Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 5 July 2020

An entire season in 2.5 hours: 'I Am Not Okay With This' is a bite-sized blend of horror, comedy and sci-fi

The new show has been compared to 'Stranger Things', but does it live up to the hype?

Sophia Lillisplays Sydney, right, a jaded and angst ridden teenager in 'I Am Not Okay With This'. Courtesy Netflix
Sophia Lillisplays Sydney, right, a jaded and angst ridden teenager in 'I Am Not Okay With This'. Courtesy Netflix

The first thing you'll probably notice about Netflix's latest teenage comedy-drama, I Am Not Okay With This, is just how short its episodes are.

In fact, the opening two installments to the adaptation of Charles Forsman’s 2017 graphic novel of the same name are both only around 20 minutes long, which, in a world where a brand-new show emerges every few days and leaves television fans struggling to keep up with content, is genuinely quite refreshing.

But the other effect of this brevity is that the opening episodes are actually a little underwhelming. Rather than feeling like whole stories, they instead just feel like the first and second acts of an unfinished episode.

In these episodes we’re introduced to Sydney, played by It and Sharp Objects star Sophia Lillis, a jaded and angst ridden teenager who is struggling to adjust to the huge changes in her life. Not only is she coming to terms with her feelings for her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant), who has just started to date Brad Lewis (Richard Ellis), the most popular boy in school, but Sydney’s also been getting closer to her undoubtedly weird, yet still still intriguing, neighbour Stanley Barber (Wyatt Oleff).

Things are much more complicated at home, though, as Sydney’s brother is getting bullied, her mother has such contempt for her that she can barely look her in the eye, and the entire family is still reeling from her father’s suicide a year earlier. Plus, Sydney has just discovered that she also has a telekinesis superpower that she doesn’t have any control over whatsoever.

That’s an awful lot to explore. Which makes it all the more disappointing that during these episodes, while we wait for I Am Not Okay With This to reveal its hand, explain what Sydney has, or even what it wants to say, its characters, tone and even parts of its plot feel like imitations of other shows such as Sex Education, 13 Reasons Why, The End Of The ... World, and Stranger Things.

Sydney's family life is uprooted after her father's suicide. Courtesy Netflix. 
Sydney's family life is uprooted after her father's suicide. Courtesy Netflix.

Thus, you can’t help but compare it to them, and considering how understated and awkward the approach is of I Am Not Okay With This, it only feels weaker as result. Especially because it is mostly propelled forward by a redundant voice-over, which is Sydney’s diary entries read aloud, that fails to make any kind of impact whatsoever. This feels even more of a missed opportunity when you consider that this is obviously where most of the comedy of the show is supposed to come from.

But while the first 40 minutes of I Am Not Okay With This fails to satisfy, over the course of its third and fourth episodes, all of the above plot points start to merge together in a more engaging and fascinating manner.

New Netflix show 'I Am Not Okay With This' is being billed as the next 'Stranger Things'. Courtesy Netflix. 
New Netflix show 'I Am Not Okay With This' is being billed as the next 'Stranger Things'. Courtesy Netflix. 

The awkwardness and discomfort of the characters actually begins to transmit through the screen, while the metaphor that’s at the heart of the show starts to become more and more powerful, as Sydney’s inability to control her superpowers works as an increasingly effective allegory for her internal battle with her depression and grief.

With each passing episode, Lillis, Bryant and Oleff really start to play off of each other and impress as a leading threesome, too, This culminates in the highlight of the fifth episode, Another Day In Paradise, which sees Syd, Dina, and Stan all given detention and then embarking on a high-risk mission.

Of course, this episode will immediately lead to the show being compared to John Hughes’s 1985 classic The Breakfast Club, which has the exact same plot. Yet, by this point, its unique blend of horror, comedy and sci-fi fantasy, all of which has been wrapped up in a very modern and pertinent coming-of-age tale, has really come to the fore and made I Am Not Okay With This feel genuinely original and resonant.

Lillis, Bryant and Oleff deserve a lot of the credit for making the show stand on its own two feet. Bryant and Oleff might have the flashier and more charismatic roles, but Lillis is the one that imbues it with its unique mixture of dread, humour and intrigue, and while certain scenarios play out as you’d expect, more often than not, I Am Not Okay With This subverts the genre and takes it into progressively darker and more surprising territory.

Sure, the entire season might only run for just over two and a half hours, but, after overcoming its initial struggles, this bite-size introduction actually leaves you wanting to see way, way more of I Am Not Okay With This.

Updated: February 20, 2020 12:10 PM

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