Published on May 27th, 2020 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
I Am Not Okay With This
Kim takes a look at Netflix’s latest teen genre series, which is just as angsty as it is exhilarating. But who is this show for…?
I am so far from my high school days that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to remember them. Not the people I went with or the classrooms, the football games or parties, but all the feelings that overwhelmed me. Most of them were first time experiences, or exercises in control I was far from mastering. It’s becoming foggier to recall the intense explosions of getting out of hand, having my heart broken, being frightened, fighting against my parents and testing authority.
I Am Not Okay With This is a look at high school and the perpetual waves of angst that keep crashing in. Challenged daily by test after test, each first chance encounter is met with the cacophony of a thousand questions: “Who am I?” “What do I say now?” “Am I going to fail?” “Could this, any second now, be a full-blown fight?” “Am I in love?” “I want to kiss and dance and punch and hide and fuck and run.” I Am Not Okay With This is all of that with an underlying family tragedy and a dash of the paranormal, like a drawn-out episode of the X-Files – teenage style. Seventeen-year-old Sydney exposes us to the dullness and drama of her town, school, family and closest (only) friends, Stanley and Dina.
The source material for the Netflix produced show is a comic/graphic novel by Charles Foreman. The work of his that I’ve seen shouted echos of Double Bubble panels; minimal, simple, but with heavy themes. These were brought to life by Manchester, UK-born director/producer Jonathan Entwistle, who was also responsible for the wonderful Channel 4 production of It’s the End of the F***ing World (2017)–also adapted from works by Charles Foreman. The result is a tight series (7 episodes, less than 30 minutes each) that seems to take its time with a cavalier saunter through the material. All the while, it is prone to sudden accelerations of an impending sense that the story unfolding is about to be something very different from what you are watching.
Although the narrative is bumpy at times, Entwistle has that UK knack for brevity, and I can only applaud his ability to show style and swagger at a leisurely pace, while burning through so much material. The show unfolds its character’s perspectives and complexities to control the mood, yet many scenes are pretty typical of teenage dramas that shout influences viewers might easily recognize from The Breakfast Club, Twin Peaks, Stand By Me, Sixteen Candles, Spider-man, Stephen King, and even Archie comics.
That’s a pretty wide swath, and I wonder who’s watching this on Netflix? Is it actually teenagers, or 30-somethings and 40-somethings looking for nostalgia? While it’s funny to recall your own high school shenanigans, it would probably be an equal proportion of horror to think of your own teenage kids smoking weed, getting wasted, clumsily banging each other, and making all kinds of violently rash decisions that preclude a safety switch for self-preservation.
The show has style–visually I loved the colours and repeated shots of certain exteriors that enhanced the sense these characters have of being trapped in a town they hate. But there was also a very carefully constructed soundtrack, the highlight of which is probably the faux band Bloodwich, a collaboration between Graham Coxon (Blur) and Tatyana Richaud, a high-school music major and daughter of one of the shows editors. The result is the best fake band I’ve ever heard. To that point, I’m not alone, and they have since released a five song EP on Spotify. Add on great tracks from the most obvious sources to the deepest bins and you’ll hear the likes of Roxy Music, Pixies, Echo & the Bunnymen, Aztec Camera, LCD Soundsystem and Karen Dalton. The soundtrack gets stronger as the series goes on, but it’s perplexing to consider exactly what kind of theme the filmmakers were going for. It jumps around in time, era, sometimes digging deep, sometimes pulling from the surface. But maybe that’s just like the high school experience and how we find our own soundtrack.
That soundtrack leads us to the inevitable question: what year is it supposed to be in this show? Cell phone use was so sparse in the series it’s almost like they were trying to create a universe where devices aren’t the norm. I can only recall one specific moment Dina (Sofia Bryant) is texting and it stood out as especially rude and socially destructive. You can see it on the face of Sydney (Sophia Lillis) as she sits across the table from her present–but disengaged–friend at a moment when she was yearning for attention. The lack of mobile phones and social media influence tells me that the writers found a freedom or satisfaction in removing these things from the world they created—something some of us would like to do in the real world. At lease sometimes. Watching an entire series where nobody is ever influenced or affected by a social media post, or nose to a screen, or texting creates room for all kinds of great people interactions and helps with the slow burn effect of the story delivery.
Stanley (It’s Wyatt Oleff) is on the vinyl resurgence track, and he also references VHS tapes as “the ultimate platform”, even though it’s delivered as a sympathy for the past, or maybe even a romantic lament that implies the days of VCRs and cassette tapes were sooo much better than we have it now. When Stanley shows off his collection, Sydney is impressed and it’s a great highlight for Stanley’s wonderfully awkward-cool persona. We could all use guts like Stanley has.
It’s definitely cartoonish in its elements of the paranormal, and it’s a decent patchwork of 80’s references that will definitely entertain–if it fits your mood the moment you press play. I am very okay with this show.