After the huge success of its adaptation of The End of the F***ing World, Netflix has jumped right back into the world of Charles Forsman's graphic novels, this time with I Am Not Okay With This, a coming of age story with the added twist of also being a superhero origin story. Starring IT stars Sophia Lillis and Wyatt Oleff, the series offers the promise of a fresh story told with familiar, John Hughes-esque vibe with wide appeal and while it definitely succeeds at being both unique and familiar at the same time, what the series gets right doesn't quite make up for a too-short first season and badly done pacing that weirdly reveals too much too soon and not enough at the right time.
Lillis stars as Sydney, a teen dealing with not only the ordinary challenges of life as an American teenager such as friends, fitting in, as well as her budding sexuality but also the trauma of having lost her father to suicide. When we meet Syd, she's struggling to balance all of those things while also not really acknowledging them, covering her pain and struggle with dark humor. However, Syd soon discovers that she's dealing with so much more as she starts to develop honest-to-goodness superpowers that she at first cannot believe. Along the way she reluctantly confides in Oleff's Stanley Barber and continues to navigate her friendship with Dina (played by Sofia Bryant) and the annoyance that is Dina's super-jock boyfriend Brad (played by Richard Ellis.)
What works with I Am Not Okay With This is its compassionate and accurate portrayal of Syd's struggles, especially with mental health. In particular, the series does a beautiful job of handling the challenges of grief and loss, especially when that loss is one that comes with no answers -- in this case, Syd's father's suicide. Lillis does an outstanding job playing Syd with heart, nuance, and gets the character struggle to know herself and also navigate everything new that's being thrown at her with a richness that feels achingly real. The rest of the young cast is also outstanding and while Oleff's Stanley at times feels a little too much like he's trying to step out of a John Hughes movie, the way the pieces fit together is powerful and timeless. You don't have to be in high school to identify with these characters, even as the story goes further and further into "normal" high school things, like homecoming.
But it's also that progression of the story and time that is perhaps the show's biggest weakness. With such a short number of episodes in the season, the show has a lot of territory to cover and given the narrow window in which to do it, the series squanders a most of those episodes in set up only to cram way too much at the end. The result is a massively emotional moment and a shocking -- but satisfying -- narrative climax that hits in such a messy and disjointed way that well after the credits run the viewer is left wondering exactly what's going on and how they suddenly ended up at X after just having been at C. Sure, everyone loves a tantalizing not to leave things on, but this note is one that would have been best executed had the season been longer or some of the lead up been put together in a more concise fashion.
Even with the odd and disappointing mess that is the final episode, I Am Not Okay With This is still a gem of show that both humanizes some of the hidden struggles of everyday life while also creating a "comic book" style story that doesn't feel that way at all. It's a little sad, a little funny, a lot raw, and a good bit messy, a solid reminder that not everything is okay and that, itself, is okay.
Rating: 3 out of 5
Season One of I Am Not Okay With This debuts February 26 on Netflix.