode where the main arc isn’t advanced or there’s no character development at all, resulting in there being something to latch onto in every episode that brings you closer to the characters. If I was to criticise the story I would say it’s pretty safe in some of the directions it takes. The superpower dynamic may be new in this context, but the directions the story takes are mostly fairly straightforward. If this series does receive a second season, I’d like to see it take more risks.
The lead cast are the reason I, for one, began watching the show and they’re the reason the story and emotional impact is as strong as it is. Sophia Lillis plays this very reserved and awkward teen really well to the point where you start to think whether she’s actually awkward in real life. She pulls it off spectacularly across every scene and really gets you on the side of her character. She’s loveable and entertaining to watch, and makes her emotional journey through the season the most engaging one. Then you have Wyatt Oleff who plays Stanley, this eccentric stoner character, and surprisingly pulls it off really convincingly. He’s a bit goofy and does come across as a 16 year-old playing a stoner character, but it really works for this series.
The chemistry between the two of them is where the majority of the heart, emotion and humour is captured. Having already starred alongside each-other in 2017’s IT, it’s clear they both came into this project with a bond that extends beyond the screen. Every scene with the two of them is captivating and just seeing how their relationship develops over the course of the season is entertaining on its own. They’re the two strongest performers in the series and are the ones who carry the majority of the story on their backs.
When it comes to the humour, it straddles the line between smart, light-hearted humour and some slightly dark and cynical humour. This balance may not be for everyone, but I thought it was great and really fit with the whole superpower dynamic that is at play. The comedic timing is pretty spot on across the board, with comedic beats that are very witty and smart. It’s mostly delivered through cleverly integrated lines of dialogue that garner some pretty heavy laughs if you catch them, and if not, they just go by as another line of dialogue.
In the end, I Am Not Okay with This is a solid coming-of-age series that boasts a short runtime, rapid pace, top-notch performances and a story that is fun and enjoyable. There was definitely room for it to be a little more inventive in how the story develops but it played it safe and didn’t step a single foot wrong, so I can’t really complain. For fans of the genre, it’s a very easy watch that is thoroughly enjoyable and can be finished in a single night. I hope it gets another season in the near future, but we’ll just have to wait and see.