By Phoebe Bowers
If you’re seeking yet another coming-of-age Netflix series that’s an easy watch which provides familiar character archetypes and ‘throwback’ aesthetics, then I Am Not Okay With This is probably the show for you. However, if you’re tired of Netflix series merging some vague faux 80’s and 90’s aestheticism to the soundtrack of The Talking Heads and The Psychedelic Furs in an attempt to present an ‘unconventional’ or ‘quirky’ teen narrative, then I Am Not Okay With This will not be a refreshing watch.
Adapted from Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, the show follows teen Syd (Sophia Lillis) whilst she’s dealing with the bereavement of her late father who committed suicide. Amidst all of this, she is trying to deal with the whole process of growing up, grappling with her sexuality, and high-school. Syd, in moments of uncontrollable emotional rage or turmoil, discovers she has telekinetic powers. Lillis’s co-stars include Sofia Bryant who plays Syd’s best friend Dina, and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley Barber who Lillis has worked with before in It (2017) and It Chapter Two (2019). From casting alone, we can already see how this series is profiting off the box office success of It.
It even faced scrutiny as the famously 1950’s based novel was changed to be set in the 1980’s for the 2017 film adaptation in clear attempts to profit off of the success of Stranger Things – Finn Wolfhard even being cast as a primary character. This series is simply additive to the ongoing tapestry of film and television series ripping each other off.
In tonality, the series is very similar to the likes of The End of the F****ing World, which can be forgiven considering the source material is by the same author and co-created by the same director and producer, Jonathan Enstwistle. The same dark humour and cynicism in The End of the F****ing World is present in this project and it does not miss the mark. There are moments which are genuinely funny and shocking. The ending in particular, without giving too much away, I was personally shocked by. The performances are not bad either, and are quite believable given the caliber of the Netflix Original. Specifically the character of Stanley Barber, who is quite endearing and provides some comic relief amongst some of the show’s dark themes. Where the show’s true failings lie is that it does not seem to be particularly productive in what it has to say about trauma and grief, and there does not seem to be a sense of sustainability either with this show.
This is of course subjective, but a narrative about the process of grief (especially as an adolescent) and the adjustments one has to make would have probably made for a more productive and memorable series. I was personally prepared for a Shutter Island like twist where Syd’s powers turn out to be fictitious manifestations of her grief. This may have been predictable but at least something more layered or cerebral would have been occurring in regards to the traumatic experience of losing a loved one. There would have been a more interesting message about how those in mourning experience a form of survivors guilt, and shift blame onto themselves when things go wrong. I thought the destruction caused by Syd’s powers were going to be projections of her guilty conscience; this narrative I would have willingly embraced because it is accurate. Instead, inferring from the show’s ending, a more supernatural causation is the explanation of these ongoings and this is the route the story has openly ended upon. For this very reason, the show’s sustainability is at risk because we currently have so many shows engaging with this narrative, aforementioned Stranger Things in particular.
It is a shame because I Am Not Okay With This had definite potential – all criticism aside, it was enjoyable. But, a few years down the line are we going to remember this show in the same way we remember Stranger Things (love it or hate it, it is somewhat a bit of a cultural phenomenon)? Probably not.