- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
To read the logline of Freeridge, you might assume it’d fit neatly into Netflix’s extensive catalog of supernatural teen shows, alongside Wednesday or Stranger Things. Its central premise involves a curse, one that our 15ish-year-old heroes fear has befallen them thanks to a mysterious old box and their increasingly desperate efforts to undo its effects.
But the “ooky-spooky” stuff turns out to be less the main event than the clothesline on which the On My Block spinoff hangs its real, relatable concerns: the uncertainty of the future, the confusion of young love, the comfort and the burden of family. And while Freeridge emerges as a lighter show than its predecessor, it shares the same empathetic heart, playful sense of humor and, above all, deeply endearing affection for its young leads.
Cast: Keyla Monterroso Mejia, Bryana Salaz, Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Ciara Riley Wilson, Peggy Blow, Michael Solomon, Zaire Adams, J.R. Villarreal, Jean Paul San Pedro
Creators: Lauren Iungerich, Jamie Uyeshiro, Eddie Gonzalez, Jeremy Haft, Jamie Dooner
The unofficial leader of Freeridge‘s central quartet is Gloria (Keyla Monterroso Mejia), the type of problem-solving go-getter who’ll sing the praises of her BuJo (bullet journal) to anyone who’ll listen. The first time we meet her in the premiere, though, she’s not exactly holding it together: She’s in the middle of a no-holds-barred schoolyard fistfight with Ines (Bryana Salaz), her smart but self-absorbed younger sister.
What specifically they’re fighting over hardly matters — as quickly becomes apparent, violent clashes are such a regular occurrence between the siblings that they’ve worked out a system to ensure the principal’s calls to their stern but loving father, Javier (Jean Paul San Pedro), are intercepted by their more laid-back uncle, Tonio (J.R. Villarreal). And as also becomes clear, the rivalry between them is outweighed only by their enduring love for one another. Gloria may be furious enough to pummel Ines, but she’s still going to stop by the grocery store afterward to pick up her sister’s favorite green enchilada sauce for dinner.
It will surprise no one who’s caught Mejia’s scene-stealing turns on Abbott Elementary and Curb Your Enthusiasm that she’s a gifted physical comedian who can elicit hearty laughs with an exaggerated facial expression or a goofy dance move. Freeridge affords her the opportunity to show off her dramatic range as well, channeling her irrepressible energy into rage or sadness. Gloria’s Leslie Knope-esque cheeriness is genuine, but it’s also often a cover for an emotional exhaustion that only deepens once the sisters, who lost their mother to cancer a decade earlier, discover that their father’s been diagnosed with cancer as well.
Trying, in their own imperfect ways, to help the girls through these times are their close-knit circle of friends. Tenzing Norgay Trainor brings a touchingly understated sense of longing to Cam, who spends much of the season’s eight half-hour episodes in a love triangle with Demi (Ciara Riley Wilson), his high-strung bestie, and Andre (Zaire Adams), his confident but clingy boyfriend. In lighter roles, Villarreal earns some of Freeridge‘s biggest laughs as Tonio, who’s hired an assistant (Michael Solomon’s Rusty) to help out with ill-advised schemes like selling knockoff booze (labeled “Off White Claw”) at local parties. And Peggy Blow seems to be having a blast playing a mysterious eccentric who’s worlds away from Marisol, the pot-smoking abuelita she played on On My Block.
Blow’s storyline turns out to be Freeridge‘s strongest narrative link to On My Block, with which it shares creators Lauren Iungerich, Eddie Gonzalez and Jeremy Haft, plus producers Jamie Uyeshiro and Jamie Dooner (here also listed as creators). Even then, though, familiarity with the earlier series is hardly a prerequisite for enjoying the new one. Aside from a few brief nods to the original — brief appearances by a few parental figures, stray mentions of Jamal or Ruby or RollerWorld — Freeridge stands entirely as its own thing.
Perhaps even too much so: Despite being named after the neighborhood where both series take place, Freeridge has a much less defined sense of the community surrounding its characters. That it chooses to tone down some of On My Block‘s heavier aspects — like its emphasis on issues of race and class, or its matter-of-fact treatment of gang violence — is one thing; Freeridge‘s bubblier tone isn’t necessarily equipped to tackle those topics head-on anyway. But the comedy doesn’t really offer any new take on its environs, either, and so its world feels comparatively smaller and more insular.
Of course, Gloria and her friends have their hands plenty full as it is, what with their crushes and Dad’s cancer and that possibly cursed box. At times, in fact, they’re juggling so much the narrative can feel downright unwieldy. The back-and-forth between its romantically indecisive characters grows tiresome after a few rounds. And the last couple of half-hour installments dial up the absurdity so high it threatens to overwhelm some of Freeridge‘s more nuanced sentiments — though in the show’s defense, the haunted chip bowl and the robot butler are pretty funny.
But if Freeridge stumbles here and there, its heart remains firmly planted in the right place. Faced with the painful adult truths that the biggest questions have no answers, that our greatest enemies can be ourselves, that the world can be kind or cruel more or less at random, it seems no wonder these kids might choose to retreat into the relatively more straightforward task of breaking a curse. And based on the sweet, effervescent, consistently likable series that results, Freeridge is right to let them do so.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day
More from The Hollywood Reporter
How Inevitable Foundation Developed Its “Aggressive” Solution to Pay Disabled Writers Not to Settle for Consulting Jobs
The Fien Print
‘Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields’ Review: A Timely Doc About Hollywood, Hyper-Sexualization and a Star’s Resilience
Ali Wong and Steven Yeun on Stepping into Executive Producer Roles for Road Rage Dramedy ‘Beef’