If Netflix is a factory spitting out new shows based on what already works, then the end result is I am Not Okay With This. The good news is this new series from the producers behind Netflix mega-hit, Stranger Things, and the director of its medium-sized hit ,The End of the F***ing World, is actually pretty great.
With its supernatural teen angst, 1980s-inspired aesthetic, and an endless parade of cliffhangers that will keep you glued to the couch as Netflix’s autoplay does its thing, I am Not Okay With This really feels like it was grown in a streaming lab. It might not take any chances, but if this is what peak Netflix looks like, I am not ... complaining.
On the surface, I am Not Okay With This might feel like Stranger Things meets End of the F***ing World, but it’s actually way more than that.
“It’s Lady Bird meets X-Men,” producer Shawn Levy tells Inverse.
“It’s Lady Bird meets X-Men."
That’s one interpretation, but according to director Jonathan Entwistle, it’s more like ‘80s Hollywood legend John Hughes made a superhero movie. The X-Men metaphor goes deep here (you’ll understand why soon), but Entwistle also feels there’s a bit of Harry Potter in this story of a young woman developing supernatural powers while stuck in one of those rust belt industrial towns that time (and modernization) forgot about.
“What happens if Professor X never shows up to take you to the Academy?” Entwistle asks me. “Or if you grow up in a suburb of Pittsburgh and Hagrid never brings you to Hogwarts?”
The answer, as it turns out in I am Not Okay With This, is that things quickly go from boring to very, very bad.
I am Not Okay With This stars Sophia Lillis (It, Nancy Drew) as Sydney, a pubescent high schooler dealing with homosexual urges and psychic superpowers all at once. Her father mysteriously committed suicide about a year before the show starts, her only friend is dating the obnoxious star of the high school football team, and her neighbor, Wyatt Oleff (also It), is a high school weed dealer who won’t leave her alone but might actually be kind of cool, in a geeky sort of way.
The story that plays out over the first season mixes typical high school drama (parties, prom, getting high) with Syd’s own struggles to understand her abilities. Without a Professor X or a Hagrid to help, she has no idea how to control whatever is happening. Instead, what should be a superpower becomes a physical manifestation of her teenage rage. She gives a jerk at school a nosebleed with her brain and later she destroys an entire library. Eventually, it gets even worse.
While I am Not Okay With This does an impressive job of mining the parallels behind Sydney’s personal life and her powers, the plot never really goes anywhere that interesting. There’s a handful of smaller adventures, one excellent episode dedicated to homaging The Breakfast Club, and an exciting season finale that sets up Season 2 without answering any actual questions. (I really do hope there’s a second season, and considering who’s behind the show, I’d be shocked if there wasn’t.)
I am Not Okay With This also borrows another familiar Netflix trope: the modern-day story that looks like it’s set in the past. Just like End of the F***ing World, Sex Education, and even Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, this show looks like it takes place in another decade even though it’s happening in our own time. In this case, that’s mostly due to the setting — a midwest industrial town still stuck in the ‘80s — and the fact that director Jonathan Entwistle has no patience for smartphones in his stories.
“It's something that kind of weirdly comes natural to me,” he says of this out-of-time aesthetic. “My favorite stories are pre-modern technology and pre-social media. I feel like you should be able to write a scene where the answer isn't looking at Google or calling someone on a cell phone because, for the majority of history, people had to actually interact.”
That might sound a wee bit pretentious, but there’s something liberating about a show that skips over the impact of technology on our lives without replacing it with endless cultural references to a bygone decade. If the ultimate distillation of Netflix is a show about a teenage girl developing superpowers in a small post-industrial town while rarely looking at her smartphone … well, I am okay with this.
I am Not Ok With This releases February 26 on Netflix.