REVIEWED: SEASON 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: NETFLIX
Based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman, I Am Not Okay With This applies black comedic style and coming-of-age narrative to the delicate question of “what if the X-Men had no Charles Xavier to guide them?” The answer is adolescent awkwardness, untamed superpowers and a smattering of high school movie references (from The Breakfast Club to Carrie). At less than half an hour per episode, this is a series that you can fly through in next to no time. The at-times breezy watchability of the series feels out of sync with the more downbeat approach and mannerisms that director Jonathan Entwistle is going for. But nonetheless, it remains a fascinating, powerful, and often funny character study.
Seventeen-year-old Sydney Novak (Sophia Lillis, best known from IT and IT: Chapter 2) is struggling with family, school, and an increasing realisation of her supernatural abilities - all captured in her diary, which is read aloud as a voiceover regularly in each episode. It comes at a bad time, with increasing affection for her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) and a newfound friendship with her peculiar neighbour Stanley (Wyatt Oleff, also from the IT films). To top it all off, she makes more enemies in high school and starts to suspect she is being followed…
The show is at its strongest when the focus is firmly on Sydney. Not only does Lillis give an outstanding lead performance, balancing anger with sadness and an occasional glint of charm, but the writing behind her is the strongest. Her powers are directly connected to her personal struggles and trauma, her unpredictability connected to her mood swings and emotional lows. For such a short series, her main relationships feel nuanced, especially with Dina (a dance scene at a party is accompanied by a perfect musical number). Other characters aren’t treated with quite the same sophistication, the likes of Brad Lewis coming across as atypical high school stereotypes.
At times the distinctive nods to past shows and movies can make I Am Not Okay With This feel a bit like it is running out of ideas. The fifth episode, in particular, takes on a very different tone, and while it is an amusing distraction, the series could have worked perfectly fine without it. The divergence by the end to a more adult-orientated hero origin tale doesn’t sit well with the more personal story that comes before it. As a result, the series can feel slightly muddled; an unwelcome distraction from a stylishly presented set up that should offer a lot to digest. It does do that, but without the peerless execution of comparable series (The End of the F***ing World, to name one).
Unique, quirky, and affecting, I Am Not Okay WIth This never reaches the spectacular heights it could. But it features enough standout storytelling and some phenomenal lead performances that carry it through until the gobsmacking climax. And with the ending quite blatantly asking for a second season, there will be even more chance for it to make itself even better.