I Am Not Okay With This

4 out of 5

Developed by: Jonathan Entwistle, Christy Hall

covers season 1

While it suffers from some of the same focus-wavering as the source comic book, I Am Not Okay With This, the show, picks up the music-suffused, bouncy, snarky style from Netflix’s other Charles Forsman adaptation, tones down the uber-cool vibes to a tolerable level, and then supercedes its own flaws by featuring some great main cast members: Sophia Lillis as Sydney, highschooler who’s apparently starting to have superpowers, and Wyatt Oleff as Stanley, Syd’s neighbor and confidant and friend.

Syd is not doing well.  Her father committed suicide, leaving her on her lonesome to care for her brother, and to deal with her mother’s passive aggressiveness.  She’s not a popular kid at school, reveling in her outsider status thanks to the tether of her best friend, Dina (Sofia Bryant)… until Dina starts dating the most popular guy in school (and, of course, a jerk), leaving Syd with more time to wallow.  And also to realize that the kinship she felt with Dina may be due to some deeper feelings.

It’s around this time that she discovers that she has some type of mental powers.  Say, making Dina’s boyfriend’s nose bleed, or cracking the wall of her house when pissed at her mom.  Yes, this is a spin on the ol’ ‘superpowers as proxy for teen angst’ X-Men setup, which Syd’s neighbor, Stan, is keen to jump on, but that’s not what we’re focused on.  These powers are not exciting, and are uncontrollable, and only manifest when Syd is angry or afraid, which is often.  I Am Not Okay With This mixes a lot of heavy, unclear feelings – dealing with death, dealing with self-identity, dealing with one’s own sexuality – into this superpowered analogy, which shifts things into a Carrie vibe, except that writer Jonathan Entwistle manages to keep things exceptionally upbeat and often laugh-out-loud funny, which wouldn’t work at all without Sophia Lillis’ brilliant balance in portraying the character.  This way, we get to have a breezy 30-minute show, but Lillis keeps Syd grounded in her emotions, and makes grappling with these “powers” seem like a true damning scenario, and not some sorta-kinda-don’t-you-wish-this-was-you situation.  The way she ping-pings off of Oleff, and her mother (Kathleen Rose Perkins) and brother (Aidan Wojtak-Hissong) all help to define the show as much more character focused than spectacle, which helps keep us engrossed.

…Because the spectacle, just as with the comic, maybe isn’t wended in too well.  Entwistle allows that portion of the story to feel rather generic, especially in its final scenes, and perhaps unwisely pushes away the emotional introspection for some twisty-turny ‘what’s going on?’ mystery stuff that leads into a cliffhanger at season’s end.  This is especially true for some revelations regarding Syd’s father, which misses out on one of the book’s more impactful plot decisions, and delivers the outcome rather underwhelmingly.

However, it’s to the compliment of the immense positives of the show surrounding these missteps – Lillis; the tone; the blend of humor and tragedy – that I Am Not Okay With This emerges as supremely enjoyable, and occasionally affecting, TV.

(And although I’ve criticized events in the season’s last episode… it’s worth it.)