‘Grand Army’ suffers from low-quality writing, bad handling of social issues

Netflix’s latest teen drama covers topics like sexual assault, racism, terrorism

By Allen Zhang

With different teen drama series like “Euphoria” and “13 Reasons Why,” newcomer “Grand Army” attempts to — and epically fails to — set itself apart from the rest of its companions. “Grand Army” centers around five Brooklyn teens navigating the ins and outs of high school. From the opening scene, when Joey (Odessa A’zion) helps fish out a used condom from her friend Grace (Keara Graves), to the final scene in which Jayson (Maliq Johnson) tapes his mouth at his All-State performance to protest zero-tolerance policies, “Grand Army” seems to strongly push its grittiness and realness. However, it is done very poorly, and the show suffers greatly from it. 

If I had to describe “Grand Army” in one word, it would be: predictable. Many of the major events are so heavily foreshadowed that it basically explicitly states what is going to happen next. Not a single event surprised me, and I often found myself bored, even despite the jam-packed plotlines covering subjects including terrorism, sexual assault, homophobia and racism.

The whirlwind of subjects “Grand Army” attempts to cover means none of the issues get resolved adequately because of the lack of screen time. In many instances, major events are brushed off just minutes after they are introduced to focus on a new event.

“Grand Army” centers around the lives of five Brooklyn teens from different backgrounds.
(Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Not only does this make the show hard to follow, but it also makes the show seem unrealistic. The writers pile trauma upon trauma on the characters, and while I understand they are trying to mimic how quickly real life moves, this realistic quality is overused. By the time I was able to understand what was going on, the show moved onto the next issue, which made it difficult for me to relate to any of the characters. 

Additionally, the great number of prevalent issues addressed causes “smaller” events such as moments of casual racism, to be ubiquitous in the show but barely acknowledged, so none of the characters pay a price for their ignorance. It feels as though the show shies away from important conversations discussing the effects of damaging issues like racism, thus undermining the show’s goal of inclusivity.

By skipping such incidents, the show may invalidate viewers’ personal experiences with similar instances of casual racism and sends a message that they are not that important. I felt uncomfortable watching different characters calling others racist nicknames or making fun of them to their faces. 

In a show that is supposed to champion inclusivity, it is astonishing that none of the characters were called out and these microaggressions weren’t addressed.  

Another big reason “Grand Army” is unbearable to watch is due to one of the main characters, Leila, who is played by Amalia Yoo. The writing of Leila’s character has so many issues that she comes off as an entirely unlikeable and maybe even despicable character. Leila makes anything and everything about her unlikeable, go

ing so far as calling her friend selfish for not supporting her more. 

In an attempt to either spice up Leila’s storyline or to simply squeeze in a different mode of storytelling, writers let viewers into Leila’s mind through extremely violent and sexualized zombie animations that just seem unnecessary if not flat-out irritating. 

Infographic by Allen Zhang

Despite the horrible writing, the acting is actually superb.The cast of relatively unknown actors play out their scenes beautifully and emotionally. A’zion’s depiction of Joey as a strong feminist who has just been hurt in one of the worst imaginable ways is touching and heartfelt. Joey becomes a completely different person after the incident, and A’zion’s depiction of Joey’s journey to find herself is wonderfully nuanced. 

In addition, newcomer Odley Jean, who plays Dom, does an amazing job of capturing Dom’s authenticity and tenacity while still keeping her character human. 

Overall, “Grand Army” suffers from bad writing as the writers attempt to focus on too many things at once, and is helped only by its talented cast. I will not be watching future seasons of the show, but I hope its talented cast will continue their acting careers.