'I Am Not Okay with This' puts an unnecessary superhero twist on teen drama: Review
The new dramedy from the team behind The End of The F***ing World stars It's Sophia Lillis as a high schooler whose teen angst is amplified by budding superpowers.
“It’s like if John Hughes made a superhero movie,” says Netflix of its new dramedy I Am Not Okay with This. The description is apt enough; the darkly funny series stars It’s Sophia Lillis as a teenager coping with the myriad indignities of high school and the onset of unwieldy superpowers. The thing is, Hughes never made a superhero movie — perhaps because he knew that adolescence was a tumultuous enough thrill ride all on its own.
Sydney Novak (Lillis) is a self-described “boring 17-year-old white girl” living in Pittsburgh and dealing with typical 17-year-old problems: She can’t stop fighting with her mom (Kathleen Rose Perkins), an overworked waitress, and her best friend Dina (Sofia Bryant) just started dating a jerky jock named Brad (Richard Ellis). Like most teenagers, Syd is a roiling cauldron of emotions: Anger and sadness over her dad’s recent death, love for her precocious little brother Liam (the delightful Aidan Wojtak-Hissong), and confusion about why she doesn’t want to date her hipster-nerd neighbor Stanley (It’s Wyatt Oleff), even though he clearly has a crush on her. Unlike most teenagers, Syd is worried that her emotions are starting to have unintended, mysterious, and sometimes violent consequences.
I Am Not Okay with This is adapted from the graphic novel by Charles Forsman, whose previous work, The End of the F***ing World, became a British TV series (later picked up by Netflix) in 2017. The two shows have a lot in common: Disaffected teen protagonist, a heavy reliance on voiceover narration, brief running times (Not Okay’s seven episodes range from 19 to 28 minutes), and a creeping sense of dread. But TEOTFW, in its first season at least, followed a clear story arc — teen psychopath discovers his humanity — while Not Okay waters down its bittersweet saga of loss and self-discovery with unnecessary supernatural hoo-hah.
Certainly, the “superpowers as metaphor for a teenager’s out-of-control emotions” is a time-tested formula that can work wonderfully. Here, though, the workaday YA angst is more compelling than anything that Syd may or may not be able to do with her mind. Part of Syd’s distain for Brad stems from her growing, and unexpected, feelings for Dina — something that her friendship with Stan helps pull into focus. The It co-stars have a sweet and comfortable chemistry. Lillis, already a proven performer at just 18, deploys her expressive blue eyes effectively, whether emoting under a voiceover or deciding if she can trust Stan with her deepest, darkest secrets. Oleff has the charm and comic timing of an ideal emo-heartthrob; his Stan is a 21st century Duckie, from his self-deprecating wit and passionate love of music to his penchant for vintage apparel.
It’s somewhat disappointing, then, when Not Okay’s finale —which takes place at the homecoming dance, natch — veers sharply into supernatural territory in its closing minutes. The twist delivers a genuine, gasp-out-loud shock… but also ensures that any season 2 would give us a Syd who’s more Marvel than mopey teen. Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes there’s nothing boring about a 17-year-old girl who’s just that. B-