Netflix newcomer I Am Not Okay With This is equal parts dark, quirky, and charming. It shares the gritty, sardonic humor of The End of the F***ing World, and its heroine evokes the same quiet strength and resilience as Stranger Things’ Eleven. Backed by a strong teen cast — finally a show where the high schoolers look like high schoolers, in all their awkward glory — and with each of its seven episodes clocking in at around 20 minutes, the Netflix original is relatable, timely, well-paced, and very binge-able. While not as successful as Stranger Things in blending the supernatural and coming-of-age genres, I Am Not Okay With This holds its own in its first season and successfully carves a place for itself in the crowded space of teenage TV.
Sophia Lillis (of 2017’s horror smash It) is an understated powerhouse as Sydney Novak, an awkward, tomboyish 17 year old girl living in rural Pennsylvania. Like any teen, Sydney has a lot on her plate: she deals with pressure from her overworked and blunt mother, resentment from her perfect little brother, bullying from her best friend’s boyfriend, and unwelcome changes (read: pimples) from her adolescent body. On top of that, she grapples with grief in the wake of her father’s suicide, her own sexuality in realizing she’s in love with her best girl friend, and, more strikingly, her newfound telekinetic powers.
We learn all this through her diary (which serves as narration), and through Sydney’s voice, I Am Not Okay With This paints a captivating portrait of a teen girl navigating identity, relationships, and adolescent rage. Sydney has a lot to be angry about, so it’s fitting that one of the show’s more striking visuals features her clad in a blood-drenched prom dress, the spitting image of Carrie, poster-girl for female rage. Like Carrie, Sydney’s powers arise suddenly in conjunction with growing up, and they serve as a reflection of her reaction to these changes — to losing her dad, to navigating bullies, to falling in unreciprocated love.
But there’s so much more to I Am Not Okay With This than Sydney getting mad. The first season introduces plenty of intriguing characters, but no pair is more captivating than Sydney and Dina. Sydney maintains that their relationship is purely a result of circumstance: they were the new kids in town at the same time. This conviction is clearly rooted in insecurity, but if there’s any truth to it, then their friendship is a beautiful twist of fate. In the very first episode, Sydney writes in her diary,“she keeps me laughing when all I want to do is melt into the floor.” You’ll realize far before Sydney does that she’s in love with her friend, and watching her feelings grow organically is all the more refreshing and heart-wrenching for it.
Lovable neighborhood weirdo Stanley Barber (played by It costar Wyatt Oleff) completes the show’s love triangle by falling for Sydney after the two get high. They play an intoxicated game of would you rather where Sydney timidly proposes superpowers as an option (she resents her own), and Stan replies, “I’m pretty sure every person on the planet would choose superpowers.” He’s the first to learn of her powers, and naturally he adorably geeks out, becoming her biggest supporter. As their relationship evolves, things inevitably stay platonic on Sydney’s side. But the duo’s chemistry remains awkwardly endearing, especially when Stan does some research on superpowers (that is, reads his comic book collection) and declares himself Sydney’s mentor.
With that being said, I Am Not Okay With This doesn’t feel like a superhero show. Sydney’s powers take a backseat to high-school drama for much of this first season. So when she’s overcome by fits of rage and unintentionally wreaks havoc (she destroys a convenience store, a library, and a patch of forest with her mind), you’re taken by surprise just as much as Sydney is. She’s ashamed of her abilities, a feeling exacerbated when she nearly hurts Stan in his attempts to mentor her. Her lonely battle to control these powers seems purely symbolic of her teenage anxiety and isolation.
Near the end of the season, she begins to unravel the mystery surrounding the origin of her abilities, but it’s got something to do with her father’s mental illness — again, metaphorical rather than supernatural. The finale suggests that future episodes will dive deeper into the supernatural underpinnings of Sydney’s powers and explore her heroic potential. But hopefully in its second season, as new external forces are introduced, I Am Not Okay With This will continue to explore Sydney’s internal demons, too.