‘I am not okay with this’ makes promising debut

New coming-of-age series has humor, heart with dark undertones

Photo courtesy of IMDB
Sydney (Sophia Lillis) and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff) capture the endearingly painful awkwardness of adolescence.

“Hi. My name is Sydney. I’m a boring seventeen-year-old white girl.”

With this charming introduction, we are thrust into the world of Sydney Novak, who is, as she says, a seventeen-year-old white girl. However, “boring” inevitably fails to hold true, seeing as Sydney is the main character of Netflix’s latest coming-of-age teen drama, “I Am Not Okay With This,” which was released on Feb. 26. 

I finished the entire season in one sitting, and I was quite pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, given my lack of expectations coming into the show. The acting and cinematography were wonderful, and there was a refreshingly real quality to the entire atmosphere of the show that makes for a compelling watch.

The comedy-drama series comes from the producers of the acclaimed science fiction series “Stranger Things.” It is also directed by Jonathan Entwistle, the director of “The End of the F***ing World,” which the events of “I Am Not Okay With This” are intended to be happening concurrently with. The series is based on Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name. 

Awkward and angsty, Sydney (Sophia Lillis) navigates the twists and turns of adolescence like any stereotypical teenager in a coming-of-age series would – by talking back to her mom and making out with people. 

To deal with her anger issues, Sydney’s school counselor gives her a diary to write down her thoughts, and her entries guide the story as narration. 

Sydney is angry at the world. Her father recently committed suicide and her relationship with her mother (Kathleen Rose Perkins) is strained. With her mother working long shifts at the diner to scrape by, Sydney is often left to take care of her younger brother.

To top it off, her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) starts dating popular jock Brad (Richard Ellis). Oh, and there’s the small matter of Sydney being in love with Dina, which makes the whole situation that much worse. 

I like that Sydney isn’t entirely likable in spite of all her problems, like main characters are sometimes written to be, because it makes her a lot more real, if not admirable. She frustratingly pushes people away, makes questionable decisions and leaves the audience wanting to throttle her at times. 

As Dina grows more distant, Sydney finds herself begrudgingly spending time with Stanley Barber (Wyatt Oleff), the eccentric boy-next-door. He likes her, but Sydney quickly realizes that she doesn’t like him, or any guys, “like that.” 

In addition to her struggles with family, school and her sexuality, Sydney discovers that she has superpowers. However, she cannot seem to control them, and when her emotions run wild, her telekinetic powers do as well, leaving things broken in their wake.

There are bits and pieces in ‘I Am Not Okay With This’ that draw on elements of established shows, such as the telekinetic superpowers of Eleven in ‘Stranger Things’ and the teenage absurdity in ‘The End of the F***ing World,’ but collectively, they add up to something that is entirely its own.

I find it interesting that Sydney’s superpowers are more of a curse than a blessing. Unlike the typical superhero, she doesn’t start saving the world upon discovering her powers. On the contrary, she desperately tries to suppress them whenever they threatens to spill out and cause more trouble for her. I’m intrigued to see how her powers will continue to develop later on.

Other than her superpowers, Sydney’s problems are quite normal for the lead of an angsty teen drama. With this as the backdrop for the development of her powers, the series takes on a distinct atmosphere that hints at a sinister darkness lying beneath the “normal” surface. Sure enough, the story takes a dark twist.  

Although aspects of the show follow the format of a typical coming-of-age story and fall into well-worn tropes (for example, Brad is the literal embodiment of the jock stereotype), there was a unique feeling and tone to the show that I have not seen before. 

The time period of the show is ambiguous and seems like it could take place in either the present or back in the 1980s. It is simple and predictable at times in that there was no real “villain,” and instead, we are simply watching Sydney’s everyday life play out and the ups and downs that come with it. At the same time, it was fresh and fraught with pleasing sparks of humor and action.

There are bits and pieces in “I Am Not Okay With This” that draw on elements of established shows, such as the telekinetic superpowers of Eleven in “Stranger Things” and the teenage absurdity in “The End of the F***ing World,” but collectively, they add up to something that is entirely its own. 

The acting truly brings this story to life. Lillis and Oleff, who are teenagers themselves (teenagers playing teenagers is always exciting due to its rarity), add to the genuine touch of humor, heart and awkwardness that comes with being a teenager. Through them, there is a distinct authenticity that connects with adolescents. 

“I Am Not Okay With This” is uniquely weird, compellingly dark and worth a watch. Plus, there are only seven episodes that are about twenty minutes each, so why not give it a try? (You know you have binged much worse). See for yourself just how not okay Sydney is with this.