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The first season of Netflix’s The End of the F***ing World was such a perfect, contained, darkly comic gem that it took me several episodes into the second season to get over its lack of narrative necessity and accept that it was, on its own, a tart, twisted character-driven pleasure — not nearly as good as the first season, but still pretty good.
That’s probably the correct starting point for evaluating Netflix’s I Am Not Okay With This, a new seven-episode comedy that, like End of the F***ing World, is based on a graphic novel by Charles Forsman and directed by Jonathan Entwistle. And, like End of the F***ing World, I Am Not Okay With This is a coming-of-age series about unsteady outsiders and the quest for shared community, however small. Unlike End of the F***ing World, brevity isn’t always the strongest attribute of I Am Not Okay With This and my biggest complaint after watching this first season is that I wanted, or even needed, more — more seasons, but also more depth, more story and just a little more freshness.
Air date: Feb 26, 2020
Adapted by Entwistle and Christy Hall, I Am Not Okay With This focuses on self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” Sydney (Sophia Lillis), living in a dying mill town somewhere in Pennsylvania. It’s only been a year since Syd’s father committed suicide in the basement and Syd’s mother (a solid, de-glammed Kathleen Rose Perkins) is working overtime to make ends meet, brother Liam (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong) is dealing with bullies and Syd is frustrated that her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), who Syd just might have a crush on, has a new football-playing boyfriend and associated popularity.
Oh, and Syd also may have telekinetic powers.
Forsman’s thing, not an original thing but a thing he does very well, is taking the instantly relatable anxiety of adolescence and layering on a genre extreme. So End of the F***ing World was “What if your puberty included a road trip with a budding serial killer?” And this is “What if, in addition to pimples in unfortunate places, your puberty included superpowers?” Or, put a different way, think Carrie, only instead of a mother shrieking “They’re all gonna laugh at you!,” Carrie had a nerdy, comic-loving neighbor eager to help hone her gifts and turn her into a hero.
That nerdy, comic-loving neighbor would be Stanley, played by Lillis’ It co-star Wyatt Oleff, and representing half of a mid-level problem for I Am Not Okay With This. The stuff with Syd recognizing that her ability to levitate objects, cause nosebleeds and more might not just be normal part of teenage development dovetails into a comic-book origin story that’s so completely by-the-numbers that Stan is able to joke about genre conventions, though he only barely has enough time in this tight first season to do anything to cheat those expectations.
It just happens that Stan is interesting and appealing as a semi-love interest — his resemblance to Jon Cryer’s Ducky from Pretty in Pink in certain scenes is one of several overt John Hughes nods — and not at all interesting as a sensei because the series is leading with “coming-of-age” and using “superhero” as spice. And if you come to the show looking for the latter, it’s probable that you won’t get what you really want until the second season.
And it’s too bad that I Am Not Okay With This runs the risk of ticking off viewers who tune in thinking it’s a superhero show, because when it’s just a low-key comedy about a girl trying to cope with her emotional baggage and sort out her sexuality, there’s a lot of charm and humor in its approach. Entwistle works with astonishing efficiency — episodes range between 19 and 27 minutes — and, as with End of the F***ing World, this is about as fast a binge as you could hope for. The lively soundtrack contains some astonishingly deep cuts and adds to a timeless feeling that left me wondering what year this was supposed to be until around midseason. It’s all part of the mood of the piece, which is enhanced by utterly authentic locations in the Pittsburgh area.
Lillis, who has built a career on playing younger versions of A-list redheads (Amy Adams and Jessica Chastain, prominently), proves that she’s on track to have that sort of career herself, delivering vulnerability, wit and occasionally real sweetness in the lead role. Oleff, who has built his career on playing guys named Stan, has just the blend of geekiness and unearned confidence to earn those Ducky stripes. Bryant makes a stronger impression as the show goes along and she gets to play more than just the popular best friend. There’s actually room for almost every supporting player to have just a bit more to do, making this the rare Netflix show where I want them to take advantage of the lack of formal restraints and go longer.
The pragmatic realist in me notes that without the superpowers, I Am Not Okay With This is a snarky, female-centric blue collar story with some killer tunes and an open attitude toward sexuality, which means it’s basically Everything Sucks! — which Netflix canceled after a season. So bring on the superpowers if it means more life for this one, I suppose? And unlike The End of the F***ing World, which I still think could have ended happily after one season, this is one in dire and immediate need of renewal. A lot of the thinness that left me wanting more from these seven episodes won’t feel disappointing if we get that “more.”
Cast: Sophia Lillis, Sofia Bryant, Wyatt Oleff, Kathleen Rose Perkins, Aidan Wojtak-Hissong
Developed by: Jonathan Entwistle & Christy Hall from the comic by Charles Forsman
Premieres: Wednesday (Netflix)
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