I Am Not Okay with This is the superhero origin story we need

Netflix's dark comedy adds superpowers to the teenage dilemma

This Netflix series may be supernatural, but it's still very relatable.
Credit: 
Screenshot from Netflix

Being a teenager can be rough. It’s a time of uncertainty, between changing family dynamics, frighteningly strong emotions, and sexual confusion. Now, add destructive superpowers you don’t know how to control to this laundry list of problems. 

That’s the setup for Netflix’s new dark comedy I Am Not Okay with This, adapted from Charles Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name. 

The show’s lead, a teenage girl named Sydney, deals with a lot: living with her impoverished and overworked mother, her father’s recent passing, being ostracized by her classmates, and her confusing feelings for her best friend, Dina. On top of all of that, Sydney begins to develop telekinetic superpowers that reveal themselves in times of emotional distress. And, being a teenager, she goes through a lot of emotional distress. 

The show is the best kind of superhero origin story because it’s grounded in exploring its characters rather than focusing on mindless action. Sydney’s powers—a physical manifestation of her rage—serve mainly as an expression of her own internal conflict. The powers are there to develop the character rather than the other way around, meaning the show is structured more like a coming-of-age story than a superhero one.

The series is produced by the showrunners behind The End of the F***ing World and Stranger Things, Jonathon Entwistle and Shawn Levy. Like these two Netflix shows, I Am Not Okay with This is quirky, sharp, and charming. Though it’s set in modern-day Pennsylvania, its aesthetic is 1980s-inspired like Stranger Things. Specifically, it’s imbued with some distinctive John Hughes elements—there’s even an episode where five teenagers spend detention messing with the guy in charge. Sound familiar

Since this series is a Netflix original, it’s well-crafted. It’s well-shot, well-edited, well-written, and incredibly well-acted. Though I laughed at a lot of the dialogue, I found the funniest parts of the show existed in the space between the lines. Sophia Lillis (Sydney) and Wyatt Oleff (Stanley), coincidently both alumni of the 2017 horror movie It, fill out the script. Their interactions and facial expressions exemplify the awkward silences that dominate the teenage experience perfectly. Plus, they’re actual teenagers, which is unusual in shows like this.

My favourite element of I Am Not Okay with This is the characterization: each character is developed with care, and each of them have so much heart. I adored all of them, from Sydney’s remarkably intelligent brother Liam to her delightfully weird neighbour Stanley. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my cheeks hurt from smiling so much watching them on screen.

The showis also well-paced. It flies by, building to the finale’s cliffhanger that beautifully sets up what I hope will be a second season. Plus, the series consists of only seven 20-minute episodes, so it’s not too much of a time commitment.

Most of all, I love this show for its commitment to fully exploring all of the topics it introduces. It doesn’t sugarcoat anything—most importantly, Sydney’s emotional turmoil. I Am Not Okay with This is a rare deep dive into the rage of teenage girls, which is a rage that’s too often dumbed down to seem like mere cattiness. Teenage girls aren’t just mean, and they don’t just cry a lot. They have real problems, and they get mad. Teenage girls should be taken more seriously, and I Am Not Okay with This is a step forward in that direction.

Overall, I Am Not Okay with This is a delight. It conveys the teenage experience in all its messy, awkward glory. It’s comprehensive, exploring a lot of aspects of adolescence, and it’s undoubtedly funny. It’s truly the coming-of-age superhero origin story the world needs.

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